[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----DEL., MISS., N.C.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Nov 6 23:57:38 CST 2005
OUR VIEW----Death penalty deferred for years denies justice and cloaks
Few people will mourn Brian Steckel.
The state put him to death early Friday morning for a vicious murder he
committed 11 years ago. Certainly his victim, Sandra Lee Long, deserves to
be remembered and mourned. But Brian Steckel? The testimony against him,
his actions and his own words make it hard for anyone to summon feelings
even close to sympathy.
Considering the case against him, why did it take so long for the state to
end his life as the sentence called for? Eleven years is an eternity for
the victim's family to wait for closure. Eleven years of appeals eat up a
lot of money in court costs and judges' salaries. But 11 years is not
unusual for death penalty appeals. Some stretch out longer, sometimes over
Why can't the appeals be shortened? The legal system and its advocates
won't let them. They rightly point out that the law exists to insure that
rights are honored. Eliminating the rights for one may lead to eliminating
the rights for all.
Justice, in the end, may be terrible, but it will never be swift. Can the
death penalty then rightly be called a deterrent? If the ultimate
punishment can be eluded for so long, is it actually stopping would-be
killers from pulling the trigger?
Or can we assure ourselves that the death penalty is fairly meted out? Can
we say that anyone who commits a capital crime will face the same penalty?
We cannot. Rich men might not stick up liquor stores, but they have killed
people in passion or a drug-induced haze. Their high-priced lawyers can
overpower workaday prosecutors. For the most part, rich men generally
aren't put to death by civil servants.
Justice, then, is slow, costly and unevenly applied. Why do we keep the
death penalty? Revenge would be an honest but shocking answer. It is one
that many people won't admit. Politics is another answer. The death
penalty, as promised in campaign ads, would be swift and sure. In reality,
it is not, but no elected official seems willing to tell the public the
A life sentence without parole, without privileges, would be more swift to
enact and, in many ways, more harsh. It would avoid making martyrs out of
murderers. Pennsylvania condemned Abu Jamal to death many years ago for
killing a policeman. Not only is he still alive, he has become an
international celebrity. If he had been condemned to life imprisonment, he
would be forgotten in a cell.
It is not necessary to sympathize with, or even care about, killers such
as Brian Steckel or Abu Jamal to recognize that the death penalty system
(source: Opinion, The News Journal)
Death penalty getting costly in Mississippi----Counties having to foot
high bills for defense attorneys
A killer who sets a house on fire to murder the family inside has a better
chance of being tried, convicted and eventually executed if the crime is
committed in De-Soto or Lee or Hinds counties in Mississippi than
Humphreys or Leake or Wayne. The reason is simple: Money.
Now more than ever, counties in this state have to weigh the cost when
deciding whether they can afford to put a person on trial and ask a jury
to return a death sentence. It's not the cost of prosecution; it's the
cost of defense.
Even wealthier counties, such as those named, would be hard-pressed to
afford such cases. Counties without substantial tax bases simply could not
Residents of Quitman County know this. In July, the state Supreme Court
reaffirmed its position that local governments, not the state, must pay
lawyers for felony defendants who cannot afford private counsel.
Quitman, population 10,500, had borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars
to provide attorneys for two men accused of killing 4 members of a family
in 1999. The county has sued, repeatedly, to try to get state money, but
the court, with two justices dissenting, said, "Nope."
Attorneys for the county said they may press the matter in federal courts,
but for now that one criminal case has essentially bankrupted the Delta
Why does a capital case cost so much?
The answer entails a little history.
The U.S. Constitution, in effect since 1789, and the Mississippi
Constitution, in effect since 1890, both specifically say those accused of
crimes have an absolute right to an attorney. A problem has been that the
right was meaningless for those without money. By 1932, this was so
troubling to the U.S. Supreme Court that justices said, in an Alabama
case, having a defense lawyer was an "essential safeguard of liberty."
At that time, they left it to the states to decide how to hire and fund
defense counsel for the poor. The states did nothing.
But the issue kept coming up again and again, and in a 1963 case involving
a Florida burglar, the Supreme Court said, "That's that." From that day
on, an accused person who couldn't afford representation had a right to an
attorney whose fee would be paid from the public treasury.
On a parallel track through the same years, and as recently as 2004, the
Supreme Court has been raising the hurdles states must clear before a
condemned person can be put to death.
But more than anything else, the Supreme Court has insisted that when it
comes to death penalty cases, court-appointed defense attorneys must show
a high level of competence.
It's on this point where Mississippi, much to the joy of those who oppose
capital punishment, has simply not stepped up.
The statistics prove it. Since 1976, when the Supreme Court lifted a
moratorium on all executions, Texas has the record: 351 people put to
death. Across the South, the numbers are Louisiana, 27; Arkansas, 26;
Alabama, 34; Georgia, 39; Florida, 60 - and Mississippi, 6. (Rates of
homicides per 100,000 residents are fairly even across the 7 states,
except Louisiana where murders are double the average.)
What those other states have done and Mississippi has not is make a big
investment of public funds in defending people accused of capital crimes.
It may seem strange, but a state that really wants felons to pay the
maximum penalty must make sure those accused have nothing but the best in
terms of their legal team.
This is not theory, it's fact; and legislators who follow such matters are
thoroughly aware of why more capital felons here don't suffer the fate
they would in neighboring states.
Fewer and fewer district attorneys will choose to subject their local
taxpayers to the cost of prosecutions where the death penalty is an option
for jurors. Can't afford it.
Many have pleaded loud and long for an end to all capital punishment in
America. They hoped to win on principle. Instead, they're winning on cost.
(source: Opinion, The Clarion Ledger (Charlie Mitchell is executive editor
of The Vicksburg Post)
N.C. favors 2 a.m. executions
During the next four weeks, North Carolina prison officials plan to wait
until the middle of the night to administer the ultimate punishment to
three convicted killers.
At 2 a.m., while the city and death row inmates slumber, correction
officers concealed behind a curtain will pump a lethal poison into those
three inmates' veins.
Of the 10 states that have performed 83 % of the country's executions
since 1976, only North Carolina and Missouri execute their convicted
killers between midnight and early morning. Most states conduct executions
between 6 and 9 p.m., including Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma and Florida, all
in the top 5 in the number of executions.
Death penalty opponents say they think that North Carolina's time for
executions was chosen to deter their presence and lessen publicity,
because they occur after the 11 p.m. newscasts and after most newspapers
go to print.
* Steven Van McHone, 35, is scheduled to be executed Friday for the June
1990 murders of his mother, Mildred Johnson Adams, and his stepfather,
Wesley Dalton Adams Sr., in Surry County.
* Elias Syriani, 67, is scheduled to be executed Nov. 18 for the July 1990
killing of his wife, Teresa Syriani, in Mecklenburg County.
* Kenneth Lee Boyd, 57, is scheduled for execution Dec. 2 for the March
1988 slayings of Julie Curry Boyd and Thomas Dillard Curry in Rockingham
The 2 a.m. hour, chosen by Central Prison's warden, requires extra
security and detention officers to work late at night. Victims' relatives
and out-of-town witnesses must find a place to stay overnight. And fewer
death penalty supporters and protesters line up on Western Boulevard.
"It's done at 2 a.m. to keep it under wraps, not draw public attention and
reduce the attendance of protesters, which it certainly does," said
Stephen Dear, head of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, which
organizes vigils for executions.
Marvin Polk, Central Prison's warden, said the protesters are not a factor
in his decision to continue the 2 a.m. tradition, said Pamela Walker, a
spokeswoman for the state Department of Correction.
Prison officials say it is the best option -- logistically, legally and
for security. No one is working in the kitchen. No one is going to
appointments at the medical clinic, the prison system's largest. The death
row inmates are sleeping.
"It's when the prison is most quiet," Walker said.
Matter of convenience
That was the same reason Oklahoma held executions at midnight for years,
said Jerry Massie, a spokesman with the Oklahoma Department of
Corrections. In 2003, the state switched to 6 p.m. to make life easier for
the prison staff and others.
"It made for a shorter day. It also was more convenient for the family
members of the victims. If they couldn't afford a hotel, that's a long
drive back in the middle of the night," Massie said.
In 2002, Alabama, which ranks ninth in the country with 34 executions
since 1983, also switched from 12:01 a.m. to dinnertime.
With midnight executions, more employees took the next day off, said Brian
Corbett, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Corrections. "8 p.m. is
more cost-effective and convenient," Corbett said.
Virginia and Texas also moved away from midnight executions. In Texas,
which has accounted for 35 percent of all U.S. executions since 1976,
prison officials switched to 6 p.m. in 1995. The change was made in part
so that inmates' lawyers could file last-minute appeals while the courts
were still open. "Not only is it easier on the staff, it is easier for the
attorneys," said Texas prison system spokeswoman Michelle Lyons.
Rationale for 2 a.m.
Long gone are the days of executions in the public square. Public hangings
were common in North Carolina in the 1800s. A state archives photo on the
Department of Correction Web site shows Wilfred Roseboro being publicly
hanged in Iredell County in 1903. But that ended in 1910, when the state
took over administering the death penalty from the counties.
On March 16, 1984, James W. Hutchins, 54, who killed 3 Rutherford County
law officers in 1979, became the first person executed after a 23-year
hiatus that was caused in part by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that halted
Hutchins originally had been scheduled to be executed at 6 a.m. But after
his execution was delayed two months, prison officials rescheduled it for
2 a.m. -- and that has been the scheduled time for each of the 35
Hutchins' execution time was probably rescheduled because there was a
shift change at 6 a.m., which would have made things too hectic to conduct
an execution, Walker said.
All three inmates scheduled for execution during coming weeks -- Steven
Van McHone, Elias H. Syriani and Kenneth Lee Boyd -- had their appeals
rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court on the opening day of the court's term
last month. Under state law, prison officials have to schedule the
executions within a 30-day period that begins 1 month after notice that
the inmate's appeals have been exhausted. Therefore, officials had to
schedule the executions between Nov. 10 and Dec. 9.
Once a date is chosen, state law requires that the inmate be executed
within that 24-hour period.
Walker, the state Correction Department spokeswoman, said that law creates
another reason to schedule executions early in the 24-hour time period. It
leaves time to carry out the sentence even if there is a delay for legal
or other reasons. In March 2001, for example, the state was still able to
execute Willie Ervin Fisher after last-minute appeals delayed his
execution 19 hours. On March 9, Fisher was executed at 9 p.m.
Also, Walker said, prison officials are reluctant to move the execution
closer to midnight because it would mean less time for the inmate to spend
with family. On the day before the execution, the inmate can visit with
relatives from 10 a.m. until 11 p.m.
"That would be 2 less hours that they would be able to visit," Walker
Those 13 hours are the 1st time and last times a prisoner can touch
relatives since arriving on death row.
(source: News & Observer)
Penalty: Governor's history bad for prisoner
If Gov. Mike Easley stays true to form, he will instruct an aide sometime
late Thursday afternoon to issue a short statement saying that the
clemency request of convicted double murderer Steven McHone has been
About 1:45 a.m. Friday, McHone will be led from the death-watch cell and
strapped to a hospital gurney. He will be wheeled into the execution
chamber and receive 2 injections, one to render him unconscious and a 2nd
to stop his heart.
It will take about 20 minutes. And a family already torn by the 1990
shooting deaths of Wesley Adams Sr. and Mildred Adams will be further
3 of McHone's siblings - Tina Walker, Randy Adams and Cheryl McMillian -
have forgiven him and are fighting to halt his execution. A 4th, Wesley
Adams Jr., is demanding the justice prescribed by the death penalty.
McHone is guilty. Nobody denies it. He pulled the trigger and killed his
mother and stepfather with a shotgun.
"The evil of all this is tearing up our family," Walker said Thursday
night before a small gathering at the Unitarian-Universalist Church on
Robinhood Road. "No matter which brother I side with, I lose out."
McHone killed his parents during a drunken rage and was arrested almost
In the weeks and months afterward, prosecutors in Surry County met with
family members and talked about trial options. Whether to pursue the death
penalty was included in those discussions.
At the time, North Carolina law had no provision for sentencing a killer
to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In theory, murderers
not sentenced to death carried hope of one day walking out of prison after
a favorable ruling by the parole board.
"The prosecutor set the course. We followed it," Walker told a group of 10
like-minded people opposed to capital punishment.
The jury sentenced McHone to die, and he was sent to Central Prison in
Raleigh to wait through years of appeals. Walker changed her mind about
McHone's sentence a few years into the process and started to oppose it
The appeals ran their course earlier this year, leaving a plea for
clemency by Easley as the only realistic way of stopping the execution.
The governor heard from prosecutors and defense attorneys during a hearing
on Tuesday. Easley was presented with a binder full of material from those
who want McHone spared and a similar sheaf of documents prepared by those
who want the law upheld.
Scant information about the feeling of the victims' families made it to
the governor's desk. Ken Rose, one of McHone's attorneys, said that the
governor did not want family members at the hearing.
Presumably, the governor - a former state attorney general and prosecutor
in Brunswick County - wants to make his decision based upon the law rather
than be guided by raw emotion.
But whose emotion should Easley listen to in this case? The three siblings
who have forgiven McHone, or the brother who witnessed the murders and
Tom Keith, the Forsyth County district attorney, says that it is difficult
whenever a family's opinion is involved.
"Certainly you want to know, but it's not the determining factor," Keith
says. "We have to administer the law for everybody."
Since he was elected in 2000, Easley has heard 22 clemency petitions.
Including McHone's plea, the governor has 3 more decisions to make before
the end of this month.
Because he has granted only 2 petitions, history indicates that McHone,
Elias Hanna Syriani and Kenneth Lee Boyd will die of lethal injection in
the next 30 days.
If that happens, Tina Walker may have to rethink a decision of her own. As
the sister of the condemned (and as the daughter of the victims), she has
the right to witness McHone's execution.
"I wasn't planning to," she said. "But I don't want him to die alone. If
no one else (from the family) goes, I will."
(source: Winston-Salem Journal)
A troubling N.C. case for victims' rights
1 of the 3 executions scheduled for the next few weeks should be keeping
Gov. Mike Easley up at night. Well, they all should, but Elias Syriani's
date with the needle in the chilling Central Prison death chamber on Nov.
18 raises a highly unusual mix of punishment, clemency and victims'
Syriani, 67, of Charlotte, was convicted in 1990 of stabbing his wife,
Teresa, 28 times with a screwdriver. She died a month later. He was
sentenced to death in a move that was applauded by groups representing the
victims of domestic violence, as the conviction in such a matter generally
is for a lesser offense.
In the usual final scenario, the condemned man exhausts all of his appeals
in the legal justice system and, as a final lunge at life, asks the
governor to commute the death penalty to life. Easley has absolute power
to commute any sentence for any reason, and he has done so in two of the
25 requests he has addressed in capital punishment cases.
As the clemency request is being handled (the state actually has a
Governor's Clemency Office), the family and other loved ones of the murder
victims make their plea in the same process that allows the condemned
man's family and loved ones to plead for his life. Syriani's hearing is
scheduled for Tuesday.
In the usual run of things, the family and friends of the victim make a
strong, emotional pitch for the execution to take place. These wrenching,
desperately sad moments are unavoidable, and only a person with a heart of
stone would fail to see the human toll of the terrible crime.
These pleas, which also are heard during the sentencing phase of a trial,
after conviction, are made possible by the N.C. Crime Victims' Rights Act.
What makes the Syriani case remarkable is that the victims -- in this
case, his 4 children -- plan to ask the governor for clemency, rather than
asking for the execution to be carried out. The children visited their
father in prison last year and, despite their grief and loss, forgave him
and now want to keep him in their lives.
"We just feel if this happens, we will be devastated," said Rose Syriani,
28, of Indiana.
This puts Easley in a precarious position. If he has been willing to
consider the words of victims who want executions carried out (remember,
he has allowed 23 of 25 to go on), he is likewise obliged to consider the
words of victims who want the condemned man's life spared. But in a state
that heavily favors capital punishment, will the children's wishes move
the governor? And what of the district attorney who secured the conviction
I have to acknowledge some ambivalence about the victims' rights movement
that has taken hold not only in North Carolina but throughout the country.
While there is not a bit of doubt that victims, especially family of
murdered persons, bear a heavy weight of grief and sorrow, I hesitate to
believe that their wishes should play a significant role in the ultimate
fate of the convicted murderer.
In a society where everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law,
convicted murderers may not face equal stakes when the victims' families
are allowed to present their sides. Some, by dint of education or
experience, might be much more persuasive than others and be more likely
to encourage the maximum penalty. What, then, of victims who are
inarticulate or are not fluent in English? Especially in cases where they
are asking that a person's life be spared, they risk being ineffective
even when their desires and reasons are fully as heartfelt as the other
But what concerns me most is that the current system of honoring victims'
wishes could run the risk of going too far and turning the legal justice
system into a means of exacting personal revenge on the criminal. This is
absolutely wrong. We have a system of laws to ensure that criminals are
punished both equally and fairly. If a wrathful family, articulate and
hell-bent on seeing that the murderer is executed, succeeds in persuading
a governor to let it proceed, then the system becomes a vehicle for
revenge rather than for justice.
We must have a legal justice system that honors rules and laws and works
as hard as it can to ensure fair and equal treatment for those accused of
crimes. As Paul Robinson of Northwestern University wrote, an offender's
liability and punishment ought to depend upon his blameworthiness
(including, primarily, the seriousness of his offense), not on his good or
bad luck as to the forgiving or vindictive nature of his victim.
The Syriani case confronts the governor with a situation turned
upside-down. I fervently hope he will commute this father's death sentence
and allow him to grow old in prison. That's no picnic, but this is a
perfect opportunity for the state to take a new look at victims' rights
and what they really mean.
(source: Opinion; News & Observer (Bob Kochersberger, who opposes the
death penalty, teaches journalism at N.C. State University.)
Victims' kin: Spare the killers----3 slated to die soon in N.C.; death
penalty foes doubt that unwanted killings are justice
One stabbed his wife on a Charlotte street. Another shot his mother and
stepfather to death. A 3rd killed his wife and father-in-law.
All three face execution in North Carolina's death chamber in the next 30
days. Two have relatives making public appeals to save their lives.
The relatives -- with family ties to the victims and the killers -- say
the executions would only add to their grief.
Death penalty critics say the cases raise a question: Why proceed with an
execution if the victim's family doesn't want it?
That's a different tactic for capital punishment opponents, who gained
supporters in the past 2 years by raising a different question: How can we
be sure we're not executing innocent people?
The innocence argument won't work in these cases. All 3 men admit their
Elias Hanna Syriani of Charlotte stabbed his wife, Teresa, more than 2
dozen times with a screwdriver in 1990. Barring intervention by the courts
or Gov. Mike Easley, Syriani will die Nov. 18.
The 4 Syriani children have fought their father's execution in gatherings
at several N.C. churches. They've also met with Easley.
"No matter what, he's still my flesh and blood," said John Syriani, who
was 10 when he watched his father stab his mother.
"He's still my father, and one way or another I felt in my heart that God
taught us to forgive."
Three adult children and stepchildren of murder victims Mildred and Wesley
Adams want to stop the execution of their brother, Steve Van McHone, set
for Friday. A fourth adult child wants the execution to go on. McHone shot
his mother and stepfather in 1990 in Surry County during an argument over
Now that the 3 children have had more than a decade to think about the
issue, and have visited McHone, they held a news conference to say the
execution would just bring the family more pain.
"I've made peace with him, and I think it's just time to move on," Randy
A 3rd man, Kenneth Boyd of Rockingham County, is to die Dec. 2 for
shooting and killing his wife and father-in-law, Julie Curry Boyd and
Thomas Dillard Curry.
Boyd's lawyer says family members are divided over whether he should be
executed. The relatives haven't spoken publicly.
The 3 executions would be the first in North Carolina since death penalty
foes failed this summer to muster the votes to halt executions in the
state for 2 years.
In recent years, much of the N.C. debate has centered on whether innocent
people are on death row. Former death row inmate Alan Gell was cleared and
freed last year after media accounts uncovered a potential alibi that
jurors never heard.
The argument that states could end up killing the innocent has led to a
reassessment of execution practices around the country. (Such arguments
haven't caught hold in South Carolina. Lawmakers haven't recently taken a
significant look at halting executions.)
N.C. death penalty foes say the Syriani and McHone cases deflate a
familiar argument from the other side: that executions bring justice to
"If they don't want it, then why are we doing this?" said Stephen Dear,
executive director of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty. He wants
Easley to commute the death sentences to life without parole.
The governor has granted clemency twice and allowed 20 executions since he
took office in 2001. In Easley's first commuted sentence, Robert Bacon, a
black man, was sentenced to death while a white participant in the same
crime received a life sentence. In the other case, Charlie Alston claimed
evidence lost by the Warren County Sheriff's Office could have proven his
Lawyers for McHone and Syriani are making legal arguments to the governor
that are separate from the public appeal for forgiveness. The lawyers
argue McHone's jury didn't hear evidence of his quick remorse for his
crime, and that Syriani's jury didn't hear of his abusive upbringing. But
the governor has discounted similar arguments before.
McHone had his clemency hearing last week, and Syriani and Boyd have them
scheduled this month. Easley usually rules hours before a scheduled
"Consider the victims" was a prominent theme in this summer's moratorium
House minority whip Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell, successfully fought
moratorium supporters, who wanted to pause while the state studied whether
death sentences were administered fairly by the courts. He and other death
penalty supporters contend that executions deter crime, regardless of
whether victims' families want the killers to die.
Supporters of the delay could not rally the votes they needed in the N.C.
House, so they never put their plan to a vote. Instead, House Speaker Jim
Black, D-Mecklenburg, launched a study committee while the executions
continue. Committee members could propose legislation to lawmakers in May
-- for a moratorium or for changes in how the death penalty is
Polls show consistent support for the death penalty among North
Carolinians, although poll respondents want the state to have safeguards
to ensure no one innocent is executed.
Steve Van McHone
Age: 35. Execution scheduled: Friday.
Entered state prison: March 7, 1991.
Shot and killed his mother and stepfather 15 years ago in Surry County. 3
siblings want the execution halted. Another sibling wants it to continue.
Elias Hanna Syriani
Execution scheduled: Nov. 18.
Entered state prison: June 13, 1991.
Killed his wife in Charlotte in front of his 10-year-old son in 1990. Now
the son and 3 other siblings want the execution halted so they can
continue visiting their father.
Execution scheduled: Dec. 2.
Entered state prison: July 14, 1994.
Shot his wife and father-in-law in Rockingham County in 1988. Family
members have mixed feelings about the execution, Boyd's lawyer says.
(source: Charlotte Observer)
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