[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----N.C., FLA., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Sep 11 21:59:31 CDT 2005
Zero tolerance for prosecutors who shortcut justice
Prosecutors like Ken Honeycutt and Scott Brewer do justice no favors when
they hold winning in higher regard than pursuing justice. The N.C. State
Bar has accused the 2 ex-prosecutors of misconduct, saying they lied to
the court and withheld evidence in a case that put a man on death row for
In the past, the state bar has given only wrist slaps to prosecutors who
commit such wrongs. This time, it must send a strong message: When those
sworn to uphold the law step outside the lines, they face consequences.
Mr. Honeycutt has said he did nothing wrong when, as district attorney for
the 20th Judicial District, he prosecuted Jonathan Hoffman for murder in
1996. Mr. Brewer, his assistant and now a District Court judge in
Rockingham, has said nothing.
Yet the bar investigation's finding is unequivocal: The 2 deliberately
failed to tell the court a deal was cut with a key witness in exchange for
his testimony. That violates the rules of evidence.
The bar's opinion is also clear: Not telling helped the prosecutors win --
and helped put Mr. Hoffman on death row.
Some prosecutors have the mindset that it's more important to win a murder
case than to arrive at the truth. But justice doesn't mean winning at any
cost. The criminal justice system must protect the public from murderers,
yes. But it must also make sure law enforcement finds, charges, tries and
convicts the right person.
Mr. Hoffman's case is not the 1st time an N.C. prosecutor's zeal upended
justice. Two years ago, death row inmate Alan Gell was acquitted in a
retrial after sitting on death row for a murder he did not commit. In his
first trial, prosecutors withheld key evidence showing Mr. Gell could not
have committed the murder. Yet the State Bar gave them only a reprimand --
the lightest punishment possible.
The state wastes millions of dollars in precious court resources when it
convicts an innocent man, and it costs millions more to undo the wrong.
Meanwhile, the real criminal walks the streets.
Alan Gell and Jonathan Hoffman could have died -- because prosecutors who
convicted them withheld key information from the defense. If that doesn't
scare you, it should. The state bar should take a strong stand.
(source: Editorial, Charlotte Observer)
Former model convicted in Polk County double murder
In Bartow, a former model accused of stabbing his friend and an office
worker to death at a Winter Haven business 2 years ago has been convicted
After deliberating for about 10 hours, a 12-member jury found Thomas
Rigterink, 33, guilty Friday of 2 counts of 1st-degree murder. Relatives
of Allison Sousa, 23, and Jeremy Jarvis, 24, packed into the courtroom
broke into tears as the verdicts were read.
"I don't know how I feel. Relief's probably a good word, but that's not
accurate," said Tim Sousa, Allison's widower.
Rigterink remained expressionless. Defense lawyer Byron Hileman said he
wasn't surprised by the verdict.
"I thought that we presented as good a defense as we could," Hileman said.
"But lawyers don't make up the facts. The facts are there, and you have to
deal with them."
Sousa and Jarvis were stabbed to death Sept. 24, 2003, at a complex where
Sousa worked and Jarvis lived. Sousa was stabbed or cut 6 times in the
head, neck and breast. Jarvis was stabbed or cut 22 times in the head,
neck, chest and back.
"I feel like our children were slaughtered," said Lee Sweeney, Jarvis'
mother. "I just thank God that there was justice."
Rigterink, unemployed at the time of the murders, originally confessed,
but told jurors he cracked after hours of aggressive interrogation and
Prosecutors said he gave details only the killer would know, and allege
Rigterink wanted to steal Jarvis' marijuana because he was broke. Jarvis
put up a fight and ended up being stabbed, they said.
Rigterink faces the death penalty at sentencing scheduled for Wednesday.
"I want him to die," Tim Sousa said.
(source: Assciated Press)
Governors find leeway in granting clemency -- Daniels, Kernan cited solid
reasons for mercy
For nearly 5 decades, no Indiana governor chose to spare the life of
anyone on death row.
The state executed a dozen inmates during that period, which included a
brief span when the U.S. Supreme Court put a moratorium on capital
But in the past 13 months, 2 governors have spared 3 men from death.
1 inmate had an IQ just above the threshold of mental retardation and
one's guilt was questioned by some because of evidence that never reached
The 3rd -- Arthur Baird, whose death sentence was commuted by Gov. Mitch
Daniels late last month -- has been determined by doctors to be mentally
ill and delusional. Life without parole wasn't an option at the time of
A decade ago, decisions to commute death sentences might have seemed
politically difficult, if not impossible, according to many legal experts.
But today, governors seem to have more latitude to spare the lives of some
condemned killers and execute others without incurring the wrath of
voters, large numbers of whom still support capital punishment.
"People are more willing to consider the possibility of errors" or other
circumstances that might warrant commuting a death sentence, said Marla
Sandys, an associate professor of criminal justice at Indiana University.
"Governors are now able to explain those better. They can say that under
most circumstances, they support the death penalty, but in this situation
they are making an exception."
According to political and legal experts, several factors have led to the
Errors in death-penalty cases have been uncovered across the country,
including some in which a defendant was found to be innocent and others in
which courts determined that inmates did not have adequate legal
Emerging research about mental illness and mental retardation has led to
more debate about executions, even among some who support the penalty.
Dropping crime rates have made Americans feel safer, which has led to a
decline in the intensity of some people's feelings about the penalty.
"It used to be simple: The more you executed, the more the public loved
it," said Phoebe Ellsworth, who has studied public opinion and the death
penalty as a professor of law and psychology at the University of
"Now the public knows about wrongful executions, and they want a leader
who is tough but not bloodthirsty. You don't want to look as though you're
executing people casually."
According to Gallup polls, support for the death penalty reached its peak
in 1994, when 80 % of Americans favored it for people convicted of murder.
Over the next decade -- as evidence of some wrongful convictions emerged
-- support dropped to 71 %.
"Part of the passion that drove people to favor the death penalty was this
fear that crime was completely out of control and people getting away with
murder," Ellsworth said. "Some of the juice has drained away from that" as
the crime rate has fallen.
But a poll released in May showed support back up to 74 %, its highest
point in 10 years.
Clark County Prosecutor Steve Stewart, a proponent of the death penalty in
some cases, said media saturation about anti-death-penalty efforts and
cases with wrongful convictions have led to changes in public perception
Stewart said he doesn't believe the public supports governors when they
commute death sentences that have been imposed by juries and upheld by
higher courts. "They swallow it because of the way it's publicized," he
Daniels and former Gov. Joe Kernan said politics did not play a part in
their decisions to commute the sentences of condemned prisoners.
Kernan spared the life of Darnell Williams, who had killed a Gary couple,
while he was running against Daniels. He said Williams was borderline
mentally retarded, and the man with whom he committed the crime had not
been sentenced to death.
Kernan said he had many advisers who told him that it would hurt his
campaign if he granted Williams clemency.
But the Democrat said the decision "was going to be on the basis of what I
thought was right."
"I don't think in retrospect that it had much of a political impact one
way or the other," Kernan said.
In the last week of his term, after he'd lost the election, Kernan
commuted the sentence of Michael Daniels, who also has a low IQ. Kernan
said evidence that cast doubt on Michael Daniels' guilt never was
presented in court, and he called for a review of the state's
Since Gov. Mitch Daniels took office in January, 4 men have been executed
and only Baird has been spared.
"I'm just going to look at these case by case," Gov. Daniels said.
A top Daniels adviser, Mark Lubbers, said that although support for the
death penalty has remained strong, it is a much more reasoned support than
20 years ago, opening the door to more rational reviews of clemency
"In the last decade, there's been a lot more public dialogue about the
efficacy and morality of the death penalty," Lubbers said. "And that has
made it easier for governors, when appropriate, to decide to commute a
Still, clemency is rarely granted, and in most states, far more death-row
inmates are executed than spared.
In the past five years, governors have granted clemency 187 times, but the
majority of them came in 2003, when then-Illinois Gov. George Ryan
commuted the death sentences of 167 inmates, citing a flawed judicial
system, and pardoned 4 more inmates.
The remaining 20 have come from 10 states, including Kentucky, where
former Gov. Paul Patton commuted Kevin Stanford's death sentence to life
in prison because he was only 17 when he raped, sodomized, kidnapped and
shot 20-year-old Louisville gas-station attendant Baerbel Poore.
Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states cannot
execute defendants whose crimes were committed when they were juveniles.
The court also has carved out an exception for people who are mentally
In many ways, society is putting restrictions on the death penalty, said
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information
Center. "But we are not going to get rid of the possibility of executing
people," he said.
The number of people sentenced to death annually has dropped by 50 % since
1999, Dieter said, and the number of individuals on death row has
Also, polls show that when given a choice, about 40 % of Americans would
choose life in prison without parole rather than the death penalty for
"No one wants to see an innocent person executed, whichever side of the
political aisle you're on," Dieter said.
The issues remain difficult, though. Stewart said that most people believe
defendants who are mentally ill probably shouldn't be executed. But the
definition of mental illness is so broad that it would encompass too many
people, he said.
"I haven't met a murderer yet who wasn't mentally ill in some respect,"
said Stewart, a 20-year veteran of prosecutions.
Dieter said that psychiatrists might be forced to come up with a more
narrow category of mental illness that would make the death penalty
appropriate for a person who fits that definition, and then state
legislatures and the courts would decide how or whether that definition
should be applied.
None of the 38 states that have the death penalty prohibit it for people
who are mentally ill.
Those are just the kinds of debates that enable governors to be more open
to clemency, Ellsworth said.
"It used to be that your death-penalty attitude as a public official is
something that identified you politically," she said. "You could not get
elected to one of the highest offices if you openly opposed the death
"Now that's less true. It's an attitude like other attitudes. It doesn't
define your whole political approach anymore."
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