[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----S.C., ILL., VA., USA, OHIO
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Oct 31 15:40:46 CST 2005
SOUTH CAROLINA----impending execution//volunteer
Man who killed 4 set to die----Wise is scheduled for lethal injection for
1997 murders of coworkers
Hastings Wise had scores to settle back in 1997 at the Aiken lawnmower
ignition plant where he had been fired several weeks earlier, but the
shooting spree would have to wait.
First, he wanted to see the country -- visit the San Diego zoo, make it to
Wise, scheduled to die by lethal injection Friday for killing four people
he thought wronged him at the R.E. Phelon plant 8 years ago, got in his
car before the murders and drove 9,000 miles in 2 weeks, according to a
"There are things he wanted to see before he committed the crime he knew
he was going to commit," Dr. Richard Frierson said at a hearing last year.
Wise, 51, is going to the death chamber on his own free will. Wise
intended to kill himself after shooting up the plant, but the insecticide
he drank only made him sick. Since then, he has asked to be held
responsible for the deaths, refusing to let his lawyers call witnesses to
save his life or file appeals on his behalf.
Former co-workers, neighbors, lawyers and court records paint a picture of
a man of contrasts.
Wise was a regular churchgoer who shared an apartment with a cat and a
Shih Tzu named Buster. He was a 6-foot-4 ex-con who weighed in at more
than 250 pounds and spent almost 15 years cleaning up his life but still
seemed to enjoy intimidating co-workers by talking about his time in
prison for breaking into a house and robbing a bank.
Wise felt he was a victim of racism all his life, vividly recalling how as
a child he felt singled out because he was black when a 3-year-old white
boy stepped on his foot, Frierson said.
The shootings at the plant were ruthless. Testimony from the trial laid
out Wise's plan to get revenge.
At his trial, Wise refused to let his lawyers call any of the 13 witnesses
they had planned to use, even during the sentencing phase.
"I made my decision to not bring my family or friends into this. I have
not tried to shy away from the charges or my guilt," Wise told the judge.
(source: Charlotte Observer)
Supreme Court evaluates man's request for execution
A man sentenced to die for killing a York County deputy 13 years ago has
asked the state Supreme Court that his appeals be dropped so he can be
The justices heard arguments Wednesday on Mar-Reece Hughes' mental
Hughes was convicted and sentenced to death in 1995 for shooting Deputy
Brent McCants during a 1992 traffic stop.
A circuit judge already has ruled he is competent to waive his appeals.
On Wednesday, Hughes told Chief Justice Jean Toal he wants the Corrections
Department to proceed with his execution.
Hughes' answers to Toal's question about his medication and condition were
"I do not suffer from paranoid schizophrenia," he said. "It's not like I
got a mental problem."
For the past 2 years, Hughes has been held at the Gilliam Psychiatric
Hospital. When asked by Justice James E. Moore what medications were in
his system, Hughes said he takes only one drug, Geodon, for schizophrenia.
Defense attorney Teresa L. Norris, of the Center for Capital Litigation in
Columbia, argued that Hughes is not competent to waive his right to the
appeal process called post-conviction relief.
Norris also called Wednesday's appearance the calmest Hughes had been in
three years and said he suffers "from severe mental illness" and has been
involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility 8 times.
Deputy Attorney General Donald Zelenka argued that Hughes does comprehend
the gravity of the proceedings and can waive his right to appeal. He said
sending an inmate directly from a psychiatric institution to the death
chamber "only shocks the conscience if (the defendant) is truly mentally
Following the proceedings, Zelenka said Hughes has been consistent in his
requests that his appeals be dropped.
"He was revealing his desire in the same way he had revealed it before,"
Zelenka said. "As we all know, with mental illnesses, they wax and wane."
In 2004, Judge Paul Burch ruled Hughes competent to waive his right to
appeal due to his "clear and concise" demand for execution and
understanding of his case.
(source: Associated Press)
Pardon records go public
The chairman of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board says he's troubled
about losing a fight to keep documents involving the pardon of Michael
Evans out of the hands of attorneys for Chicago Police officers accused of
"I find it worrisome that the court would erode what we have historically
considered a sacred privilege," Jorge Montes said. "The first thing I
learned when I joined the board 11 years ago was that all of our
recommendations to the governor were confidential and privileged."
Evans was convicted in 1977 of kidnapping, raping and murdering Lisa
Cabassa, 9. His sentence was vacated and he was released from prison in
2003 based on new DNA tests. He filed a lawsuit in 2004 accusing officers
of framing him. Then in January 2005, Gov. Blagojevich pardoned him.
In his lawsuit filed in federal court, Evans' attorneys said they'd use
his pardon as evidence of his innocence. As a result, attorneys for the
officers subpoenaed the governor's office and the prisoner review board
for documents involving his pardon.
But the state fought turning over some of the documents, including the
board's recommendation on Evans and e-mails by the governor's advisers. It
argued that the board's recommendations are confidential under state law.
Judge calls this 'the rare case'
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier disagreed. In an Aug. 25 opinion,
he ordered the state to turn over the documents to the police officers'
attorneys because they're relevant to issues raised in Evans' suit.
Schenkier said his decision should not be interpreted as opening the
prisoner review board's recommendations to public scrutiny.
"It is the rare case where, as here, a pardon decision is potentially
relevant to issues raised in a civil lawsuit," he wrote. "Our decision
today should not be read as an endorsement of the routine or widespread
dissemination of materials underlying any and all pardon decisions."
Still, the decision might apply to other lawsuits in which other pardoned
inmates have sued the Chicago Police Department. One of them is Madison
Hobley, a Death Row inmate pardoned by former Gov. George Ryan, whose
decision to empty Death Row made international news.
The city has subpoenaed documents surrounding Hobley's pardon and Ryan's
attorneys have resisted, saying it would "chill present and future
governors who face the often unpopular, but critical, task of examining
individual cases and deciding if a pardon is appropriate."
Jennifer Hoyle, a spokeswoman for the city's Law Department, said it's too
early to know if Schenkier's opinion would apply in other cases, such as
Undue political influence feared
In the Evans case, the pardon-related documents have not been entered into
the court record, but the judge described some in his opinion.
In addition to the prisoner review board's recommendation, they included
e-mails by Deputy Gov. Bradley Tusk, senior counsel Matt Ryan and other
top advisers to Blagojevich. Some e-mails were between Matt Ryan and Abbey
Ottenhoff, deputy director of communications for Blagojevich.
"Our review of those e-mails persuades us that the subject on which Ms.
Ottenhoff sought [Matt] Ryan's input was political -- not legal -- and Mr.
Ryan's political advice is not protected by an attorney-client privilege,"
Montes, the Review Board chairman, said he hopes Schenkier's opinion does
not serve to erode the secrecy that shrouds the board's decisions.
"It's not useful for the public to know how our board members are voting,"
he said. "We don't want any undue influence of politics. To have these
votes exposed could put pressure on members that they could be too
ex-offender friendly or too prosecutorial."
(source: Chicago Sun-Times)
Cops seek jail informants in probe of '86 murders
Illinois State Police agents are questioning dozens of former cellmates of
a freed Death Row prisoner in their probe of a Downstate double murder,
prosecutors have confirmed.
The inmates are being asked if Gordon "Randy" Steidl or one-time
co-defendant Herb Whitlock ever admitted to any involvement in the 1986
Paris, Ill., murders of newlyweds Karen and Dyke Rhoads.
Steidl, 54, was released in May 2004 after serving 17 years in prison.
Whitlock, 59, was convicted by a separate jury and is serving a life
Karen Daniel, a lawyer at Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful
Convictions and one of Steidl's attorneys, called the effort to find a
prison informant a "very desperate investigative tactic."
Jailhouse informants, or snitches, typically trade information for
leniency in their own cases. Because of that powerful incentive, they are
widely viewed in the criminal justice system as among the least credible
Reforms made by the General Assembly in 2003 bar prosecutors from seeking
the death penalty in cases that rest solely on jailhouse informants, and
they allow judges to weigh informants' reliability before trial.
"We know that many, many wrongful convictions result from snitch
testimony," Daniel said. "So if all they're going to do is add snitches,
then they shouldn't be prosecuting."
Richard Kling, one of Whitlock's lawyers, said he was "angry" and
"saddened" that police and prosecutors were seeking out informants.
David Rands, a special prosecutor with the Illinois appellate prosecutor's
office, defended the questioning as a reasonable investigative tactic,
saying it was just part of a "very detailed and painstaking" probe.
"I'm well aware of the shortcomings of [jailhouse snitch] testimony," he
said. "We are leaving no stone unturned."
The interviews became public 10 days ago at a hearing of the Illinois
Prisoner Review Board, which is considering Steidl's request for a pardon
"based on his innocence." At the hearing, Steidl referred to a letter from
"Last week, detectives came down here and started talking to all your old
cellmates," the inmate wrote in a letter dated Sept. 10.
The inmate wrote that agents told an African-American inmate that if
Steidl had not been in prison, he would have been in the Ku Klux Klan. The
agents also asked about Whitlock, who is in the Danville Correctional
Center and trying to win his freedom.
Special prosecutor Ed Parkinson, also of the appellate prosecutor's
office, said last week that he was concerned about the KKK allegation.
"It's a tactic that I don't approve of, if it occurred," he said. "As far
as I know, he always maintained his innocence."
At the Review Board hearing, Parkinson said he opposed consideration of a
pardon while the state police investigation was still going on. He
suggested the probe could end within 3 more months.
Lt. Lincoln Hampton, spokesman for the state police, said his agency does
not comment on ongoing probes.
Reached last week at his home in Missouri, Steidl said he was never a
member of the Klan, and said he fears agents will find someone willing to
implicate him, even though he has always maintained his innocence.
"The prison system is full of snitches," he said. "They will say anything,
and police know that. It just seems like it's a pretty sleazy way to
conduct an investigation."
(source: Chicago Tribune)
Police question ex-cellmates of freed death row inmate about 1986 Paris
Authorities have been questioning former cellmates of a 54-year-old freed
death row inmate as part of their reinvestigation into the 1986 killings
of 2 people in east-central Illinois, prosecutors said.
Illinois State Police have been asking the inmates whether Gordon "Randy"
Steidl or his one-time co-defendant Herb Whitlock ever admitted to any
involvement in the deaths of newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhoads of Paris.
Steidl was the 18th person since Illinois reinstated the death penalty in
1977 to be freed because of a wrongful conviction after serving time on
Illinois' death row. A federal judge ruled in June 2003 that the jury that
convicted him of the murders did not hear all the evidence.
Steidl - who spent 17 years in prison, including a dozen on death row -
has requested a pardon based on innocence, but prosecutors have said he is
still a suspect in the couple's deaths.
During a hearing before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board on Oct. 21,
Steidl referred to a letter dated Sept. 10 from an inmate who wrote that
detectives had questioned him and other former cellmates about Steidl and
Whitlock - who is serving a life prison sentence for the murder of Karen
Rhoads - is awaiting an Edgar County judge's decision on whether he will
reconsider his ruling to deny Whitlock's request for a new trial.
Karen Daniel, one of Steidl's attorneys and a lawyer with Northwestern
University's Center on Wrongful Convictions, said the attempt to find a
jailhouse informant is a "very desperate investigative tactic."
But David Rands, a special prosecutor with the Illinois Appellate
Prosecutor's Office, said the questioning of former cellmates is a
reasonable investigative method and is part of a "very detailed and
"I'm well aware of the shortcomings of (jailhouse snitch) testimony,"
Rands said. "We are leaving no stone unturned."
State Police spokesman Lt. Lincoln Hampton said his agency does not
comment on ongoing investigations.
The Appellate Prosecutor's Office has said it needs 2 to 3 months more
months to determine whether it wants to retry Steidl.
(source: Associated Press)
Former DA speaks on death penalty
A former district attorney in Illinois and New York spoke Thursday at a
Global Review Student Association event on his decision to leave the field
of law and enter the church.
Stan Irvin's presentation, "Is the Death Penalty Effective? A Former
Prosecutor Speaks Out," focused on how certain cases conflicted with his
established ideas and morals, when convicting and sentencing someone to
the death penalty while he was a district attorney in Brooklyn, New York.
"When I began prosecuting homicide cases, I really didn't feel one way or
the other about the death penalty. I then saw a couple of cases where I
realized that errors could still happen and innocent people can be put to
death. That really made me see the sanctity of life," Irvin said.
"Being a D.A., you see the worst of the worst of what humans can do."
Irvin is currently an associate minister at the Wesley United Methodist
Church in Bloomington.
One case that made Irvin think critically about possible errors when
sentencing the death penalty involved an eyewitness who pointed out the
wrong perpetrator from a list of photos.
"If it wasn't for the people pointing out errors in the cases, then these
innocent men may have received the death penalty," Irvin said. "What level
of error is acceptable in cases if the death penalty is possible? How do
you remedy taking someone's life?"
One case in particular drastically impacted Irvin's views, he said. He
recalled a mother's testimony to the man who had shot and killed her son
after he was sentenced to life in prison.
Irvin said the mother forgave the defendant because of her Christian
beliefs and then hugged him, which was very unprecedented.
"This action impressed upon me the sanctity of life. It also impressed
upon me that we should not be seeking vengeance, but we need to forgive
and love," Irvin said.
At the end of the presentation, Irvin answered questions the audience had
about their own death penalty beliefs.
Rick Heiser, a member of the Bloomington-Normal Interfaith Committee for
Abolition of the Death Penalty who helped arrange Irvin's visit, said he
was impressed by Irvin's presentation.
"I found it very informative and Irvin tells a compelling story. He bares
his 23 years of service as a D.A. and puts a human face on it. This issue
needs to be addressed and we can no longer afford the luxury of the death
penalty," Heiser said.
Assistant Professor of Communication John McHale said Irvin's presentation
raised important points.
"It doesn't matter if you are for or against the death penalty, nobody
wants their money to be spent to kill a person.
Irvin's experiences show that sometimes you can never be sure whether or
not someone is truly guilty or innocent," McHale said.
(source: Daily Vidette)
Death penalty is the hot topic for election
Timothy M. Kaine and Jerry W. Kilgore never clashed in a courtroom, but
the 2 lawyers have made the death penalty the most emotionally charged
issue in this years gubernatorial race.
Kilgore, a Republican, is airing a series of scathing television ads that
attack Kaine for representing death row inmates in court.
Kilgore previously held posts as assistant U.S. attorney and assistant
commonwealths attorney in his native Scott County. He prosecuted three
murder cases, all of them domestic violence cases in which the death
penalty was not an option.
Kaine, a Democrat, acted as lead attorney for 2 death row inmates, Richard
Lee Whitley and Lem Tuggle, during appeals of their convictions.
Both men lost their appeals and were executed.
The death penalty has long been a potent issue in Virginia. The state has
executed 94 convicted murderers since capital punishment was reinstated in
1976. Only Texas has applied the death penalty more often, with 350
Virginias high rank is partly caused by appeals courts that have
historically been reluctant to overturn death sentences, said Richard C.
Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in
The Virginia Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th
Circuit create a "double whammy," Dieter said, making most capital appeals
Kilgore wants to expand the use of capital punishment in Virginia by
eliminating the so-called "triggerman rule," which generally reserves the
death penalty for people who directly take a human life.
23 states permit capital sentences for people who commit a felony that is
associated with a murder, even if someone else pulled the trigger or
otherwise did the killing. None of those states uses the death penalty as
frequently as Virginia does.
Virginia law does create several exceptions to the triggerman rule. They
cover murder-for-hire cases, acts of terrorism and certain gang-ordered
killings. The terrorism exception was used in 2004 to sentence John Allen
Muhammad to death for the sniper killings even though prosecutors could
not prove that he shot any of the victims.
Virginia Beach Commonwealths Attorney Harvey L. Bryant III favors Kilgores
plan to end the triggerman restriction. He doubts the change would
dramatically increase the number of executions in Virginia, but he pointed
to three Beach cases from the 1990s in which the rule prevented
prosecutors from seeking the death penalty against secondary parties.
One of those cases was the 1994 Witchduck Inn murders, in which 4 people
were shot during a robbery. The gunman, Michael Clagett, was executed in
2000 - but evidence at trial indicated that his girlfriend, Denise
Holsinger, planned the robbery and urged Clagett to fire the shots. She
was given five life sentences plus 23 years.
Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, said existing exceptions to the
triggerman rule are necessary, but he said eliminating the rule entirely
could allow prosecutors to seek death sentences against getaway drivers
even in cases where they were unaware that a murder would be committed.
"The farther we get away from the person who pulls the trigger, the more
likely we are to pick up people we didnt intend to," said Stolle, chairman
of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.
Kaine has not proposed any changes in state capital punishment laws. A
Roman Catholic, Kaine acknowledges that he is morally opposed to the death
penalty. But he has promised if elected to uphold state laws prescribing
execution for the most heinous murders.
"I am as capable of following an oath of office as any person of faith,"
he said at a news conference this month.
Daniel Maguire, a professor of moral theology at Marquette University,
said Kaines pledge is legitimate.
"According to Catholic teaching, you may have to cooperate with laws with
which you do not personally agree since this is necessary for the common
good," he said.
Maguire said Catholics remain divided over the death penalty. The issue
received renewed attention under Pope John Paul II, whose experience with
capital punishment in communist Poland made him a vocal critic.
The pope "didn't shut the door on it entirely," Maguire said. "He said its
almost always the wrong thing to do."
Kilgore has argued that Kaines past opposition to the death penalty would
cause him to commute all death sentences if he is elected governor.
During a news conference this month, Kilgore handed out legal documents
and newspaper articles detailing Kaines work on the Whitley case.
"Mr. Kaine spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours on this case," Kilgore
said. "This was an activist pursuing his passion."
Paul Marcus, a professor at the William and Mary School of Law, said
Kilgore's statements could make it more difficult to recruit defense
attorneys for future death penalty cases in Virginia. He said lawyers are
often hesitant to handle death penalty appeals because they require months
of effort with relatively little compensation.
"To use that against someone in a political campaign is a terrible thing,"
Marcus said. "It's already hard enough to get lawyers to take these cases
without them worrying about whats going to happen 20 years down the road."
Marcus noted that several high-profile Republicans, including Chief
Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and former Solicitor General Kenneth Starr,
have represented death row inmates.
Kilgore said his history as a prosecutor would not interfere with his
ability to fairly consider clemency requests. He noted that as public
safety secretary he recommended clemency for Edward Honaker.
Honaker did not face the death penalty, but the Nelson County man served
10 years in prison for rape. Kilgore said a State Police review and DNA
testing convinced him that "the evidence that convicted him was not
Despite the vigorous debate this year, there is little evidence that
Virginia's capital murder law will be discarded. For several years, Del.
Frank Hargrove, R-Hanover, has introduced bills to abolish the death
penalty, but the measure has never made it through committee.
Once a staunch defender of executions, Hargrove said he will try again in
"Once you've executed and you find evidence you executed the wrong person,
you can't say 'Oops, I slipped,'" he said.
Stolle, a former police officer, believes the death penalty serves an
important role as a deterrent.
He recalled 2 cases in which convicted robbers said they spared their
victims out of fear that they would be sentenced to death if they were
The state senator has led a push in recent years to improve safeguards,
including increased funding for forensic technology and measures allowing
appeals when new evidence of innocence is discovered.
Even so, Stolle said he believes those changes arent foolproof.
"It is only a matter of time before Virginia and other states ban the
death penalty," said Stolle, who supports the death penalty despite his
pessimism about the safeguards.
"It will come when an innocent man is executed. Inevitably, somebody who
is innocent will be executed."
(source: Virginian Pilot, Oct. 30)
Death penalty case shows impact Alito could have on Supreme Court
Samuel Alito, nominated by President George W. Bush to the U.S. Supreme
Court, could make a big difference in how death penalty cases are decided
if he is confirmed by the Senate.
This year the Supreme Court threw out a death sentence that had been
upheld by Alito. The swing vote in the 5-4 ruling was Sandra Day O'Connor
- the justice Alito would replace.
The case involved Ronald Rompilla, who had been convicted of robbing,
stabbing and setting fire to the owner of a tavern in Allentown,
Pennsylvania, in 1988.
He claimed his lawyers failed to consider material they knew the
prosecution was likely to rely on as evidence. Rompilla argued that, had
his lawyers considered that material, they would have found evidence to
suggest why he should be spared a death sentence.
He filed a petition arguing that he had been denied his right to effective
counsel. The U.S. District Court agreed, ruling the his defense failed to
investigate obvious signs of Rompilla's troubled childhood as well as his
mental illness and alcoholism.
That decision was overturned by Alito's court, the U.S. Court of Appeals
for the Third Circuit. Alito, in a 2-1 opinion written for the majority,
said Rompilla's lawyers did enough to represent their client.
Rompilla appealed to the Supreme Court, which in June overturned Alito,
granting Rompilla a new penalty trial.
(source: Associated Press)
A capital debate----Even particularly heinous crimes, say U.S. bishops,
dont warrant use of the death penalty
Bishop Paul S. Coakley knows firsthand the torment of losing a friend to a
murderer's hand - and the awful temptation to confuse the vengeance to
which it gives rise, with justice.
Bishop Coakley, now the ordinary of the Diocese of Salina, was a priest of
the Diocese of Wichita in December 2000 when 2 brothers - Reginald Carr,
22, and Jonathan Carr, 20 - went on a crime spree. Before their violence
was spent, 4 people were dead - one of them a potential seminarian whom
Bishop Coakley had dined with only days before.
"2 of those were young people that I knew quite well," Bishop Coakley
said. "I had dinner with one of them several days before his death, when
he was visiting the seminary."
Aaron Sander had met with then-Father Coakley at Mount St. Mary Seminary
to discern a vocation to the priesthood; then-Father Coakley also knew
Heather Muller, Sanders former girlfriend.
"They were both outstanding young Catholics, very serious about their
faith," said Bishop Coakley.
The Carr brothers bloody rampage, like the heinous murders committed by
Dennis Rader (the BTK Strangler), are exactly the sort of crimes that lead
many to wonder if the death penalty isnt appropriate justice - at least in
"Too often, I think, we experience that knee-jerk reaction that is
gut-wrenching and visceral, that cries out for 'an eye for an eye,' and
thats just not the Gospel way," said Bishop Coakley.
The church's teaching about the death penalty, he said, is difficult for
many to accept, but once accepted, it brings a certain liberation that can
only come from grace.
"It calls us to something higher and more challenging, but it calls us to
a greater freedom," said Bishop Coakley.
Seizing the moment
On March 21, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched the Catholic
Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty.
It wasnt exactly a bolt from the blue. For the past 25 years, the church
has spoken out increasingly against the death penalty through bishops
statements, papal encyclicals, and the "Catechism of the Catholic Church."
"The bishops want to seize a particular opportunity we may have to help
shape thinking among Catholics and the American public on the death
penalty," said Joan Rosenhauer, special projects coordinator for the
Department of Social Development and World Peace of the USCCB.
Polls commissioned by the USCCB show that support for the death penalty is
falling among Catholics, and there is a new willingness to listen to
"[The bishops] wanted to seize this moment to express as clearly as they
could Catholic teaching on the death penalty, so more and more Catholics
would understand what the church says on this issue," said Rosenhauer.
There is some uncertainty and even resistance. Some wonder if the church
has changed its teaching, or is even contradicting itself.
"No, the church hasn't contradicted itself," said Rosenhauer. "There are a
lot of different ways to express what has happened. Some people use the
term 'application of the churchs teaching in the current environment.'"
The basic teaching of the church about the death penalty is unchanged, she
said. The death penalty is not deemed intrinsically evil - in other words,
always wrong in every circumstance. However, in our current day and age,
the situations where it is needed "are rare, if not practically
nonexistent," according to the catechism. That's why the late Pope John
Paul II and the American bishops are calling for an end to the use of the
"Basically, what the church teaches is if society has other ways to
protect itself from an aggressor, it should use nonlethal means," said
Rosenhauer. "I think this fits into the whole effort on the part of the
church to promote a 'culture of life' that says we want to hold up the
idea that human life is sacred and precious."
Confusion over the churchs teaching on the death penalty - which has in
some cases led to resistance to it - centers around 3 things: language,
circumstances and authority.
The 1st is confusion over language. While many in the church use the
language of total abolition of the death penalty in regard to secular law,
the church's moral law has language that allows for its use. In other
words, the catechism does expressly state that "the traditional teaching
of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty."
It is qualified, however, said Rosenhauer, by the rest of the catechism
citation that reads "the cases in which the execution of the offender is
an absolute necessity 'are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.'"
"What [the U.S. bishops] are saying is that in this country in particular,
society does have other ways to protect itself," added Rosenhauer.
So why say in the catechism that it is ever permissible, one might wonder.
When the church teaches, it teaches universally, explained Rosenhauer. The
bishops of this country express and apply that death penalty teaching to
the particular situation in the United States and, according to their
understanding, "nonlethal methods" are sufficient to protect people in
The 2nd cause for confusion for some seems to be simple ignorance over
circumstances. In other words, what, if any, unique circumstances - or
particularly heinous crimes - permit the use of the death penalty?
In her latest book "The Death of Innocents," Sister Helen Prejean - a
noted Catholic activist against the death penalty - wrote that "if in
principle the church still holds that in some instances governments are
allowed to execute their citizens, we can be sure that government
officials will be quick to summon that principle to justify seeking the
death penalty for crimes they consider particularly heinous."
This confusion arises, however, over an outdated interpretation of the
church's teaching. The words allowing for the death penalty "in cases of
extreme gravity" - that appeared in the 1992 version of the catechism -
were removed by the time of the publication of the 1997 version.
"What the church says is not that the death penalty might be used in
situations when the crimes are particularly heinous," said Rosenhauer. "It
might be used in situations where there is no other nonlethal means to
protect society. In the United States, we don't have those situations
where we have no other alternate means to protect society."
The 3rd sticking point seems to be some uncertainty as to the level of
authority of these teachings. True, the death penalty is not an "intrinsic
evil" and the church recognizes that there might be rare circumstances
where it might be used. However, individual Catholics cannot regard these
teachings as prudential matters that they can simply ignore.
"Sometimes people want to say, 'Well, because that teaching involves
judgment, I'm just going to ignore it. I don't really have to pay
attention to it,'" said Rosenhauer.
"But the fact is that even the teaching that does acknowledge that the
individual Catholic has to make judgments," she said, "even that teaching
plays a role in our life that we need to recognize. We do have a
responsibility to learn about church teaching, to receive that teaching as
openly and faithfully as we can."
Bishop Ronald Gilmore of the Diocese of Dodge City agrees. In fact, in a
column published in the Aug. 28 issue of the Southwest Kansas Register, he
calls on Catholics of his diocese to approach the churchs teaching on the
death penalty with "obsequium," a Latin word meaning "submission" or
Obsequium, he writes, requires "a willingness to renounce obstinacy. That
is to say, it rejects any tendency to close our hearts to the official
teaching, to refuse even to give a fair hearing, to adopt the attitude
'I've already made up my mind, dont bother me.'"
For information on the Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death
Penalty, contact the USCCB Office of Domestic Social Development, 3211
Fourth St. NE, Washington, DC 20017-1194, or by e-mail at:
deathpenalty at usccb.org. Other Web-based resources can be found at:
(source: The Leaven--OFFICIAL NEWSPAPER OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF KANSAS CITY
IN KANSAS )
Barbarians Are Us----We've been kidnapping suspects and whisking them
secretly to countries that are happy, for a price, to torture them on our
Something has apparently agitated our nation's nasty gene, and we're off
on a toot demanding free range for some of our ugliest impulses. Take two
The vice president of the United States is pushing Congress to adopt
prisoner torture as avowed U.S. policy, and there's an effort afoot in the
House to expand the number of, as capital punishment lingo puts it,
"death-eligible" crimes and give prosecutors a second whack if the trial
jury won't approve execution.
The inspiration for such resorts to extremism is presumably again 9/11,
which has come to serve as the all-embracing excuse for giving up any of
our civilized ways that one or another politician can defame as pattycake.
Other pols then fear to go along lest they fall victim to another new
nasty habit - trashing anyone as unpatriotic who upholds our best
The United States already has been caught abusing prisoners, even unto
death, in military prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. In
addition, we've been kidnapping suspects and whisking them secretly to
countries who are happy, for a price, to torture them on our behalf. And
the CIA is holding an unknown number of unreported prisoners in an unknown
number of secret prisons around the world and is doing who knows what to
them, all of that in plain violation of the Geneva Conventions, the U.N.
Convention Against Torture, U.S. law and an honorable and proud history of
American military practice.
The odor from these abuses has become so rank that 89 senators recently
joined Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in passing legislation directly
forbidding "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of U. S. prisoners.
Which in turn frightened Vice President Dick Cheney into lobbying Congress
to enact a specific option for the CIA to torture foreign prisoners held
overseas, making those secret prisons the official torture chambers of the
American imperium - America's new export, along with democracy and human
rights and all that good stuff.
To add to the mayhem, the House is contemplating a law that would add 41
crimes to the 20 terrorism-related offenses currently eligible for federal
death sentences. And, in a new twist, prosecutors could impanel a second
jury if the first deadlocks over execution, a situation that automatically
invokes life imprisonment.
Although juries are scrubbed of death penalty opponents before testimony
begins, many still balk at the death sentences prosecutors often seek. No
link connects execution and deterrence, and there is no reason to believe
more capital crimes and sentences would make the nation one whit safer.
Even so, this boom in death was adopted on a voice vote - and without
hearings or debate - as an add-on to the renewal of the USA Patriot Act,
which itself short-circuits a number of traditional American civil
liberties in panicky overreaction to terrorism.
Perhaps the Senate, which has comparatively kept its head about it, will
quash these House excesses and put Cheney off. But even if it does, it is
obvious by now that it will take ceaseless vigilance to keep Washington,
as it is set up politically, from coming to the conclusion that the best
way to fight barbarity is with more of it.
(source: The Day; Tom Teepen is a columnist for Cox Newspapers)
I Fear That It Might Be the Death of Us All
When the Black Plague hit England in the early 1300's, King Edward III is
believed to have made a statement to the effect of, "I fear that it will
be the death of us all." In his case, he was fairly accurate, but this
statement of fear as to widespread famine has been attributed to many
things that cause sudden death. If you believe some people, any of us at
any given time, could find ourselves just like the King fearing for our
life. But, in this case it is not the Black Plague, but the death penalty
that could randomly strike any of us down. The manner in which we punish
those who have been convicted of the most heinous of crimes in our
country, as well as, the world in general, is always worthy of a healthy
debate. Undoubtedly, there are proponents of every possible leaning
concerning this topic. Some feel that under no circumstances should the
sentence of death be imposed by the government.
Recent DNA evidence has been used to remove certain people from death row
and this fact has only fueled the fires of those who oppose the most
maximum penalty. Others feel that it should be used more frequently than
it is. In fact, these supporters say that if a murder is committed and
guilt is proven in a court of law, the death penalty should be the only
sentence available once a person has been convicted. Some support the
death penalty but feel that they could never actually be the one to impose
such a penalty on the accused.
And still others say that if the death penalty cannot be immediately
carried out after being imposed then why even have it. As you can see, the
debate only grows wider with no sign that these sides will ever come to a
common ground as to how we should punish criminals.
In other countries, death sentences are carried out much more frequently
and in a much more violent manner than in the United States. Yet still, in
other countries the death penalty is not even an option and is considered
inhumane or cruel and unusual punishment. We have gone back and forth in
our own country as to whether or not the penalty should be an option and,
in fact, we have had times where the death penalty was not even allowed as
Currently in many states it is legal and the form of death now utilized
varies from location to location. The various states have methods from
electrocution, to lethal injection, to gas chambers, to hanging, and even
a firing squad in some states. No matter how the punishment is carried
out, we would all agree that it is serious business. As a result of the
seriousness of the topic, it is not surprising that we continue to have a
running debate as to whether or not it should be allowed. But we cannot
allow healthy debate to become an obstacle for justice simply for the sake
Some opponents have said that the argument that the death penalty is a
deterrent to committing crime is a falsehood. But, one thing is for
certain, for those who are convicted of a capital crime and are executed
for the crime they will never commit another crime. Whether or not the
death penalty deters the general population from committing crimes remains
to be seen. However, for that person who was executed, his crimes against
society are no loner an issue. For that person who has met the death
penalty, the ultimate punishment, they will never again murder, rape, rob
or plunder. Their life of crime is over.
Maybe we should look at the death penalty as we would look at any other
thing that causes an unnatural death. Most of us try to avoid it at all
cost. If it can kill us, prudent people will not take any voluntary
actions that will lead them to their demise. For those people who ignore
those warnings, they usually do not live to tell about their poor
decisions. This is true with those people who wind up strapped to the
gurney with a needle in their arm. They can blame the system, which they
will, they can claim that justice has not been served, which it has, they
will claim that they were a victim of circumstances, which they were not,
and they can claim that despite their atrocities, they deserve to live,
which they do not.
They can make one claim however, that might work wonders as to where their
next stop might be after they leave this world. They can claim they are
sorry for the pain that they have caused and show some signs of remorse,
which they most often never do. King Edward III found himself in a
position that might take his life based on no actions of his own and even
in such dire straits, he took responsibility. In our case, the decision as
to how we will end up is totally in our own hands. But, unlike King
Edward, we can always find someone else to blame.
(source: Stan Hall, AccessNorthGa.com)
A threat to due process----Leading judicial groups oppose the Streamlined
Procedures Act of 2005 for good reason - it would severely diminish the
vital writ of habeas corpus.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote this week on
legislation that would essentially strip the federal courts of their
ability to police the fairness of state trials. This assault on due
process should be stopped in its tracks.
Supporters of the Streamlined Procedures Act of 2005 say that changes are
needed to move along executions and make the court system more efficient.
But the two versions of this bill, one in the House and one in the Senate,
reek of hostility toward the federal judiciary. The measures primarily
would sharply reduce federal habeas corpus review and close the courthouse
door to defendants, whether they are on death row or not, who claim their
constitutional rights were violated in the course of a state conviction.
The act would expedite executions, but it also would make it nearly
impossible for people whose convictions resulted from incompetent counsel,
fabricated evidence or a racially stacked jury from seeking redress in the
federal courts. It would make claims of actual innocence extremely hard to
bring, increasing the risk of error and speeding along the execution of
those who didn't do it.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, more than 100 death row
inmates have been exonerated as innocent of their crimes since the mid
1970s. One thing that many innocent convicts have in common is that their
trials were often rife with constitutional errors.
But rather than focusing on fixing the state systems that allow slipshod
justice to pass as fair process, these measures would "solve" the problem
by forcing the federal courts to turn a blind eye. The writ of habeas
corpus, a protection so vital to liberty that the founders put the right
in the Constitution, would be diminished to a empty husk.
The Senate version is only slightly less draconian than the one offered in
the House. Both versions have been objected to by leading judicial and
legal organizations. The American Bar Association said in a recent letter
that the bills "inadequately protects the innocent," and the Judicial
Conference of the United States, an organization of federal judges, said
there was no reason to tinker with existing law.
It is inexplicable why Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate
Judiciary Committee, would put his imprimatur on the Senate version of the
bill. He usually has an accurate compass on civil liberties matters. But
in this case he's dead wrong. These measures are highly destructive to
this nation's traditional due process guarantees. They would replace
accuracy with speed, and justice with notches on a belt. A bad trade all
(source: Editorial, St. Petersburg Times)
The House's Abuse of Patriotism
In the national anguish after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001,
Congress rushed to enact a formidable antiterrorism law - the Patriot Act
- that significantly crimped civil liberties by expanding law
enforcement's power to use wiretaps, search warrants and other
surveillance techniques, often under the cloak of secrecy. There was
virtually no public debate before these major changes to the nation's
legal system were put into effect.
Now, with some of the act's most sweeping powers set to expire at the end
of the year, the two houses of Congress face crucial negotiations, which
will also take place out of public view, on their differences over how to
extend and amend the law. That's controversy enough. But the increasingly
out-of-control House of Representatives has made the threat to our system
of justice even greater by inserting a raft of provisions to enlarge the
scope of the federal death penalty.
In a breathtaking afterthought at the close of debate, the House voted to
triple the number of terrorism-related crimes carrying the death penalty.
The House also voted to allow judges to reduce the size of juries that
decide on executions, and even to permit prosecutors to try repeatedly for
a death sentence when a hung jury fails to vote for death.
The radical amendment was slapped through by the Republican leadership
without serious debate. The Justice Department has endorsed the House
measure, and Representative James Sensenbrenner Jr., the Judiciary
Committee chairman, who is ever on the side of more government power over
the individual, is promising to fight hard for the death penalty
There are now 20 terrorism-related crimes eligible for capital punishment,
and the House measure would add 41 more. These would make it easier for
prosecutors to win a death sentence in cases where a defendant had no
intent to kill - for example, if a defendant gave financial support to an
umbrella organization without realizing that some of its adherents might
eventually commit violence.
Any move to weaken the American jury system in the name of fighting
terrorism is particularly egregious. But the House voted to allow a
federal trial to have fewer than 12 jurors if the judge finds "good cause"
to do so, even if the defense objects. Under current law, a life sentence
is automatically ordered when juries become hung on deciding the capital
punishment question. But the House would have a prosecutor try again - a
license for jury-shopping for death - even though federal juries already
exclude opponents of capital punishment.
The House's simplistic vote for another "crackdown" gesture can only
further sully the notion of patriotism in a renewed Patriot Act.
(source: New York Times)
Key Witness in John Spirko Case Passes Polygraph Pointing to Alternative
Suspect; Lawyers Urge Authorities to Conduct DNA Testing to Further
With just two weeks before John Spirko is set to be executed, the
statements of a key witness pointing to another man as the murderer of
Betty Jane Mottinger were corroborated by a polygraph examination pursued
by The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of
Law. The Center sought the testing by a former veteran FBI examiner as
Gov. Bob Taft weighs whether to execute Spirko despite persistent
questions about alternative suspects and serious doubts about the
integrity of the initial investigation.
John Willier first gave an Ohio law enforcement officer detailed
information about the crime in 1997 and offered to be polygraphed.
Remarkably, officials handling the case ignored his offer. "Since
authorities refused to pursue it, we had to check out Willier's story,"
said Prof. Steven Drizin, legal director of the Center on Wrongful
Convictions. "If he is telling the truth, the wrong man is going to be
executed. We now have another good reason to believe him."
The polygraph examination was conducted on Oct. 26 by Robert Campbell, a
33-year veteran of the FBI and their Regional Polygraph Examiner and a
past President of the Tennessee Polygraph Association. The report
concludes that Willier's responses "were not indicative of deception" on
statements he made describing how Dale Dingus, his former employer,
threatened him at gunpoint not to go to authorities with information
Willier had about Dingus's involvement in the Mottinger crime. Willier was
also deemed truthful in his insistence that Spirko was unknown to him and
uninvolved. John Spirko has never been connected with either Dale Dingus
or John Willier.
During questioning about an unrelated investigation in 1997, Willier told
Wyandot County Investigator Bill Latham something had been weighing
heavily on him, and then suddenly identified Dale Dingus as the man
responsible for the murder of Betty Mottinger in 1982. Willier had worked
for Dingus as a house painter at that time, and Mottinger's body was found
wrapped in a painter's drop cloth covered with paint spatters.
Willier led Latham to the farmhouse on Dingus's property where Dingus said
the murder occurred. The soybean field where the body was discovered was a
short distance away from the farmhouse and right between the Dingus
property and Willier's trailer. Additionally, Willier had once positively
identified a piece of the tarp in which the body was wrapped as part of
the drop cloth he had used with Dingus at a particular painting job, and
comparisons done in 1984 concluded that paint on the tarp was consistent
with that used for a job Dingus and Willier did shortly before the
Mottinger murder. Finally, Willier's neighbor at the time reported seeing
Willier with two other men and a woman that fit Mottinger's description in
a brown car in front of Willier's trailer the day after she was abducted.
The neighbor, described by investigators at the time as very credible, saw
the driver of the car turn and slap the women in the back seat.
No physical evidence connected Spirko to the crime scene. Following the
FBI's recent refusal to conduct forensic testing, Spirko's lawyers
continue to demand that the authorities conduct DNA testing on the drop
cloth, or provide access to the cloth for DNA testing that could
definitively corroborate Willier's story and exonerate Spirko. "It is
unconscionable that this execution could go forward without using modern
DNA technology in an effort to answer these critical questions," said Rob
Warden, executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions.
"Governor Taft must have all the facts, but remarkably critical evidence
John Spirko is scheduled to be executed on Nov. 15, despite strongly
worded dissents from three members of the Ohio Parole Board, and despite a
prosecution that dissenting 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ronald
Gillman said rests "on a foundation of sand." Gov. Taft is currently
deciding whether to grant some form of clemency, which could include
commutation of the death sentence to life, or a temporary reprieve to
allow additional forensic testing and investigation, among other
(source: U.S. Newswire)
More information about the DeathPenalty