[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----N.C., FLA., GA., ALA., ARK.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Sep 8 12:57:04 CDT 2005
More instances of prosecutorial misconduct reinforce case for death
The General Assembly adjourned for the year without passing a moratorium
on the death penalty to give the state of North Carolina time to examine
its practices and procedures and to determine whether it administers the
ultimate punishment fairly and only in cases where guilt is
Meanwhile, evidence continues to mount that people have been sent to death
row in North Carolina following trials that were a travesty of justice.
The N.C. State Bar recently charged two former prosecutors with misconduct
in the 1996 Union County trial of Jonathan Hoffman, who was sentenced to
death after being convicted of killing the owner of a discount jewelry
store in 1995.
Hoffman was granted a new trial in 2004 after his lawyers accused
prosecutors of withholding information, using false evidence at trial and
altering documents before submitting them to a judge for review.
One of Hoffman's prosecutors admitted during a hearing that information
about a deal with the primary witness against Hoffman was withheld from
his attorneys, but he denied the other allegations.
The N.C. Bar apparently found the evidence strong enough to charge former
Union County District Attorney Kenneth Honeycutt and his assistant, Scott
Brewer, who is now a district court judge based in Rockingham, with
committing 23 violations of the rules that govern trial lawyers, including
lying to the trial judge, jury and defense lawyers and knowingly using
false evidence at Hoffman's trial.
If they are found guilty of the misconduct allegations in a hearing before
the bar, they could be punished by anything from a written reprimand to
the loss of their law licenses.
Hoffman spent 7 years on death row. He was the 6th North Carolina inmate
to receive a new trial because of prosecutorial misconduct.
The state Senate passed a moratorium bill two years ago, but it failed in
the House. This year the House couldn't even pass a watered down version
that would have conducted a study without implementing a moratorium.
There are those in the General Assembly who oppose a moratorium because
they think it is only a prelude to a complete ban on the death penalty. It
is undoubtedly true that many of those who support a moratorium hope to
eventually eliminate the death penalty entirely. But the decision about
whether we resume executions following a moratorium is one for another
The kind of prosecutorial behavior with which Honeycutt and Brewer are
charged so completely undermines the public's confidence in the court
system that a moratorium and thorough study of how justice is carried out
in death penalty cases is essential.
Otherwise, none of North Carolina's citizens can be confident that the
state is not, for all practical purposes, killing innocent people in their
(source: Opinion, Asheville Citizen-Times)
A Sorry Record
Late in January, the people of North Carolina put 170 people to work on
the major issues of the day. The taxpayers did not get their money's worth
from the dismal performance of the 2005 General Assembly.
Legislators finally adjourned their session last Friday, a little more
than 7 months after they began. The list of what they did not accomplish
far surpasses that which they did.
Legislators did not reform a tax system that is out of touch with the
21st-century economy. Instead, they made the state more dependent on the
anachronistic system now in place. They did not address the structural
deficit that brings every legislature to town facing huge shortfalls.
They did not pass a moratorium on the death penalty, nor even start a
compromise study commission on how the penalty is implemented. They did
not act on the suggestions of Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr. to create
an innocence-inquiry commission to find wrongly convicted defendants.
The list goes on. The 2005 General Assembly failed to let a series of tax
increases expire on July 1. Many of the same legislators in power this
year were in power two and four years ago when the sales tax was increased
"temporarily" by a half-percent to pay for revenue shortfalls. Those taxes
are on the books for at least another 2 years.
The failures of the legislature do not end there. It embraced the worst
option available with a 25-cents-a-pack cigarette tax hike. That will hurt
consumers, but most likely not deter many people from smoking. Combine
that with other tax increases and extensions, and North Carolinians were
hit with an additional $657 million worth of taxes this year and $964
million next. And the taxes fall almost exclusively on consumers. That tax
take does not include the gouging of the gullible that will begin with the
introduction of the first North Carolina State Lottery scratch-off
Despite bilking the poor of millions in new taxes, the legislature refused
to help the poor with even a small increase to the minimum wage.
The incompetence of this General Assembly could be seen in a budget
process that ran a month late despite the fact that leaders conducted most
deliberations in secrecy. Each year they do less in public view while
taking more legislative shortcuts, such as the volume of substantive
legislation they sneaked through the system as budget provisions.
Even bills that should have passed in weeks - legislation aimed at
stemming the supply of pseudophedrine to illicit methamphetamine labs -
took the full 7 months.
The 2005 General Assembly is gone, and thank goodness.
(source: Winston-Salem Journal)
Jury recommends death penalty in Jacksonville father-son murders
A jury recommended 2 death sentences Wednesday for a man convicted in the
2004 shooting deaths of a Jacksonville man and his 13-year-old son.
The jury made a unanimous recommendation that Thomas Bevel, 24, be
executed for killing Mayport Middle School student Phillip Sims. The jury
voted 8-4 to recommend the death penalty for murdering the boy's father,
The victims were fatally shot with an AK-47 assault rifle at Stringfield's
home in February 2004. Bevel had been a boarder in Stringfield's home.
Felitta Smith, who was watching television with Stringfield, survived and
identified Bevel as the shooter.
After his arrest a month later, Bevel told police he killed Stringfield
because he feared Stringfield was planning to kill him, Assistant State
Attorney Bernie de la Rionda said during closing arguments Friday.
Bevel told police he shot Sims and Smith because he couldn't leave a
witness, de La Rionda said.
Defense attorney Refik Eler said Bevel confessed to protect his younger
brother, who owned two AK-47 assault rifles.
A hearing about the recommendation is set for Oct. 6. A sentencing date
not been scheduled yet.
If Bevel is sentenced to death, he would be the 1st killer in 2 years from
Duval County sentenced to be executed.
(source: Associated Press)
Crusade vs. executions, book bring nun to area
Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking" and "The Death of
Innocents," is shown at Holy Faith Catholic Church on NW 43rd Street. "The
beauty of being Catholic is that we can be pro-life across the board."
urricane Katrina forced Sister Helen Prejean and about 60 other nuns to
flee their New Orleans Mother House last week and relocate indefinitely to
But the catastrophe had an effect on something else to which the woman who
has come to be known as "the Death-Penalty Nun" has devoted her life.
"Katrina put a moratorium on the death penalty in Louisiana for at least 3
years," Prejean, 66, said before her talk Wednesday night at Holy Faith
Catholic Church in Gainesville.
She said court buildings in New Orleans were so badly damaged that judges,
among other things, won't be reviewing death-penalty cases anytime soon.
In effect, Katrina partly did in a day what Prejean has been working more
than 20 years to accomplish - abolish the death penalty in the United
That effort was given a boost by her 1993 book, "Dead Man Walking," and
director Tim Robbins' 1996 movie based on it that earned Susan Sarandon an
Academy Award for best-actress for her portrayal of Prejean. The book
explores Prejean's spiritual journey that took her from being pen pals
with a death row inmate to accompanying him to his execution, and how that
experience crystallized her belief that the death penalty goes against
true Christian teachings.
She talked about that journey - from a privileged upbringing in Baton
Rouge to spiritual adviser to death row inmates - before about 200 people
at Holy Faith. Her Gainesville visit was the first stop on a nationwide
tour to promote her second book on the death penalty, "The Death of
Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions," which details
her experience with two executed men whom she said clearly were innocent.
After her hourlong talk, she signed copies of both books - and accepted
donations to the rebuilding of the convent in New Orleans.
Prejean emphasized that her mission is as much to the families of victims
as it is to their killers.
"My new book is dedicated to Murder Victim Families for Human Rights," she
said. "I wrote 'Dead Man Walking' as a journey to both sides - the
victims' families and the condemned."
But she said to say taking the life of the person who killed your child or
other loved one will help you heal, or give you justice, is "dishonest."
Executing a human being, she said, "is the exact opposite of baptism."
The death penalty, she said, is "legalized vengeance" and a policy that is
"morally bankrupt" and unequally applied.
"Why is it the district attorney of New Orleans seldom seeks the death
penalty when it's black people who are killed?" she said.
Prejean said that in the Catholic Church, the death penalty has been an
issue "in development." Historically the church's pro-life stance had been
centered around the issues of abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide,
she said. The death penalty wasn't afforded the same level of importance
in the pro-life debate, she said.
In 1997, Pope John Paul II - following letters from Prejean - initiated a
change in the Catholic catechism to state that the death penalty is
equally as important as other life issues.
"It's all about waking up, about reflecting more deeply," Prejean said.
"The beauty of being Catholic is that we can be pro-life across the board.
The death penalty is one of the arenas of development in the church - to
see dignity in all life, even someone who has killed innocent people."
She said Catholic bishops are just now beginning to move the death penalty
issue from the back burner to the front. "Or at least to the middle
burner," Prejean said.
She said her mission is to help create a dialogue about the death penalty,
to get people to start thinking more deeply about it. She has been helped
in that effort, she said, by the movie "Dead Man Walking" and an opera
that also was based on the book.
Now Robbins has written a "Dead Man Walking" play specifically for
universities and colleges, which Prejean said are free to produce on their
campuses in order to broaden awareness of the death penalty issue to young
"The death penalty is an issue where we have to do more awakening," she
(source: Gainesville Sun)
Jury favors death for man----He killed roommate, roommate's teen son
A jury recommended 2 death sentences Wednesday for a Jacksonville man
convicted of fatally shooting his roommate then killing the man's
13-year-old son to get rid of a witness.
Thomas Eugene Bevel stood motionless as the verdicts were read -- a
unanimous recommendation he be executed for killing Mayport Middle School
student Phillip Sims and an 8-4 recommendation he die for murdering
Phillip's father, Garrick Stringfield.
The deaths occurred last year in Stringfield's Colchester Road home, where
Phillip was visiting for the weekend.
Bevel, 24, will be the 1st killer in 2 years from Duval County sentenced
to die if Circuit Judge L. Page Haddock agrees with the recommendation as
Haddock told jurors he would follow their recommendation unless he
determines no reasonable person would go along.
Bevel's lawyers will have one last chance to dissuade Haddock at a hearing
Oct. 6. The judge said he will formally sentence Bevel sometime after
Bevel also was convicted of attempted murder in the shooting of a woman
who was with Stringfield.
Phillip's mother, who testified twice during the trial, buried her head in
her hands and cried silently as the verdicts were announced.
"I'm just happy justice was served. I can truly say that," Sojourner Sims
Parker said afterward. "At least I know he didn't get away with it. ... It
won't bring Phillip back, but it does give me some closure."
Parker praised the work of police and Assistant State Attorney Bernie de
la Rionda, who said he hopes the jury's decision sends a message about
violence in the community.
"When you have the death of an innocent boy after having killed his father
and almost killing another person, that just cries out for justice," de la
Rionda said. "Thankfully, the jury agreed."
Bevel's lawyers left the courthouse without comment but argued for a life
sentence. They said Bevel's age, low intelligence level and troubled
upbringing weighed against sentencing him to death.
"The issue here before you is not accountability. ... Life in prison
without the possibility of parole holds him accountable," said attorney
Richard Sellinger. "He still deserves the blame. He just doesn't deserve
But de la Rionda said Bevel's actions deserved the ultimate punishment
because of his history of violence. Additionally, Bevel murdered Phillip
to eliminate a witness, de la Rionda said.
"You need to focus on his true character," de la Rionda told jurors.
"Justice dictates that the defendant be held fully accountable for his
In Florida, death sentences are automatically appealed.
(source: The Florida Times-Union)
Jury selection begins today in long-delayed death penalty case
In Lawrenceville, 6 years after a young mother and her toddler were slain,
lawyers today will begin selecting a jury to hear evidence in the death
penalty case against a Jonesboro man.
Police believe Wesley Vandale Harris shot 22-year-old Whitney Land and her
daughter, Jordan, stuffed their bodies in the trunk of a car and set it
ablaze. The trial has been delayed multiple times since the November 1999
slayings and is expected to last approximately 6 weeks.
A total of 575 jurors have been summoned, but officials are predicting
only about 1/2 will show up, said Dorothy Ash, Gwinnett County jury
manager. "You have to consider people that have doctor's certificates,
ones excused by courts, undeliverable (summonses) and people that have
moved out of the county," Ash said.
About 50 potential jurors will be needed before lawyers can begin
whittling them down to a 12-member jury panel. Prosecutors can have 10
strikes and defense attorneys Christine Koehler and Herb Adams get 20. For
each alternate, a prosecutor gets one strike to the defense attorneys' 2.
Prosecutor, defense have met before
District Attorney Danny Porter and the lead defense counsel, Johnny Moore,
are a formidable presence in the courtroom with decades of legal
experience. Neither is a stranger to capital murder cases.
Porter and Moore have faced off twice in the past in death penalty trials
for Michael Wade Nance and Mike Chapel. Both defendants were convicted.
Chapel, a former Gwinnett County police officer, was sentenced to 2 life
sentences plus 5 years for shooting and robbing a Sugar Hill woman in
Nance was sentenced to death for the second time in 2002 after his initial
death sentence was overturned by the state Supreme Court. Nance killed a
Gwinnett County Department of Transportation employee while trying to
escape a botched bank robbery in 1993.
Harris, 27, is also accused of a horrendous crime. Land and her daughter
were shot multiple times and their bodies were found in the trunk of a
burning car on Nov. 8, 1999, at a Duluth water treatment plant.
Land was shot once in the back and twice in the chest. Jordan was shot
once in the chest. The killer then placed the barrel of the gun to the
toddlers cheek and pulled the trigger. Physical evidence, witness
statements and cellular phone records linked Harris to the crimes, police
Moore was finishing up last-minute preparations for the Harris trial this
"You have to definitely do the best you can," said Moore, reached by phone
at his Lawrenceville office on Tuesday. "I don't think anybody wants to
take somebodys life lightly."
Moore is being assisted by co-counsels Christine Koehler, a local defense
attorney, and Terri Thompson, a lawyer from the Georgia Capital Defenders
In a death penalty case, every part of the trial process is under a
microscope. Already there have been about 150 pretrial motions, and the
trial has been postponed multiple times since the slayings.
Harris' trial was originally slated to begin in January 2002, but a motion
filed by Harris' attorneys halted all jury trials after a visiting judge
ruled that the process of compiling a jury pool in Gwinnett was invalid.
Another trial date in September 2003 was postponed when undisclosed "new
and important evidence" was brought to light by Harris' attorneys.
The last delay came after Superior Court Judge Richard T. Winegarden
declared a mistrial three weeks into jury selection in February 2004. The
mistrial was based on findings that defense attorney Herbert Adams was
unprepared for trial.
In a December 2004 interview with the Gwinnett Daily Post, Whitney Land's
best friend, Betty Eskew, said the wait has been unbearable for friends
"Whitney and Jordan still have not had their day," Eskew said. "For it to
be 5 years later and still nothing, it drives me insane."
(source: Gwinnett Daily Post)
Family of officers' killer prays judge shuns death penalty
Relatives of Kerry Spencer, convicted of killing 3 police officers, said
they're praying a judge will uphold a jury's recommendation to spare him
the death penalty.
"We do want the family of the victims to know there are no hard feelings,"
said Spencer's aunt, Dianne Pyles. "We hurt for them, but we don't think
taking the life of Kerry will restore the missing links they feel."
A jury convicted Spencer in June on four counts of capital murder in the
deaths of Birmingham police officers Carlos Owen, 59, Harley Chisholm III,
40, and Charles Robert Bennett, 33. The 4th capital murder charge was for
killing 2 or more people during 1 act.
The officers were killed June 17, 2004, while trying to serve a months-old
misdemeanor warrant on Nathaniel Woods, Spencer's roommate, at their
Ensley drug house. Woods will be tried in October.
The jury deliberated 2 days before recommending the judge sentence him to
life in prison without the possibility of parole. Jefferson County Circuit
Judge Tommy Nail will sentence Spencer on Friday. State law allows Nail to
accept or reject the jury's recommendation.
Spencer's family spoke out after a news report this week that 4,000
members of a national police union voted unanimously to urge the judge to
override the jury's recommendation. Birmingham FOP president Sgt. Allen
Treadaway delivered that resolution to the judge last week.
Pyles said Treadaway and other officials are using their positions of
authority to influence the judge. As Spencer's family has throughout the
case, Pyles insinuated wrongdoing on the part of the officers, though no
testimony or evidence in Spencer's trial ever supported those allegations.
"I don't think the whole case was presented," Pyles said. "There's more
evidence that could have been brought out." Pyles said she wanted people
to know that Spencer is remorseful, but she doesn't think that has been
(source: Birmingham News)
DEATH ROW INMATE CHARGED IN 1998 SLAYING
A death row inmate, who said in a letter to The Commercial he was
responsible for what police had listed as an unsolved homicide, was
formally charged with the crime Wednesday.
Prosecuting Attorney Steve Dalrymple charged Kenneth Williams, 26, with
capital murder, aggravated robbery and theft of property in connection
with the death of Jerrell Jenkins on Dec. 14, 1998.
In the letter on which The Commercial reported in June, Williams said he
fatally shot Jenkins "and I take full responsibility for my actions and
whatever consequences my peers see fit."
Dalrymple said Williams, "in the commission of an aggravated robbery"
caused the death of Jenkins. The body was found in a ditch in the area of
East 29th Avenue and Ohio Street.
Williams is currently on death row at the Department of Correction's
Supermaximum Security Unit at Varner after being sentenced to death for
the Oct. 3, 1999, slaying of Cecil Boren, 57.
Dalrymple said an execution date has not been set and is awaiting a post
conviction challenge of the death sentence Williams received. A hearing on
that challenge is scheduled for today at the Jefferson County Detention
Center with Judge Berlin C. Jones presiding.
Boren was killed after Williams broke out of prison, where he was serving
a sentence of life without parole for the kidnapping, robbery and shooting
death of UAPB cheerleader Dominique "Nikki" Hurd.
Williams said he killed Jenkins the same day Hurd and another UAPB
student, Peter Robertson, were kidnapped from the parking lot of a
restaurant on Olive Street and then driven to Harden-Reed Road, where both
were robbed and then shot repeatedly.
Hurd died the next day. Robertson recovered from his injuries and
testified against Williams in Jefferson County Circuit Court.
After escaping from prison and shooting Boren, Williams stole a vehicle
and fled to Missouri, where he was involved in a high-speed chase with
police that resulted in the death of a Missouri man, Michael Greenwood.
In his letter, Williams confessed to all four of the slayings.
Dalrymple said capital murder is a Class Y felony, punishable by death or
life in prison without the possibility of parole. Aggravated robbery is
also a Class Y felony, punishable by 10 to 40 years or life in prison, and
theft of property is a Class C felony, punishable by 3 to 10 years in
prison, a fine or both.
Dalrymple said the new charges were also assigned to Jones.
(source: Pine Bluff Commercial)
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