[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----GA., TENN., CALIF., ILL.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Oct 17 02:11:57 CDT 2005
GEORGIA----new military death sentence
Airman Witt gets death penalty
Senior Airman Andrew Witt was sentenced to death Thursday for the murder
of fellow Senior Airman Andrew Schliepsiek and his wife, Jamie, at their
home on Robins Air Force Base last year.
A unanimous vote of the jury of Air Force officers in Witt's court-martial
was required to impose the death penalty.
The same jury of 10 men and 2 women a week earlier convicted the
23-year-old avionics specialist from Wisconsin of murder in the stabbing
deaths of the young couple.
Witt also was convicted of attempted murder in the stabbing of Staff Sgt.
Jason King in the same violent outburst after Witt was confronted about a
pass he made at Jamie Schliepsiek.
The crowded courtroom was silent moments before the judge and jury entered
to announce the sentence at 11:45 a.m. There was extra security - a
mixture of military and civilian guards - at the Bibb County Courthouse in
Macon, where the trial and sentencing were held.
As they awaited the decision, family and friends of the victims held each
other close, and Witt's family and friends did the same on the other side
of the courtroom. When the sentence was read, the jury foreman looked
directly at Witt, who displayed no emotion.
There were no loud sobs or sighs from the audience.
Witt's mother, seated behind him in the front row, wept silently. His
teenage sister's face was red and streaked with tears.
Family and friends of Witt's victims also quietly cried.
The judge dismissed the jurors after reminding them of their oath not to
discuss the deliberations with anyone.
Witt was escorted by military security guards out a door used by the
judge. Witt's family and his attorneys were escorted out a back door of
A crowd of news photographers were stationed outside the main door that
led to the lobby. Andrew Schliepsiek's father, Dave, with his wife by his
side, were the next to leave the courtroom.
Jim Bielenberg, Jamie Schliepsiek's father, with his head between his
hands, continued weeping deeply while the courtroom was cleared.
Family members of the Schliepsieks requested not to be questioned by the
news media, said Tim Kurtz, Robins spokesman.
King, the sole survivor of the brutal attack, hugged lead prosecutor Maj.
Vance Spath, as did family members and other friends of the slain couple.
"I felt a lot of weight come off my shoulders when that sentence was read
in court," King said outside the courtroom. "My goal was to get to this
day ... to get justice for Andy and Jamie."
King described the Schliepsieks as "the storybook couple." He said the two
were deeply in love and couldn't go more than an hour without talking to
King, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor's
guilt, said he may never get over having fled for his life, leaving his
friends behind. But the 30-year-old from Jonesborough, Tenn., said he
finds validation in being able to tell what Witt did.
As for what's next, King said he promised some people very close to him
that he would now focus on taking care of himself and getting some
Outside the courtroom, Spath fielded questions from reporters. "We
certainly feel relief and that justice was done today," the prosecutor
The trial was Spath's 1st death penalty case.
The verdict and sentence now go before Maj. Gen. Michael Collings,
commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins. Collings
has the authority to uphold or modify the verdict and sentence. If upheld,
a death penalty case automatically goes through a lengthy appeals process.
Witt will join eight other members of the armed forces on death row at
Fort Leavenworth, Kan., the only U.S. military prison that houses
Frank Spinner, the lead attorney for the defense, declined to comment.
Testimony in the trial showed that Witt attacked the couple and their
friend after receiving a flurry of angry phone calls about a pass he had
made at Jamie Schliepsiek less than 48 hours earlier.
The callers threatened to beat him up and tell Witt's supervisors about
Witt, who had been at home in bed, changed into his camouflage battle
dress uniform, drove from his Bonaire home to the base, broke in the
Schliepsiek home in the early morning hours of July 5, 2004, and attacked
the couple and King with a combat knife.
(source: Macon Telegraph)
State says Thompson doctor shouldn't act like attorney
"Unauthorized and improper" steps have been taken in an attempt to prevent
the execution of a confessed killer who's on death row for killing a
Shelbyville woman 20 years ago.
That's according to Jennifer Smith, the associate deputy attorney general
appointed by Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers to deal with death
penalty cases. Thursday, she responded to a doctor's statement forwarded
to the Supreme Court.
At issue is the life of Gregory Thompson, 43, who was convicted by a
Coffee County Circuit Court jury for the 1985 stabbing death of Brenda
Blanton Lane, a former Shelbyville Times-Gazette reporter then working for
the United Methodist Publishing House at its offices in Nashville.
She was a niece of Jesse Blanton who was Shelbyville's chief of police at
the time. Because of that, Lane is well-remembered by this newspaper, the
law enforcement community here and others. Some of her friends have said
they believe she died while praying for Thompson's soul and her life.
Feb. 7 is when Thompson is scheduled to be executed.
Tennessee's Supreme Court has been asked to place Thompson's execution on
hold so hearings may be held. It's also been asked for a recommendation to
Gov. Phil Bredesen that he grant clemency.
Given case law, Thompson must only know that he's to be executed for
Lane's murder, according to the attorney general's office.
Pleadings from Nashville-based Michael Passino and Federal Public Defender
Dana C. Hansen have used an affidavit from Dr. Faye Sultan to make a case
that Thompson is not competent to be executed.
Smith's replied that Sultan's report shows Thompson believes the Secretary
of the Navy will prevent his execution and his involvement in Lane's death
is a result of fate. Those views, however delusional, show Thompson knows
he's to be executed, even though he supposedly thinks it will be stopped,
and that the purpose of the plan to kill him is because of Lane's murder.
Now, Smith counters Sultan's supplemental affidavit saying that the
doctor's "concern that her previous report was 'misinterpreted' ... is
Rules of court procedure don't provide for the submission of Sultan's
additional statement, Smith said Thursday. Furthermore, Sultan's
submission was received by the court's officers without legal argument or
statements from Thompson's appointed attorney. It arrived with a cover
"Nor is it based on any additional observation or psychological evaluation
of Thompson by Dr. Sultan since her previous affidavit," Smith said. "It
is merely amplification of the first affidavit in an apparent attempt to
cure legal deficiencies identified by the state's response...
"It would indeed be a curious judicial procedure that permits [a defense
team] to mutate the evidence on which he relies in response to each
successive pleading filed by the opposing party," Smith said.
Beyond that, "a retained expert may not 'reply' to a pleading in the place
of appointed counsel," she said.
For those and other reasons, Smith said yesterday, the court should strike
Sultan's latest statement from the record in Thompson's case.
(source: Shelbyville Times-Gazette)
Lawyers Go Behind Bars as Guardians of Prisoner Rights
They exposed the state's locking up of juvenile offenders for 23 hours at
a stretch in cells smeared with blood and feces.
They helped spark an unprecedented federal court takeover of California's
prison healthcare system after revealing that prisoners were dying because
of medical neglect.
They ended the practice of placing mentally ill prisoners in extreme
The Prison Law Office, a nonprofit group of lawyers who labor in the
shadow of San Quentin Prison, has in recent years scored a string of court
victories felt in nearly every corner of California's teeming prisons.
"There is almost no aspect of California corrections, adult or juvenile,
that is not subject to a court order, and almost all of those are the
result of suits brought by the Prison Law Office," said Barry Krisberg,
president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
Although its lawyers are underpaid by law firm standards and represent
wildly unpopular clients, the group has become a litigation powerhouse so
successful that the state in recent years has chosen to fold rather than
Why, then, do the lawyers seem more frustrated than triumphant?
They complain that the pace of change in California's prisons and youth
correctional facilities is achingly slow, that court orders and negotiated
settlements take years to achieve and mark only the start of reform.
As they trudge from prison to prison to make sure that promised
improvements are in place, they say they must continually remind
themselves of what they have accomplished during the group's 30 years of
"People aren't shot dead anymore; let's start with that one," said Steve
Fama, 49, who has worked at the Prison Law Office for 20 years. "During
the late '80s to mid-'90s, the number of prisoners shot dead in California
was staggeringly disproportionate to the number shot dead in all the other
state prisons combined."
The 10 lawyers, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, work in a cluster of modest
offices on San Francisco Bay. They receive as many as 100 letters a day
from inmates asking for help.
"The kind of cases the Prison Law Office has litigated involve a guy
sticking his arm through the food slot and a guard breaking his arm,
people crawling up the stairs to parole hearings because there were no
provisions for people with disabilities and inmates on psychotropic drugs
dying because their cells overheated," said Sue Burrell, an attorney for
the Youth Law Center, a public interest law firm.
In a lawsuit against the California Youth Authority, the Prison Law Office
"Rehabilitation cannot succeed when the classroom is a cage and wards live
in constant fear of physical and sexual violence from CYA staff and other
In a report stemming from a lawsuit the office helped bring, a
court-appointed monitor found that the Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation was refusing to discipline guards for serious misconduct at
Pelican Bay, a super-maximum security prison.
"Some correctional officers end up acquiring a prisoner's mentality: They
form gangs, align with gangs and spread the code of silence," the monitor,
John Hagar, wrote.
Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson reported that at
least 34 inmates had died recently because of neglect, incompetence and
"even cruelty" by medical staff. Henderson's action followed a lawsuit by
the Prison Law Office.
On a tour of medical facilities at San Quentin, the judge observed a
dentist who neither washed his hands nor changed his gloves after placing
his hands in patients' mouths.
"On average, an inmate in one of California's prisons needlessly dies
every six to seven days due to constitutional deficiencies in the medical
delivery system," Henderson said.
The Prison Law Office was established when memories of the siege at Attica
Correctional Facility in New York were still fresh. The 1971 uprising, in
which 43 were killed, raised public awareness of brutality and racism in
American prisons and spurred widespread calls for reform.
But the passage of years diminished the power of Attica, and the impulse
for reform gave way to laws instituting harsher and harsher prison
sentences. The inmate population exploded.
>From 1983 to 1995, the number of California inmates rose from 30,000 to
160,000. Despite an unprecedented prison construction boom, the prisons
are at roughly 193% of their design capacity, frustrating efforts to
Don Specter, 53, director of the Prison Law Office, said sentencing laws
need to be revised to reduce the numbers behind bars. As long as the
prisons are overcrowded, conditions that violate the Constitution's ban on
cruel and unusual punishment will persist, he said.
During the lawyers' visits to the prisons, the inmates tend to be
"A lot of them realize you're their only hope, the only thing that stands
between them and the guard," Specter said.
The lawyers have complained that prison rules sometimes make meetings with
their clients difficult.
Sara Norman, 37, another lawyer in the office, recalled her irritation
when guards at a youth correctional center in Stockton forced her to wear
a bulky green stab-proof vest during a tour.
Talking to wards through their food slots, Norman said, she apologized for
the vest. "That is not the way I want to be interacting with them," she
Alison Hardy, 44, also an office lawyer, said she vigorously objected when
guards at the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo insisted that she
could meet with prisoners only if they were shackled. The guards
Yet a prison guard once locked Norman into a plexiglass cell with an
unshackled convicted murderer on death row.
After the interview concluded, Norman called out to the guards to let her
out. No one heard her. Eventually, she resorted to "banging and banging
and banging on the door."
The inmate was "perfectly nice," and they laughed about the incident, she
said. Her point was that prison rules are "utterly arbitrary."
The lawyers said they generally have good relations with prison staff,
although their litigation record has caused some resentment.
When the state loses a case, it must pay the Prison Law Office reasonable
attorney fees, which is how the office pays for itself.
Lance Corcoran, executive vice president of the prison guards' union,
complained that taxpayers are bearing the expense.
He said the Prison Law Office has "incredible power" and faulted the
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for doing "a very poor job of
Jerold A. Prod, an administrative law judge and former chief counsel for
the state corrections department, described the Prison Law Office as
"probably a cut above the average public interest legal organization." He
also observed that the lawyers could be "blinded by their cause."
He recalled a time when the group wanted work opportunities to be equal
for male and female inmates, even though the men vastly outnumbered the
women behind bars and the female inmates, he said, mostly wanted to go to
"The fastest way to start a riot at the California Institution for Women
at that time was to shut down the cosmetology clinic," Prod said.
The Prison Law Office has benefited from significant free help from some
of the state's top private law firms.
"They pick their shots," said Richard B. Ulmer Jr., a partner at Latham &
Watkins who has worked with the office.
The group knows its way around Sacramento. Specter, often described as
unassuming, is reputed to be a fierce negotiator.
"He comes across as a very gentle, quiet person, but man, get out of the
way," said Burrell, of the Youth Law Center.
Bruce Slavin, general counsel for the corrections department who has dealt
with the Prison Law Office for 20 years, said relations with their lawyers
have become "less confrontational" and "less adversarial" over the years.
"If the Prison Law Office brings a complaint to me, they are usually going
to be accurate in identifying the problem," Slavin said. "Their solution
may not be the same as our solution."
Specter said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger "has a commitment to prison reform
that no other governor has had" but still has failed to make any
"The governor gets creamed by the victims' rights activists and the prison
guards and starts to sound more and more like [former Gov.] Pete Wilson,"
Even when the governor has signed onto a reform, months may pass before
the prisons adopt it, the lawyers said.
Fama, the group's 20-year veteran, recalled his frustration during a
recent visit to monitor implementation of reforms at a Southern California
prison. He discovered that a logbook intended to ensure that emergency
medical supplies were in place had been provided only the day before his
visit. The prison was supposed to have had the book months earlier.
Fama said his aggravation eventually gave way to hope. Although progress
was slow, his visit had made a difference.
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Congressional Leaders Join Call for International Probe into Chicago
-- Torture Victim, Congressmen Rush and Davis, and Victims' Lawyers
Available for Media Comment Prior to Hearing Before International Human
What: In a move that could impact Chicago authorities suspected of
stalling their own investigation, international human rights monitors will
conduct an inquiry TODAY, October 14, into well-documented allegations
that Chicago Police systematically tortured 135 African-American criminal
suspects during the 1970s and 80s, with total impunity. This is the only
hearing focused on human rights violations within the U.S.
Congressional critics of Chicago police abuse will join lawyers involved
in the torture cases at a press conference for reporters at 10 am EST
TODAY before presenting the case to the international human rights
The hearing by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) was
granted at the request of a coalition of human rights organizations, bar
associations, attorneys, and community activists that have long sought
justice against former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and other
officials responsible for the torture of African-Americans in an effort to
coerce false confessions.
When/: TODAY, October 14, IACHR Administrative Building
Where 1889 F. St. N.W., Washington, D.C.
10 am EST, press conference for media (on the building steps)
11:15 am EST, international human rights hearing
Who: U.S. Illinois Reps. Bobby Rush and Danny Davis
David Bates, victim of torture under Burge's command in 1983
Locke Bowman, MacArthur Justice Center
Bernadine Dorn, Midwest Coalition for Human Rights
Flint Taylor, The People's Law Office,
Standish E. Willis, The National Conference of Black Lawyers
Why: The torture represents one of the most explosive police controversies
in Chicago's history, fueling concerns about systemic racism in law
enforcement and ultimately leading to the release of African American
prisoners from Illinois death row after evidence showed they were victims
of police torture. Other victims still languish in prison based on
confessions that were extracted through torture.
All of the alleged acts of torture, including electric shocks to the
genitals administered by a cattle prod, suffocation, burns and mock
executions with a shotgun, took place under the direction of Burge, who
has been the subject of various legal inquiries for nearly a decade. A
special prosecutor was appointed in 2002 to review the case but has yet to
issue any findings or file criminal charges. Meanwhile, Burge resides in
Florida and collects a taxpayer-funded pension.
The lack of state or federal accountability for these heinous acts
prompted the victims and their supporters to seek international
intervention. The groups will present their case to the IACHR, the human
rights arm of the Organization of American States (OAS), at the hearing in
the hopes that the panel will conclude that an independent international
inquiry and report in this case is warranted.
(source: U.S. Newswire)
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