[Deathpenalty]death penalty news---TEXAS, N.Y., OHIO
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Sep 12 10:38:03 CDT 2005
TEXAS----impending female execution
Does she deserve to die? Well, her trial lawyer doesn't know
Maybe Frances Newton shot her husband and two children to death in 1987.
Maybe she didn't. The public cannot be certain of her guilt, but she's
going to die for the crime anyway.
Newton was denied a basic requirement for a fair trial - a competent
lawyer. Her attorney at trial was the notorious Ron Mock, whose shoddy
work in capital murder trials is well known in legal circles. He has been
repeatedly disciplined by the State Bar of Texas, and has since been
disqualified from handling capital cases. No less than 16 people whom Mock
represented were sent to death row. Mock apparently did no investigation
of Newton's claims of innocence. When asked by a trial judge, he could not
name a single witness he had interviewed on Newton's behalf.
How many times must this scene be repeated before the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals, the state Board of Pardons and Parole or the U.S.
Supreme Court intervenes in death sentences won on defense incompetence?
A competent lawyer should be provided for defendants facing the death
penalty. The rule of thumb in Texas seems to be that only those who can
afford a competent lawyer are entitled to one. Newton couldn't afford a
good lawyer, so the state appointed Mock to represent her.
She is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday despite plenty of doubt her
new lawyers have raised regarding the triple murder for which she was
convicted. Tom and Virginia Louis, the parents of the man Newton was
convicted of killing, have their doubts.
"We are the parents of Adrian Newton and the grandparents of Alton and
Farrah Newton . . . We were willing to testify on Frances' behalf, but
Frances' defense lawyer never approached us," they said in a letter to the
Board of Pardons and Parole asking for leniency.
Indigent defendants must rely on the state system. The state's
court-appointed lawyer system has improved significantly in the past five
years because of legislation aimed at weeding out incompetent lawyers and
recruiting better lawyers for people who can't afford to hire their own.
The 2001 Texas Fair Defense Act does set minimum requirements for
attorneys representing capital murder defendants. (The emphasis is on
But those who were convicted before 2001 were under a system that declared
any lawyer with a pulse and law license competent. That included lawyers
who slept during trial or were doped up as they prepared for trial. It
included lawyers who did little or no investigation.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refuses to hear any new evidence or
facts in Newton's case - and many others like it - because those facts
were raised after court deadlines expired.
And that's the rub. The state appeals court is not deciding Newton's case
based on the merits of new facts or legal issues. It has rejected her
appeal because she missed a deadline.
We've said it before, but it's worth repeating: Race, ethnicity, income
and geography are all factors in the imposition of death sentences.
As long as Texas has a death penalty, capital defendants should have
access to competent legal counsel. Newton didn't get that. For that
reason, she should be spared.
(source: Editorial, Austin American-Statesman)
Death penalty the topic of program
A local church will stage a program on the death penalty next week. The
Second Wednesday program sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist
Fellowship of Galveston County will feature "The Empty Chair," a 42-minute
documentary examining the aftermath of murder.
The program looks at the families left behind, their lives torn apart by
the random loss of a loved one. The film was made by Jacqui Lofaro and
Victor Teich, partners in the documentary film company, Justice
Five years in the making, the film debuted at the Hamptons International
Film Festival in 2003 and was later invited to screen at the Vermont
International Human Rights Film Festival.
The 90-minute program will also feature music by Tony DiNuzzo, president
of the fellowship.
3 decades after sentencing guidelines were approved by the U.S. Supreme
Court, the death penalty is still being unpredictably applied to a small
number of defendants, according to findings of the Death Penalty
An investigation by seven Indiana newspapers in 2001 found that the death
penalty depended on factors such as the views of individual prosecutors
and the financial resources of the county. 2 Indiana counties have
produced almost as many death sentences as all of the other Indiana
According to the center, about one in four death row inmates in Texas was
defended by a lawyer who has been reprimanded, placed on probation,
suspended or banned by the state bar from practicing law.
The program will be followed by coffee and conversation.
What: "The Empty Chair," a discussion of the death penalty.
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Galveston County, 502 Church
Information: Call David Pyle, (409) 765-8330.
(source: Glaveston County Daily News)
Morgy: Foe 'lies' on death penalty
The tough-as-nails ex-judge who's giving Manhattan District Attorney
Robert Morgenthau the toughest run in his political career is "lying"
about her position on the death penalty, the DA's camp charged yesterday.
Leslie Crocker Snyder said in a recent campaign mailing that she "opposes
the death penalty."
But another mailing said she "opposes current death penalty laws" - adding
in finer print that she "believes in ending the death penalty except in
the most extreme cases like terrorism, child killing and other heinous
"It's disingenuous at best and lying at worst," Morgenthau spokesman Bob
Former Gov. Mario Cuomo, a Morgenthau supporter and well-known death
penalty opponent, said: "If it is a deliberate attempt to fool people into
believing that she is against the death penalty, it's terrible."
Morgenthau has been steadfastly against the death penalty, never asking a
jury to impose the ultimate sentence even before the state's top court
ruled the law illegal last year.
His stance has been popular with voters in predominantly liberal
The DA's camp also has hammered Snyder on a quote from her book, "25 to
Life," in which she talks about a killer who was so bad, "I would have
been willing to give him the lethal injection myself."
Snyder campaign manager Eric Pugatch said the campaign "sent out mailings
to clarify Leslie's position on the death penalty."
Both mailings - sent out just after The New York Times endorsed Snyder -
went out at the same time to the same people so as not to confuse voters,
Liff countered: "This is a last-ditch attempt to mislead voters on an
issue at which she knows she is extremely vulnerable."
(source: New York Daily News)
PERSPECTIVE: Few expect execution delay to echo beyond one case
Gov. Bob Taft's decision to delay an execution, while a victory for death
penalty opponents, isn't seen as signaling a change in the state's
approach to capital punishment.
Taft last week postponed for 2 months the Sept. 20 execution of John
Spirko, who was convicted of killing a village postmistress in 1982, over
questions of whether prosecutors presented inaccurate information at his
At best, "maybe there's sort of a warning here that, 'Make sure what we
say in these hearings is accurate,'" said Victor Streib, an Ohio Northern
University law professor and capital punishment expert.
For the most part, say Streib and both proponents and opponents of capital
punishment, the factors behind Taft's decision are too closely related to
Spirko's case to have broader impact.
Such delays in executions aren't uncommon in Ohio and other states.
Last-minute court rulings have regularly pushed executions back a few
hours or weeks or years.
What was significant in Spirko's case was the delay came through Taft, the
only individual under Ohio law able to halt - permanently or otherwise -
As he always does in death penalty cases, Taft, a Republican, followed the
lead of the Ohio Parole Board, which asked for the delay.
Ohio has put 16 men to death since resuming executions in 1999. In a 17th
case, the parole board recommended setting aside the sentence of Jerome
Campbell of Cincinnati over concerns about evidence presented to jurors.
Spirko's delay could reduce the state's credibility in future clemency
hearings, said Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University criminal law
"It will not only lead the parole board and maybe even the governor to be
suspicious of the evidence they get from the attorney general, but will
provide lots of fodder for defense attorneys to say over and over again,
'Well, I know the prosecutors say that, but they said that kind of stuff
before and they were not playing above board,'" Berman said.
But State Public Defender David Bodiker, who makes his living trying to
stop executions, doubts Taft's decision will echo beyond Spirko.
"In this instance they were really correcting an obvious problem that
occurred during the clemency hearing, and I don't think it kind of spells
a different attitude," he said.
The delay occurred after The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported that
Timothy Prichard, director of the attorney general's capital crimes
office, made false statements and mischaracterized evidence regarding what
Spirko knew about the murder of Betty Jane Mottinger, 48, and his
whereabouts on the day of the killing.
On Aug. 23, Prichard told the parole board that a description of
Mottinger's purse had to have come from Spirko because investigators
didn't know what the missing purse looked like. But according to the case
record, Mottinger's husband earlier gave an investigator a very similar
description of the purse.
Attorney General Jim Petro stands by Prichard's presentation but said any
capital case deserves the closest possible review, including in this case
another clemency hearing, said spokeswoman Kim Norris.
Taft, 63, nearing the end of his second 4-year term, views clemency as a
chance to plead for mercy and present new facts, a spokesman said. Taft
does not predict any lasting impact from his temporary Spirko reprieve.
"The governor reviews each case personally to ensure that justice has been
served," said spokesman Mark Rickel. "He takes many factors into
consideration, including the parole board's recommendations, before making
a final decision."
(source: Associated Press)
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