death penalty news----N. DAK., S.C., WIS., IOWA, UTAH
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Nov 30 23:54:58 CST 2005
Judge rejects Rodriguez claim that death penalty is biased
In Bismarck, a federal judge has rejected a claim that the death penalty
is racially biased in the case of a convicted sex offender charged in the
death of University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson in Fargo ruled Wednesday that the
defense "has failed to prove a racial motive" in the prosecutors' decision
to seek the death penalty if Rodriguez is convicted in the death of
Sjodin, 22, of Pequot Lakes, Minn.
She disappeared in November 2003. Her body was found the following April
near Crookston, Minn. Rodriguez, 52, from Crookston, is awaiting trial on
a charge of kidnapping resulting in her death.
Rodriguez's attorney, Richard Ney, did not immediately return a telephone
call seeking comment Wednesday.
U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said the ruling recognized that the decision to
seek the death penalty was based solely on the facts of the case and not
on Rodriguez's Hispanic background.
"It's an allegation no one likes to hear, and as expected, the court saw
through it," Wrigley said.
The defense had argued that the vast majority of defendants in federal
death penalty cases are minorities, and that the Justice Department was
arbitrarily applying the death penalty in the Rodriguez case.
"The fact remains that Defendant is alleged to have committed a crime for
which the laws of the United States permit the imposition of the death
penalty," Erickson wrote. "His argument that others similarly situated did
not receive a sentence of death is insufficient to raise a constitutional
Erickson on Wednesday also granted a defense motion that prosecutors
should not be allowed to use Rodriguez's sex offender treatment records as
a separate aggravating factor to support the case for the death penalty.
Prosecutors say Rodriguez refused sex offender treatment while serving 23
years in prison for assaulting women.
However, Erickson wrote, "Nothing in this ruling prevents the government
from presenting evidence on Defendant's failure to undergo sex offender
treatment as support for another relevant ... aggravating factor."
Prosecutors must prove a statutory aggravating factor for Rodriguez to be
eligible for the death penalty if convicted.
Wrigley said he looks at Erickson's ruling as "sort of a glass half full."
"We'll be able to present evidence of Rodriguez's failure to avail himself
(to treatment)," he said. "It's not going to be a stand-alone aggravating
Wrigley said the information would be included in arguments that Rodriguez
would be a danger to society in the future.
"(The ruling) doesn't foreclose anything with respect to the death
penalty," Wrigley said.
"From how we expected to move forward and what information we're intending
to get in front of the jury ... I don't expect a big change," he said.
(source: Associated Press)
SOUTH CAROLINA----impending execution
Activists and family member speak out against S.C. execution
A family member and people against the death penalty pleaded Wednesday for
clemency for an Upstate man who is scheduled to be executed on Friday for
killing a store clerk on New Year's Day 1994.
The protest of Shawn Humphries' execution on the Statehouse steps just
outside of Gov. Mark Sanford's office came one day after Virginia Gov.
Mark Warner granted clemency to an inmate who had been scheduled to be the
1,000th person executed in the U.S. since capital punishment was
An inmate in North Carolina is scheduled to die at 2 a.m. Friday, and
Humphries' execution is scheduled 16 hours later.
Sanford's spokesman Joel Sawyer said a decision on Humphries clemency
request would be made no later than Friday morning.
But "based upon the fact that this case has already been through an
exhaustive legal process, the governor's legal team is not inclined to
recommend that the governor grant clemency," Sawyer said.
The Rev. Brenda Kneece of the South Carolina Christian Action Council said
Humphries' death sentence is not fair punishment. "Only as we extend
(mercy) to others can we claim to be walking with God," she said.
Humphries' aunt, Terri Piotrowski, said her nephew's "death has no
meaning, and I sure don't think this is justice."
Piotrowski, who previously supported the death penalty, said she changed
her mind after becoming a devout Christian. "Oh Jesus, I want to make a
difference," she said, tears streaming down her face.
Abe Bonowitz of Citizens United Against the Death Penalty said
Piotrowski's grief is evidence that capital punishment only creates more
Humphries, now 34, was convicted of murder in 1994 for the shooting death
of store clerk Mendal Alton "Dickie" Smith. Prosecutors said Humphries and
a friend decided to rob the store after drinking beer all day.
Surveillance tape at his trial showed Humphries going into the store and
flashing a gun at Smith. When Smith reached under the counter, the tape
showed Humphries fire a shot and run away. Smith was struck once in the
The friend, Edward Gerald Blackwell, stayed in the store and told police
what happened, according to testimony. He is serving a life sentence for
his own murder conviction.
Humphries is "very sorry, very remorseful, for what he did, but at the
same time, is sort of mindboggled. Nobody ... has been executed for
basically an attempted robbery that went bad," said Teresa Norris of the
Capital Center for Litigation, who has requested the U.S. Supreme Court
stop the execution.
Several others touched by capital cases also spoke Wednesday.
SueZann Bosler of Florida said she devoted more than 10 years of her life
to gain clemency for the man sentenced to death for killing her father,
the Rev. Billy Bosler, in 1986. James Bernard Campbell, who also stabbed
SueZann Bosler several times, is now serving life without parole.
A former jury forewoman in New Orleans said her "hands were on a wrongful
conviction" when she helped sentence Daniel Bright III to death in 1996.
Norman fought to overturn the sentence, and Bright was exonerated in 2004.
Then there was the story of a former death row inmate in California.
Shujaa Graham said he sat on California's death row for six years before
his sentence was overturned. He referenced Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s
"Letter from a Birmingham Jail."
"Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly," Graham quoted.
As part of a speaking tour around the state, Bosler, Norman and Graham
were scheduled to travel to Greenville later Wednesday.
(source: Associated Press)
Pleas to End Death Penalty Sentences
A plea to stop executions in the United States hits home in South
Carolina's Upstate.The group "Voices of Experience" and members of Amnesty
International are making stops across the state.
At St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Greenville on Thursday night, a former
juror who voted for the death penalty and a man falsely convicted and put
on death row talked about their opposition to the death penalty. This week
will mark 1,000 executions in the United States, including a Greenville
County man scheduled to be put to death on Friday, December 2, 2005 for
murdering a convenience store owner in Fountain Inn in 1994.
The attorney for 34-year-old Shawn Paul Humphries, Teresa Norris, says,
"basically this is a case that never should have been considered for the
death penalty because this was an attempted armed robbery that Shawn had
no intent to kill anyone.
Humphries mother, Carla Scott, adds, "I know in my heart that he did not
mean to do this. He told me, he said mamma I didn't even know I'd even
43-year-old Dickie Smith is the man Humphries murdered. Thursday night,
FOX Carolina's Tami Birckner will talk one on one with family members from
both sides of this crime. On Friday, Tami will be a witness to Humphries
execution. It is scheduled for 6:00pm at the Capital Punishment Facility
at the Broad River Correctional Institute in Columbia.
(source: Fox21 News)
Keep state ban on death penalty
2 misguided state senators are citing the high-profile criminal case of
Steven Avery as reason to reinstate the death penalty in Wisconsin.
In fact, Avery is a powerful example of why this state should not repeal
its more than 150-year ban on killing prisoners.
Avery is the Two Rivers man who was charged with first-degree murder and
mutilation of a corpse last month after the remains of Teresa Halbach were
found on his family's property.
Sen. Alan Lasee, R-De Pere, said Avery's case has convinced him to expand
his proposal for a statewide advisory referendum on the death penalty.
Lasee wants voters to endorse giving courts the option of instituting the
death penalty in single murder cases with strong DNA evidence. Previously,
Lasee would have limited the option to multiple murders.
Sen. Tom Reynolds, R-West Allis, said Avery's case should help his bill to
reinstate capital punishment in cases in which a person is convicted on
charges of murder, sexual assault and mutilation of a corpse.
The Legislature should soundly defeat both proposals, no matter how
narrowly they might be applied.
Halbach's death was horrific, and the killer should be severely punished.
But the death penalty is not the way to mete out justice.
Wisconsin has banned the death penalty since 1853. The ban is cautious,
realistic and doesn't prevent courts from locking up killers for life. The
ban recognizes that the judicial system is fallible, and that capital
punishment is expensive because of lengthy appeals.
Avery's case actually shows why the ban is necessary. He spent 18 years in
prison for a brutal rape and assault he did not commit. DNA evidence
exonerated him and implicated another man.
Irrespective of charges against Avery in Halbach's murder, the truth
remains that he did not commit the 1985 rape and assault - yet he paid for
At a 2-day symposium held in Madison last week, there were other falsely
accused citizens who had lost between 3 and 12 years of their lives to
flaws in the judicial system.
Several studies have shown that states sometimes convict the innocent, at
least 328 people between 1989 and 2003, according to one study.
Lasee and Reynolds may want a life for a life, but these numbers suggest
that our government could mistakenly kill an innocent person.
That's a mistake Wisconsin cannot afford to risk.
(source: Opinion, Wisconsin State Journal)
GOP renews death penalty drive
In Des Moines, a bill to reinstate the death penalty in Iowa will be
introduced on the 1st day of the upcoming legislative session, Republicans
"We're going to be up front with this," said Sen. Larry McKibben,
R-Marshalltown. "The bill will be filed the 1st day of the session."
The death penalty debate will come as lawmakers consider toughening the
state's sex abuse laws, but Democrats said they would block debate on the
"I think we need to do all the things we all agree on to make Iowa safer,"
said Sen. Keith Kreiman, D-Bloomfield. "The death penalty will not be one
Kreiman and McKibben co-chair a legislative task force studying the
state's sex abuse laws, which are expected to be a focus of the upcoming
session. The task force met Wednesday to finalize its recommendations for
the next session.
The task force agreed to push for "safe zones" around schools, playgrounds
and other places children gather to keep convicted sex offenders from
loitering around those areas. Such zone would fill a loophole in the
state's law that prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of
a school or daycare, Kreiman said.
Debate over the state's sex abuse laws arose last year following the
kidnapping and slaying of 10-year-old Jetseta Gage of Cedar Rapids.
Republicans tried to attach the death penalty to a package of bills that
toughened sex abuse laws but Democrats blocked debate in the Senate, which
is tied at 25-25.
Senate President Jeff Lamberti, of Ankeny, said Iowans want the death
"I don't believe it's appropriate for them to block it," he said.
Senate Democratic Leader Michael Gronstal, of Council Bluffs, said he
would again block debate on the issue.
With the Senate dead even, both parties must agree before an issue can be
raised, and Gronstal said the death penalty won't be among those issues.
He said it would be a waste of time to debate the death penalty because
there are not enough votes in the House or Senate to approve the measure,
and Gov. Tom Vilsack would veto it.
"I don't see a point in us debating it," Gronstal said.
He said Iowa's sentence of life without parole is already a death
"People go to prison until they die," he said. "We will not be debating
this on my watch."
McKibben said his proposed death penalty would be limited only to those
who kidnap, sexually assault and kill a child.
"This is a death penalty for the worst of the worst," McKibben said.
The main hurdle for the bill is the deadlocked Senate. The House approved
a limited return of the death sentence in the last session before it was
blocked by Senate Democrats.
House Speaker Chris Rants, R-Sioux City, said he would make sure the
measure is debated if it is passed by the Senate.
"If they send it to us, we'll debate it," Rants said. "I'll have to set
aside 3 days and I'm prepared to do that."
(source: Cedar Rapids Gazette)
Death-row inmate Lafferty loses round in court
Death-row inmate Ronald Lafferty moved a step closer to execution Tuesday
when a 4th District judge denied numerous defense claims, including that
Lafferty's trial attorney lacked experience to handle a capital murder
In a 67-page decision, Judge Anthony Schofield denied more than 50 claims
raised by Lafferty and his appeal attorneys, who wanted the judge to hold
hearings where Lafferty's trial attorney and others could be called to
The decision puts Lafferty, 64, about halfway through an appeal process
that could end at the U.S. Supreme Court.
He was sentenced to die for his part in killing his sister-in-law,
24-year-old Brenda Lafferty, and her 15-month-old daughter Erica at the
victims' American Fork Home in July 1984.
Lafferty claims he received a revelation from God ordering him and his
younger brother Dan Lafferty, who is serving a life sentence, to commit
Defense attorney Aric Cramer said he would appeal Schofield's ruling to
the Utah Supreme Court.
Lafferty "has been denied a hearing on a significant issue," Cramer said.
Cramer said he wanted to question defense attorney Michael Esplin "about
where I feel errors were made and where he wasn't qualified [for a
death-penalty case] under American Bar Association standards.
"At some point, either the Utah Supreme Court or the federal courts will
send it back to have the hearing I think we should have had."
Assistant Utah Attorney General Thomas Brunker called Schofield's ruling
"a big hurdle in the sense that we're not going to have to take the time
for an evidentiary hearing.
"The case can move on now, and it makes it much more difficult for Mr.
Lafferty to get an evidentiary hearing in federal court. It will assist in
this process moving faster."
Cramer and co-counsel Grant "Bill" Morrison perused some 14,000 pages of
documents in preparing their post-conviction relief case for Lafferty.
Cramer said he was saddened by the decision but would not give up.
(source: Salt Lake Tribune)
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