[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----USA, OHIO, FLA., IND., KY.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Nov 11 16:01:15 CST 2005
Engaged in a Very Civil War----The Federalist Society has reshaped the
legal system without ever going to court.
It began in 1982 with a handful of law students at Yale and the University
of Chicago who saw themselves as minorities. They were conservatives.
As a counter to liberal orthodoxy, they formed a legal debating group they
called the Federalist Society. And in a hint of things to come, their
first faculty advisor at the Chicago chapter was professor Antonin Scalia,
soon to be the most influential conservative on the Supreme Court.
This week, in a moment of triumph, the Federalist Society - now with
35,000 members and chapters at every major law school in the nation - is
holding its annual meeting at the Mayflower Hotel, a few blocks from the
Not only are conservative judges no longer a minority, 2 of the society's
favorites, new Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Supreme Court nominee
Samuel A. Alito Jr., are poised to add their "strict constructionist"
voices to the high court.
These days, the one-time college debating society is seen by both friends
and critics as the legal branch of the "vast right-wing conspiracy." It
brings together prominent conservative judges, Bush administration
lawyers, Cabinet officers, law professors and roomfuls of young lawyers
who hope to assume their places in the future.
They share a common concern: that courts and judges have taken on too much
power in America's democracy and that this "judicial activism" should be
replaced by what Roberts described as a modest and limited role for the
In fact, in large measure, they have already reshaped the courts.
Conservative judges, many of them products of the Federalist Society
network, have come to dominate the federal bench.
On Thursday, President Bush hosted the group's leaders for an early
morning meeting at the White House. As another sign of the society's close
ties to the Bush White House, the speaker for Thursday's dinner was Bush's
beleaguered political strategist Karl Rove.
Many liberal advocates admit they look with envy at what the Federalist
Society has achieved.
"They have been unbelievably successful in a short time," said Nadine
Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union. "They have
taken over the courts and the government. If you go to their meetings, you
see the attorney general, senators, the solicitor general. I wish we had
the same kind of presence."
Though the society has sometimes been portrayed as secretive, its debates
are not only open but are usually balanced with liberal voices. Strossen,
a New York Law School professor, regularly participates in Federalist
Society meetings on campuses.
"Radicals in Robes," the recent book by University of Chicago Law School
professor Cass R. Sunstein, attacks what he sees as a new wave of
conservative activism in the federal judiciary. Some conservative judges
would like to strengthen property rights and use the courts to roll back
federal laws on the environment, civil rights and workers' protections,
He was invited to this year's meeting to debate his book and its thesis.
"I really like them," he said of the Federalist Society. "They talk about
ideas in a serious way. And they are genuinely respectful of competing
In a bow to the society's success, several liberal professors founded the
American Constitution Society four years ago as a counter to the
Federalist Society. It has organized chapters at 138 law schools and holds
an annual meeting that has drawn speakers such as Supreme Court Justices
Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton
But Strossen concedes the liberal group has not yet achieved the same
presence at law schools. "It still has a way to go," she said.
The Federalist Society has managed to influence the law without going to
Unlike the ACLU, it does not file lawsuits and legal briefs. Nor does it
takes stands on legislation in Congress. It does not even officially
endorse and lobby for its own members, such as Alito, when they are
nominated to the Supreme Court.
"When Harriet Miers was nominated, we had vocal members on both sides of
that debate," Northwestern University law professor Steven G. Calabresi,
one of the four original founders of the group, said of Bush's failed
choice for the Supreme Court. He noted that former Judge Robert H. Bork, a
hero to many conservatives, said the selection of Miers was a "disaster."
True to their roots, Federalist Society members seem most enthralled by
debates over legal philosophy. This year's conference is focused on the
theme of "originalism," the theory that the Constitution should be
interpreted strictly based on its words and 18th century history, not on
how concepts such as liberty and equality are seen today.
As the Federalists know - and few others would recall - then-Atty. Gen.
Edwin Meese III gave a speech in 1985 calling on the Supreme Court to
adopt the "jurisprudence of original intention." He faulted the high court
that year for decisions that prohibited silent prayer in public schools,
restricted the death penalty and limited the questioning of suspects by
police. "Far too many of the court opinions were, on the whole, more
policy choices than articulations of constitutional principle," he said.
Meese argued that the only true sources of a justice's authority are the
plain words of the Constitution as they were originally understood.
A few months later, Justice William J. Brennan, the court's leading
liberal voice, fired back in a speech, saying Meese's view represented
"little more than arrogance cloaked as humility." He said justices could
not truly discern precisely what the men of 1787 meant when they wrote
clauses that, for example, prohibited "cruel and unusual punishments" or
"unreasonable searches and seizures."
Brennan said the Supreme Court should not be held "captive to the
anachronistic views of long-gone generations." Rather, it should interpret
the Constitution as setting out a "vision of human dignity [that]
continues to evolve," he said.
This week, the Federalist Society reprinted both speeches as part of its
program and used them as a backdrop for debates on topics such as
"originalism and unenumerated rights" and "originalism and precedent."
Though they may be abstract, these topics describe the essence of the
Senate's debate over Roberts' nomination and the upcoming debate over
Alito. As conservatives, will they vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade because
the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion was not based on the original
intent of the Constitution, or will they uphold it because of its
Conservatives ruefully acknowledge that they have not won many converts to
"originalism" on the Supreme Court. Two justices, Scalia and Clarence
Thomas, describe themselves as originalists. They have rejected, for
example, claims involving gay rights or challenges to the death penalty
for mentally retarded defendants by saying such ideas would have violated
the original understanding of the Constitution.
By contrast, a majority of justices said the death penalty for retarded
defendants was cruel and unusual punishment by today's standards.
Similarly, state laws that blatantly discriminate against gays, the
majority said, violate "equal protection" as it is understood today.
Sunstein, who clerked for the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, agreed that
the conservative legal movement has won some battles, but not the war over
how to interpret the Constitution.
"They have won the battle against 'liberal activism,' " he said. "But they
have not won the debate over 'originalism.' The American public does not
believe the Constitution should mean what it meant at the time it was
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Death row case old but not forgotten -- 2 decades after his murder
conviction, an Ohio inmate is still trying to clear his name and save his
life. The governor granted 2 recent reprieves.<>
The case that sent John Spirko to Ohio's death row has proved so troubling
that, in just the last 10 weeks, Gov. Bob Taft has twice granted Spirko a
reprieve so further investigation could be conducted.
3 members of the Parole Board, in a strongly worded dissent from the
decision to deny Spirko a recommendation for clemency, signaled their
growing unease with the case when they wrote there was "too much residual
doubt to execute" Spirko.
And this week state Atty. Gen. Jim Petro agreed to support a request from
Spirko, who insists he is innocent, for DNA testing of evidence, although
in a letter to Spirko's lawyers he said he did not think it would provide
proof of Spirko's guilt or innocence.
That these developments come more than 2 decades after Spirko was
convicted and sentenced to death for the abduction and murder of the
postmaster in the northwest Ohio hamlet of Elgin is but one sign that the
case is more than a little out of the ordinary.
"I think it's a reflection of the considerable doubt that exists," one of
Spirko's attorneys, Thomas Hill of Washington, D.C., said of the recent
developments. "Here we have a case of actual innocence."
Kim Norris, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said the office
remained sure of Spirko's guilt and that he had received a fair trial, and
believes he should be put to death. But she said prosecutors wanted to
allow Spirko's lawyers to exhaust their legal options before Spirko
received a lethal injection.
"Jim Petro believes that when it's a capital case every avenue should be
explored," Norris said. "So if they are seeking a DNA test, they should be
accommodated, though that DNA test may have absolutely nothing to do with
Spirko was convicted of the 1982 death of Betty Jane Mottinger, who was
abducted from the one-room rural post office where she worked. Her body,
which had been stabbed more than a dozen times, was found 6 weeks later in
a soybean field 50 miles away, wrapped in a painter's tarp tied with
No physical evidence connected Spirko to the murder. He was linked to the
crime after he contacted authorities and offered to trade information
about the case in exchange for leniency for himself and a girlfriend in an
Over the next 2 1/2 months, Spirko offered a dozen stories, none of them
tape-recorded, that investigators have admitted were riddled with lies and
inconsistencies. But Spirko's stories, authorities said, also had facts
about the case that only the killer would know.
Spirko's attorneys say he got those facts either from the news or from a
postal investigator increasingly desperate to solve a high-profile crime.
2 jailhouse informants--among the least credible witnesses in the criminal
justice system--also testified that Spirko had confessed.
Spirko also hurt himself. Testifying in his own defense, he said a former
cellmate named Delaney Gibson had committed the crime and told him about
it. What Spirko did not know, according to the defense, was that
investigators had determined that Gibson was likely in North Carolina
picking tomatoes when the murder occurred.
Spirko's lawyers contend that prosecutors hid that information from them
and kept Gibson's capital murder indictment pending for 20 years just to
protect their case. They finally dismissed Gibson's indictment last year,
on the same day a federal appeals court rebuffed Spirko's appeal.
"Their only concern," Hill said during an interview, "was that by
dismissing the indictment it would jeopardize their case against Spirko."
Indeed, the investigator in charge of the case had concluded that Gibson
was not involved in the case. Still, prosecutors convicted Spirko in part
by using a woman's claim that she saw Gibson near the Elgin post office to
link Spirko to the crime.
In addition, Spirko had an alibi--that he had met with his parole officer
in Toledo--about 100 miles away from the post office.
'This has been reviewed'
Norris, the spokeswoman for the attorney general, said the case has been
thoroughly reviewed by the courts, and that the claims made by Spirko's
lawyers all have been rebuffed.
"None of these are new arguments," Norris said. "This has been reviewed by
the courts many times, and they've all come to the same conclusion."
Spirko's most recent execution date was Nov. 15, but the DNA testing--on
the dropcloth in which Mottinger was wrapped--has delayed it.
In addition, Spirko's lawyers want officials to send fingerprints lifted
from the safe in the post office to the FBI's database in an effort to
identify a suspect. The fingerprints are not Spirko's, they say.
Spirko's attorneys also want authorities to investigate claims from a
house painter that could buttress Spirko's innocence claims. The house
painter, according to the lawyers, says his boss, who owned property near
the field where Mottinger's body was found, made incriminating statements
about the murder.
The house painter also claimed that he recognized the dropcloth that
covered Mottinger as one his boss--now in a Louisiana prison--used
frequently around the time Mottinger was murdered. Last month, the lawyers
said, the house painter passed a lie-detector test on his claims.
(source: Chicago Tribune)
Toledo Groups to Protest Approach of 1000th Execution in the US
People of faith and others concerned about problems with the legal system
in Ohio and the United States will march from the Lucas County Courthouse
to One Government Center in Toledo starting at 5pm on Monday, November 14,
2005 to call attention to the approaching 1000th U.S. execution since
1977. Sponsored by St. Rose Peace & Justice, the "March For Life, March
Against the Death Penalty" is the first major event of dozens that will
take place across the country to protest this historic milestone. The
possibility that Ohio's scheduled execution of John Hicks on November 29th
could be the 1000th execution makes this event even more timely and
urgent. Everyone is welcome.
March & Rally Details---
When: Monday, November 14, march starts at 5 PM
Where: March from the Lucas County Courthouse to One Government Center in
Who: Speakers at rally at the end of the march will Include:
Abraham J. Bonowitz, Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death
Larry Clark, Director, Toledo Area Ministries
Jeff Gamso, Legal Director, ACLU Ohio
Otis Gordon, Pastor, Warren AME Church
Sister Sharon Havelak, OSF, Director Interfaith Peace and Justice Center
Toby Hoover, Director, Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence
(source: Christian Wire Service)
Man convicted in Charlotte prosecutor's slaying dies in prison
A former prosecutor who survived a 1988 shooting that claimed the life of
a colleague lamented that their attacker wasn't executed long before his
death from natural causes in prison last week.
Samuel A. Pettit, 43, who suffered from a degenerative brain disorder,
died Nov. 4 on Death Row at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford.
"I know Pettit's in hell and I feel good about that," former state
prosecutor Kathleen Finnegan told the Charlotte Sun. She was wounded when
Pettit kidnapped then shot her and co-worker Norman Langston in August
1988. Langston, also a prosecutor, was killed.
Pettit was confined to a wheelchair for the last several years and was
unable to care for himself.
"I hope he suffered greatly," Finnegan said. "I've waited for this day."
Finnegan, who was 28 at the time, and Langston, 27, were getting into a
car outside a Punta Gorda hotel after a social gathering when Pettit
approached with a gun.
He forced them to drive to a dam, robbed them and fired his gun four times
in the car. Langston covered Finnegan with his body, shielding her from
"I always knew we would receive justice from God, long before his case
made it through the quagmire of the appeals process," Finnegan said. "I'm
reflective of Norm's life. Pettit lived 6,286 days longer than Norm....He
was a good man and a hero. I know he's smiling in heaven today."
Pettit was arrested on a Naples beach the next night and sentenced to
death in 1989. He had said he didn't want anyone crying over his death
because he was "not crying over anyone else."
Pettit had 17 prior arrests and had served only a small portion of his
previous sentence before being let out of prison in 1988. He was still on
probation when he kidnapped Langston and Finnegan.
The crime inspired Finnegan to lead the Stop Turning Out Prisoners
initiative to pass legislation forcing prisoners to serve at least 85
percent of their sentence.
Pettit's death provided little comfort to Norman Langston's brother,
"You talk about a waste of time, talent, everything," Richard Langston, an
attorney in Frankfort, Ind., told the Sun. "Here's a kid who put his life
in position to finally reap the harvest, and he was cut down by some idiot
with a Saturday Night Special."
The justice system failed because Pettit was sentenced to death but was
"allowed to deteriorate in jail," Richard Langston said. "He shouldn't
have died in prison; he should have been executed in prison."
(source: Associated Press)
Prosecutor Seeks Death Penalty In Triple-Slaying
In Rockville, a Parke County prosecutor will seek the death penalty for
Chad A. Cottrell, the western Indiana man charged with murdering his wife
and two stepdaughters, crimes that a sheriff said were committed to
conceal the man's sexual abuse toward his daughters.
Cottrell killed his wife, Trisha Cottrell, 29, and her daughters,
12-year-old Brittany Williams and 10-year-old Victoria Williams, while
molesting or trying to molest the girls, Parke County Prosecutor Steven
Cvengros alleged in the state's notice of intent to seek the death
penalty. The document was filed Thursday in Parke Circuit Court.
Cottrell was trying to "hush" the three from reporting the abuse, Parke
County Sheriff Charles Bollinger told The Brazil Times for a story Friday.
Cottrell has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bond in the
Parke County Jail.
The phone rang unanswered at Cvengros's office on Friday, which was
Veterans Day, a legal holiday. A message was left by The Associated Press
with Jessie Cook, Cottrell's attorney.
Authorities have not released autopsy results, but Bollinger told The
Times that his department's investigation determined that the girls had
During a preliminary court hearing last week, authorities said Cottrell
shot the 3 and then told a 6-year-old boy who overheard the noise that he
had shot 3 deer.
The unidentified boy told police that Brittany and Cottrell were arguing
before the shootings, according to a probable cause affidavit signed by
The girls' grandmother, Tricia Parker, discovered the bodies Oct. 31
inside bedrooms in the family's rural home about 50 miles outside
The victims were found in each of 3 bedrooms.
Cottrell was arrested in central Minnesota Nov. 1 after he failed to pay
for fuel at a service station and was chased by police.
Prosecutors Seek Death Penalty In Double Murder
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Isiah Fugett, who admitted
to police he shot and killed 18-year-old Robert Robbins and 19-year-old
Eric Ray in the parking lot of a downtown hotel in January of 2004, but is
claiming self defense. WAVE 3 Investigator Eric Flack reports.
The teens were shot in the parking lot behind of the old Clarion Hotel and
Brook and Jefferson. But as the jury heard Monday, there are 2 very
different versions of the events that led to that shooting.
Eric Ray and Robert Robbins had been friends since childhood. They were
both graduates of Trinity High School, and according to investigators,
they were both murdered in a drug deal gone bad.
A friend of the two, Adam Abell, told the court that he "was with them
many times when we went to the Chevron (near the Clarion Hotel). Sometimes
we would come back with marijuana, sometimes we wouldn't."
The night of January 26, 2004, police say the teens were hoping to make a
pot buy from Fugett in the parking lot of what was then the Clarion Hotel.
Police believe the victims knew Fugett, and set up the deal earlier in the
What happened next depends on who you ask.
Fugett allegedly fired multiple shots from a 9mm handgun. He told police
he was acting in self defense. The teens, he said, had pulled the shotgun
But prosecutors contend the shotgun, which belonged to Ray but was later
found on Fugett, was strictly for hunting. The teens, investigators say,
were murdered in cold blood.
Larry Robbins he had to identify the bodies, starting with his son,
"And I asked Jason to roll him toward me so I could get a better view of
his face, and I identified him from his scar. He has a quarter-size scar
on his front shoulder."
The coroner offered to inform Ray's mother, but Robbins insisted that he
do it. "I said, 'RD you're a nice person and everything, but she doesn't
need to hear this from a stranger."
Kathy Ray told the jury she has been robbed of a son and a friend. "Eric
and I talked probably 10 times a day, if not more."
Fugett, who has pled not guilty, is charged with robbery, tampering with
physical evidence and 2 counts of murder. He could be sentenced to death
The trial will resume next week, when prosecutors call their star witness,
an airline pilot from Pennsylvania who says he watched at least part of
what happened from a hotel window right above the parking lot.
According to police records, that witness heard a commotion, then saw a
white man turn his back and begin to run away from a black man, who raised
his hand fired at least 3 shots, then walked away.
(source: WAVE News)
Death Penalty Sought In KY Murder Case
The Commonwealth's Attorney in Madisonville says he will seek the death
penalty against the man accused of stabbing a Dawson Springs woman to
Billy Roulette is accused of stabbing his neighbor, 72-year-old Billie
Cochrane, while trying to rob her in August.
Police say they have the murder weapon and 2 confessions.
Roulette is being held without bond. The case is set to go to the Grand
Jury November 29th.
Roulette's girlfriend, Miranda Marts, is also charged in the case.
(source: WFIE News)
More information about the DeathPenalty