[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, MD., USA, S. DAK., S.C.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Aug 21 21:52:19 UTC 2006
Killer says he wasn't there for '98 dragging
The reputed leader of one of the worst race hate crimes in recent history
-- on death row for more than 7 years -- says he wasn't even present when
James Byrd Jr. was dragged to his death behind a pickup truck in Jasper,
Texas, in 1998.
John William King says the dragging death of the 49-year-old black man was
the result of a drug deal gone bad.
He names Shawn Berry, owner of the truck, and his brother, Louis Berry,
who was not charged, as the real murderers. Though convicted of murder,
Shawn Berry was spared death and given a life sentence, which means he
could be eligible for parole in 40 years.
The King motion was filed before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in
mid-June, claiming his innocence and saying his trial should have been
moved because of racial turmoil in the small eastern Texas town of 7,700,
where the crime occurred.
King was convicted and given the death penalty Feb. 25, 1999. He did not
testify nor did he cooperate with his court-appointed lawyers.
The lengthy brief, along with 1,200 pages of exhibits, filed by California
lawyer Richard Ellis in Austin, asks either that the court grant a new
trial or that King's death-penalty verdict be changed to life in prison.
Evidence from the crime scene that the prosecution used in the case
included a pair of shoes retrieved from King's apartment that purportedly
had blood on them that matched the victim.
Though King now says Shawn Berry dropped off him at home while Mr. Byrd
agreed to sell Berry steroids at another site, testimony at the trials
placed all 3 together on the lonely highway just outside of Jasper the
night of June 7.
King, Mr. Ellis said, was told by his lawyers that it would hurt him to
testify. He tried on several occasions to fire his lawyers, to no avail.
The trial court refused to allow a switch, saying it would delay the trial
King's original 2 lawyers did not return telephone calls to The Times.
His actions, however, haven't drawn much sympathy for his case.
Letters he had written to others in prison almost bragged about the crime.
And as he was led out of the Jasper courthouse after the guilty verdict,
one reporter asked him whether he had anything to say to the Byrd family.
Sneering, King spat out a vulgar racial retort.
Later, he released a short comment.
"Though I remain adamant about my innocence, it's been obvious from the
beginning that this community would get what they desire," he wrote.
Though he refused to be interviewed for this article, King says he has
found God and started his own Web site.
"I am neither good nor evil, angel or demon," he wrote a few months ago.
"I am but a man."
(source: Washington Times)
The lies that led to death row
So I read in the paper where another man is about to be lied to death.
The first such story I am aware of was published last year in the Houston
Chronicle. It concerned a street punk named Ruben Cantu, who was executed
in 1993 for shooting 2 men, killing 1. Cantu was sentenced based on the
word of a single witness, the shooting survivor. That man now says it
wasn't Cantu who shot him and that he was pressured to say otherwise by
police. The Chronicle concluded that Cantu almost certainly did not commit
the crime for which he was killed.
Meet Tyrone Noling, a resident of death row at Ohio State Penitentiary
whose story was told last week by the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Noling, a
petty thief, was convicted of the 1990 murder of an elderly couple. The
case against him was based on testimony from three members of his gang who
told the court Noling forced his way into the home of Bearnhardt and Cora
Hartig and shot them to death.
All three now say they were lying, two in exchange for lesser charges and
a third for immunity. They say they were coached and coerced by Ron Craig,
an investigator for the prosecutor's office. For instance, Butch Wolcott,
the man who received immunity, could not describe the murder scene until
Craig took him there. Wolcott told the Plain Dealer Craig also gave him
access to the evidence file.
Wolcott still had trouble getting his story straight. He claimed Noling
used a phone cord yanked from the wall to bind his victims. But the phone
cord was found intact and the couple was not tied.
And yet on the word of this man and two others one of whom recanted on
the witness stand Noling was sentenced to death. No murder weapon, no
DNA, no fingerprints, no nothing except the word of three thieves. Noling
was 18 at the time of the murders.
I am no fan of capital punishment under even the best of circumstances.
Its faults are legion, including that it's biased by race, gender,
geography and class, more expensive than lifetime incarceration, has no
deterrent value and once applied, cannot be reversed in the event of
error. It is a crude remnant of frontier justice and an embarrassment to
any sense or pretense of moral authority this nation might claim. The best
thing we can do with it is end it.
But, even if I didn't feel that way, I'd still be appalled by the idea
that a man can be sent to death row based on little more than some guy's
Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci feels differently. He told the paper none of
this causes him to lose sleep, which is pretty much what you'd expect him
to say. Belief in the death penalty requires a facade of certitude.
Conscience is an inconvenience. Facts even moreso. Don't know what you
know. Don't ask, don't tell.
Tyrone Noling was a punk. Ruben Cantu was, too. And it is easy, from the
perch of middle-class respectability, middle-class fear, not to care
overmuch that they were treated unfairly. It requires only moral cowardice
and a willingness to look the other way. These things we have in
What we have in lesser supply is the guts to see and say the obvious: The
law should not allow the death penalty in cases hinging solely on witness
testimony. That has nothing to do with sympathy for devils. It has
everything to do with the integrity and credibility of a broken system.
If we don't care about Cantu or Noling, we should at the very least care
(source: Column, Leonard Pitts, Jr., Houston Chronicle)
Prison system backs off change on death-row visits
State prison officials reversed course today on restricting death row
visitors who have traveled more than 300 miles to 1 special 8-hour visit
Special visits, which consist of 2 4-hour sessions on consecutive days,
are permitted once a month. But long-distance travellers who arrive late
in a month will be allowed to "piggyback" a 2nd visit early in the next
month, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons
All such visits to the Polunksy Unit's death row in Livingston will be at
the warden's discretion.
Lyons said TDCJ had made no systemwide policy change regarding
long-distance visitors, but for about six weeks the warden at Polunsky had
restricted special visits there to one per trip. That practice grew out of
concern that some visitors, especially those from Europe, had abused
department policy by establishing residences near the prison.
Lyons said prison officials will remain alert to signs that long-distance
visitors have established residences in the area. Some had obtained local
post office boxes and telephone numbers. At least one had planned to open
Regular weekly visits consisting of 2-hour sessions are not affected.
Lyons said the earlier restrictions on multiple special visits had applied
only to the Polunsky Unit.
The restriction on multiple visits had raised concerns among European
death row activists, scores of whom visit condemned prisons in American
prisons. Sandrine Ageorges, a French death penalty opponent, began
circulating a petition opposing visiting restrictions.
Many foreign visitors, she said, could not afford to visit Texas for a
single 8-hour visit. Shorter weekly visits, she contended, were
insufficient to build rapport with inmates.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Killing Of Officer Could Warrant Death Penalty
The July killing of a prison correctional officer could warrant the death
penalty, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County State's Attorney's
2 inmates, Lamarr Cornelius Harris, 35, and Lee Edward Stephens, 27, were
indicted Friday on 1st-degree murder and conspiracy to commit 1st-degree
murder charges for the stabbing death of Cpl. David McGuinn. Kristin
Riggin, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office, said the case
contains "several aggravating factors" that could warrant the death
penalty, but prosecutors have not yet announced their decision.
"It is the policy to discuss the case with the victim's family before we
make a final decision and or announce a decision to the public," Riggin
told The Baltimore Examiner.
Committing murder while serving a life sentence and killing a law
enforcement officer are both grounds for seeking the death penalty in
Maryland. Both men were serving life sentences for murder when the
McGuinn, 42, of Baltimore was killed at the Maryland House of Correction
in Jessup on July 25 when, authorities said, 2 inmates in the maximum
security prison escaped from their cells and stabbed him in the back and
Charging documents described a bloody scene that was found after McGuinn,
a 2-year employee, called for help using his radio.
Staff members who went to aid McGuinn found him "staggering down the steps
with his face and head covered with blood."
Harris was found washing a bedsheet, gray sweat pants and shirts, all
stained with blood, in the sink in his cell. A pair of wet shoes with
bloodstains was also found next to the sink and a "device commonly used by
inmates to prevent their cell door from locking" was found outside his
cell, according to the documents.
A search of Stephen's cell found a white T-shirt with bloodstains under
his bed and a pair of boots with bloodstains under his desk, the documents
A witness told investigators that he saw Harris standing behind McGuinn
and that the officer was "bent forward at the waist with his hands
shielding his face" as he was stabbed. The witness said he saw Harris
strike the victim at least 3 times, according to the documents.
(source: Associated Press)
Justice denied - again - for the exonerated
Michael Evans won an Illinois lottery. A couple of years ago, the state
presented him with a check for $162,000. But forgive him if he's not as
grateful as most Lotto winners. His payout didn't come to him because he
selected some winning numbers. It came because he spent 27 years in prison
for a rape and murder committed by someone else.
That amount of money wouldn't be a bad return on a $2 wager. But for the
time he spent behind bars, it comes to about $6,000 a year. He could have
made more working for the minimum wage.
Mr. Evans thought someone owed him more than that for all he endured. He
filed a $60 million lawsuit against 10 former Chicago police officers whom
he accused of framing him. But this month, a federal jury rejected his
claim. The maximum allowed by law, his $162,000 check amounts to less than
$17 per day he spent behind bars.
He took the verdict hard, saying, "In my case, I don't really see how
justice has been done." Bad as his treatment was, though, it could have
been worse. Illinois furnishes modest compensation for inmates who are
exonerated. But many states offer even less - and most states provide
nothing at all.
Some states are reasonably generous. Utah provides $70,000 for each year
spent on death row. Tennessee allows awards as high as $1 million.
Alabama, Vermont, Michigan and Hawaii offer up to $50,000 for each year of
mistaken imprisonment. California pays $100 per day.
But others think inmates should be content with breathing fresh air.
Wisconsin caps payouts at $25,000, and New Hampshire has a limit of
$20,000. Montana grants only tuition, room and board at any community
college in the state.
And 29 states have no laws aimed at making the injured person whole. In
those places, if you get locked up by mistake and want financial
compensation, you have to go to court or to the legislature, neither of
which is obligated to give it. All you're guaranteed in Florida, for
example, is $100 and a bus ticket, provided to the guilty as well as the
Florida's legislature has sometimes approved financial redress, but, as in
other states, obtaining it can be harder than getting off death row.
Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee spent 12 years in prison before being
pardoned in 1975. But Florida rebuffed 19 petitions before finally
agreeing to give them each $500,000 - in 1998.
Lawsuits can be even harder. To win damages, the former inmate has to
demonstrate not only that he was convicted in error but that the police
were guilty of misconduct. Ineptitude or carelessness isn't enough.
Even states that have set up systems for compensation don't necessarily
make it easy. Illinois is one of several states that say it doesn't
suffice to be cleared by DNA or other compelling evidence; a pardon by the
governor on grounds of innocence is also required.
Discovering wrongful convictions is not exactly a freakish occurrence
anymore. Since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center,
123 inmates have been removed from death row. Many other inmates have been
exonerated of lesser felonies, usually through DNA analysis.
It's hard to envision a more nightmarish experience than being convicted
of a heinous crime that you didn't commit and then sent to prison for
years or decades.
On top of this, death row inmates spend every hour anticipating the day
when they will be escorted from their cells, strapped to a gurney and
injected with lethal poison. When freed, inmates face huge hurdles in
trying to rebuild the lives that were taken from them. Most of us wouldn't
go through that for all the money in Microsoft.
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution says the government may not take
your property without paying just compensation. But if you're entitled to
fair market value for being deprived of your house, shouldn't losing a
large share of your time on Earth be worth more than $6,000 per year?
In Illinois and most other places, the answer is no. But if justice
demands that we punish the guilty, it also calls for full atonement when
we punish the innocent.
(source: The Baltimore Sun)
SOUTH DAKOTA----impending execution
Former Texan could get death wish----South Dakota turns to Huntsville for
advice on 1st execution since '47
If a former Texas man gets his wish to become the 1st killer executed by
South Dakota in nearly 60 years, his one-time home state famous for its
active death row will have played a bit part.
Elijah Page, 24, has ordered his attorney to stop all appeals and allow
his lethal injection to proceed on an undetermined date in the last week
of August, saying he's tired the life of a condemned man.
"Are you absolutely sure?" Warren Johnson, the western South Dakota
circuit judge who sentenced Page to death, asked him during a hearing last
"Yes," Page replied as Johnson tried to ensure the inmate was competent to
end appeals that prosecutors say could take years to exhaust.
Page and 2 other men were convicted in the March 2000 beating, stabbing
and torture death of 19-year-old Chester Poage in a snowy creekbed outside
of Spearfish, S.D.
Page and Briley Piper, 25, pleaded guilty and waived jury trials only to
be condemned by Johnson. A jury convicted the 3rd man, Darrell Hoadley,
but could not unanimously agree on capital punishment, resulting in a life
Unlike in Texas, where there is no mechanism to place such a life-or-death
decision in the hands of a judge, South Dakota allows it if a defendant
chooses to waive his constitutional right to a jury trial.
"If it's a death case and we're in trial and a defendant says, 'I'll plead
to life,' we'll consider that," said Lyn McClellan, felony trial bureau
chief for the Harris County District Attorney's Office. But a jury must
determine both guilt or innocence and punishment if the death penalty is
an option, he said, even if the defendant doesn't contest the facts.
Execution process studied
Though Page's death chamber will be in Sioux Falls, S.D. unless he
changes his mind about appeals before the drugs start flowing Texas will
have served a supporting role. A contingent from South Dakota visited
Texas earlier this year to see how the busiest executioners in the nation
mete out capital punishment.
"They go over all the aspects of an execution," said Texas Department of
Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons. "They look at our policies as
far as transporting the offender, how we house them once they arrive at
the (Walls Unit). I met with them to go over our media policies as far as
how many witnesses there are and what we provide them with.
"We go over our chemicals methods and the way we configure the witnesses.
In Texas (victims' families and inmates' supporters) never confront one
another. They meet with victims services representatives to talk about how
we handle victims, and also meet with the chaplaincy to go over how to
minister to the inmate in the days prior to the execution."
Prison officials from California, Connecticut and New Mexico all death
penalty states that carry out executions infrequently have visited
Huntsville under similar circumstances.
While Texas' population is 29 times that of South Dakota's 776,000, Texas'
death row is currently nearly a hundredfold larger at 395 to 4.
Since gaining independence in 1836, Texas has executed 1,126 men and women
by hanging, shooting, electrocution or injection. South Dakota has hanged
14 inmates and in 1947 used the electric chair on George Sitts, the last
man executed in the state. Sitts also committed his crime, the murders of
two lawmen, near Spearfish.
Since U.S. executions resumed after a respite in the 1970s, Texas has
executed 372 inmates while South Dakota's lethal injection gurney located
down the hall from where the old electric chair sat has yet to be used.
While the size and activity of South Dakota's capital punishment process
pale in comparison to Texas', prosecutors say few killers in Texas or
anywhere else have killed with the kind of depravity shown to Poage during
the deadly 2-hour assault.
Robbery gone wrong
Poage's ordeal began on March 13, 2000, when the three killers lured him
to Page's rented home in Spearfish, where he moved in late 1999, to rob
him, said John Fitzgerald, the chief prosecutor in Lawrence County, S.D.
"Page pulled out a gun, pointed it at his head and Piper kicked him in the
head, knocking him unconscious," Fitzgerald said. "Then they tied him up
and contemplated how to murder him."
The 3 first forced Poage to drink a "hydrochloric acid" concoction,
Fitzgerald said, then drove Poage outside of town to Higgins Gulch to
finish him off.
They stripped the victim naked in the frigid South Dakota winter and
forced him to divulge the PIN for his automated teller card.
"They tried burying him alive in the snow, but he got up and started
running. Page chased him down across the creek," Fitzgerald said. "Page
said he kicked him so many times in the head his foot got sore. ... They
literally kicked him so much his ears were kicked off his head."
The killers then forced the naked and battered Poage to lie in the creek,
where Fitzgerald said they took turns stabbing him in the head and neck.
But he wouldn't die.
"It's an amazing (amount of) time this kid suffered because he was a
healthy 19-year-old," Fitzgerald said.
Initially Poage begged for his life, said Fitzgerald, basing his
information on defendants' confessions. Then he simply began begging to be
left to bleed to death in the relative warmth of a car, at which point
they forced him back into the icy creek where they stoned him until he
"On the way back (to town) they were yelling out who was going to get dibs
on this guy's property," said the prosecutor.
Traced to East Texas
The body wasn't found until the next month. The investigation eventually
led to Hoadley, who was still living in town, and the other two men.
Fitzgerald said authorities tracked Page to where he was staying with
relatives in Athens, in East Texas about 70 miles from Dallas.
Page's mother, Michelle Page, said in a brief interview with the Houston
Chronicle that her son was born in Florida and grew up in the Kansas City
area. She declined to discuss the murder or his decision to stop all
Page's attorney, Mike Butler, also declined to comment on the case. An
assistant in his office said Butler continues to handle any other legal
matters for Page and is readying appeals paperwork that can be filed
quickly in case his client changes his mind.
Poage's mother, who like Fitzgerald plans to attend the execution, said
her son was six months away from earning a technical college degree when
he made the mistake of trusting a clique of very bad young men.
Dottie Poage said she supports the death penalty and the pending
executions of Page and Piper, although she will not be disappointed if
Page has a change of heart and resumes his appeals. Gov. Mike Rounds
already has said he doesn't plan to intervene.
"Still, I know he's not getting out from behind bars, and that's what's
comforting to me," she said.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Doctors question execution presence----S.C. medical board may weigh
South Carolina has no prohibition on doctors participating in state
executions, but a spokesman for the state's medical board says the issue
could come up after North Carolina's board voted last month to ban
physicians from doing anything but watching an execution.
Dr. Louis Costa II, vice president of the S.C. Board of Medical Examiners,
says he expects the issue to come up at the board's meeting in November,
but he doesn't expect the board to follow North Carolina's lead.
"South Carolina has tilted historically toward understanding the
justification - if not in some instances, the virtue - of capital
punishment," he said.
Some physicians, and the American Medical Association, think using doctors
in executions violates a physician's oath to save lives.
But in recent court cases, some defense lawyers' have argued that medical
expertise is needed to prevent the injections from becoming a
constitutionally prohibited type of cruel and unusual punishment.
In 1980, the AMA said it had a problem with doctors participating.
"The American Medical Association is troubled by continuous refusal of
many state courts and legislatures to acknowledge the ethical obligations
of physicians, which strictly prohibit physician involvement in a legally
authorized execution," AMA president Dr. William Plested III said in a
S.C. Corrections Department director Jon Ozmint refused to answer
questions about physician involvement in executions, citing "security
Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said the prison system uses one of its
physicians at each execution at the Broad River Correctional Facility in
Columbia, but he didn't know in what capacity the doctor was used. Watts
said a member of his staff also attends executions.
The state does not disclose who participates in executions, but does
prohibit some professionals from participating.
Paramedics, for example, are not allowed to participate, said Adam Myrick,
spokesman for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control,
which regulates paramedics.
"That is not something they are legally able to do," Myrick said.
"Basically they are licensed for pre-hospital treatment to save people."
In North Carolina, a doctor is required to be present at an execution by
law, but the Medical Board in July gave preliminary approval to barring
doctors from "any verbal or physical activity that facilitates the
Defense attorneys have argued the need for a doctor to be present because
only a doctor can determine whether an inmate has received enough
anesthetizing drugs to make him unconscious before the lethal drugs are
administered. Otherwise, the death could be painful and violate the
constitutional ban on cruel punishment, the attorneys have argued.
In California, anesthesiologists' refusal to participate in an inmate's
execution earlier this year led to the suspension of executions there.
In North Carolina, a brain-wave monitor was approved as a means of
determining whether a condemned inmate was unconscious. But the use of a
doctor to monitor vital signs during an execution violates the AMA's
ethics code, according to the organization.
In South Carolina, executions are held in the Death House at Broad River
Correctional Institution in Columbia, mainly by lethal injection since
1995, though prisoners sentenced before that date have the right to
request the electric chair instead.
The state has executed 269 people since 1912.
Costa said the S.C. medical board uses the AMA code in making decisions,
but is not legally required to enforce every AMA opinion.
"There have been instances where we have made exceptions," he said. "A
significant number of physicians in this state are not members of the
American Medical Association because they find themselves in such conflict
with some of the AMA's policies."
Grand Strand residents on death row
Stephen Stanko was sentenced Friday to death for the murder of his live-in
girlfriend, Laura Ling, last spring and the sexual assault of a
15-year-old in Ling's home. Stanko becomes the state's 60th death row
inmate and the only one from Georgetown County. He will also face the
death penalty when he goes on trial this fall for the death of Henry Lee
Turner. Stanko's lawyers have vowed to appeal the conviction.
5 of the inmates on death row are from Horry County. They are: James N.
Bryant III, Luzenski Cottrell, Ricky George, Titus Huggins and Angle Joe
(source: Associated Press)
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