[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----USA, CALIF., ALA., OHIO
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Dec 14 21:31:10 UTC 2006
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: USE OF DEATH PENALTY DECLINES IN 2006
Public Now Favors Life Without Parole ---- Lethal Injection Challenges
Lead to Fewest Executions in a Decade; Death Sentences at 30-Year Low
For the first time in 2 decades, the Gallup Poll this year revealed that
more Americans support the alternative sentence of life without parole
over the death penalty as the proper punishment for murder. This result is
in-step with the Death Penalty Information Center's (DPIC) 2006 Year End
Report detailing a continuing trend away from capital punishment in the
United States. In its report, DPIC notes that U.S. death sentences are now
at an historic 30-year low, executions have sharply declined, and the size
of death row has been dropping since 2000.
In the states this year, New Jersey became the first jurisdiction to enact
a moratorium on executions through legislation and joined a lengthy list
of states, including California and North Carolina, in forming a study
commission to review the fairness and accuracy of the death penalty. New
York legislators chose not to reinstate that jurisdiction's defunct death
penalty. More changes may emerge in the coming years as a growing number
of candidates who are opposed to the death penalty were elected to public
office in 2006.
"The American public has turned an important corner in this debate.
Support for the death penalty is on the decline and more people are
embracing the alternative sentence of life without parole, which is now
available in almost every state," said Richard Dieter, Executive Director
of the Death Penalty Information Center. "Capital punishment is risky,
expensive, and could result in irreversible error. Fewer people are now
willing to put their faith in such a flawed policy."
In its report, DPIC noted that the number of executions in 2006 reached a
10-year low of 53, down 46% since its highpoint in 1999. Evidence that
lethal injections could be causing needless and excruciating pain delayed
a number of executions and led to a series of court hearings this year.
Individual executions in Arkansas, California, Delaware, Maryland,
Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, South Dakota, and in the federal system were
halted because of this issue.
The number of people sentenced to death annually has dropped by nearly 60%
since 1999, falling from nearly 300 death sentences annually in the 1990s
to a projected 114 death sentences this year. The size of death row
decreased for the 5th consecutive year after 25 years of increases,
declining from 3,415 last year to 3,366 in 2006.
The issue of innocence remained an important cornerstone of the death
penalty debate in 2006 as an expanding list of judges, law enforcement
officials, religious leaders, and other new voices joined in challenging
capital punishment's implementation and accuracy. Former Chicago Tribune
editor and publisher Jack Fuller echoed the concerns of many when he
wrote: "[N]o government is good enough to entrust with the absolute power
that capital punishment entails."
In August, the American Bar Association unanimously passed a resolution
calling for an exemption from the death penalty for the severely mentally
ill. An almost identical resolution had been endorsed earlier by such
mental health groups as the American Psychiatric Association, the American
Psychological Association, and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
This is the 12th Year End Report published by DPIC, a non-profit
organization serving the media and the public with analysis and
information on capital punishment. To receive a copy of the report or to
schedule an interview with Richard Dieter or other experts who are willing
to address topics covered in the 2006 review, please contact Brenda Bowser
Soder at 301-906-4460, or call DPIC at 202-289-2275. To see additional
graphs and links related to material in the report, see
(source: Death Penalty Information Center)
New trial is weighed in '79 slaying----A federal court is trying to
determine if actions by jurors contaminated the conviction and death
sentence of a man who killed a USC librarian.
In San Francisco, a federal appeals court wrestled Wednesday with whether
to grant a new trial to a man on death row for the horrific 1979 murder of
a USC student librarian.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is considering whether Stevie Lamar
Fields' conviction for the rape, robbery and murder of Rosemary Carr Cobb
was contaminated by a juror's failure to disclose that his wife had been a
rape victim, and by the jury foreman's recitation of Bible verses during
the trial's death penalty phase.
Fields, now 49, has been on death row for a quarter-century. When the
California Supreme Court upheld his conviction more than 20 years ago,
Justice Alan Broussard described him as a "one-man crime wave." Just 14
days after his parole from a manslaughter sentence, Fields killed Cobb,
robbed, kidnapped, forced oral copulation on and raped 3 other women, and
robbed Clarence Gessendaner.
A University of Michigan graduate, Cobb, 26, was studying for her master's
in library science at USC.
While court arguments were underway Wednesday, Cobb's 79-year-old mother,
Bernice Stamps, who now lives in Michigan, said she was thinking about her
daughter, as she does most days.
"When Rosemary was murdered, a part of me was gone," Stamps said in a
telephone interview, adding that she's frustrated the criminal case
If Fields prevails on the Bible verses issue, he would get a new death
penalty trial. But if he prevails on the other point, the court could
overturn his conviction and order a new trial. The court is expected to
rule next year.
Six years ago, U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian, a self-described
hard-liner on crime, set aside Fields' death sentence because of the jury
Among the passages the foreman imparted to his fellow jurors were: "Who so
sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed," "Eye for eye, tooth
for tooth" and "He that killeth any man shall surely be put to death."
The jury was deadlocked 7 to 5 in favor of sentencing Fields to life
without possibility of parole. But after hearing the foreman, the panel
voted unanimously to send him to the gas chamber.
Tevrizian ruled that the deliberations had been "contaminated" and
"rendered fundamentally unfair by the jury's consideration of extrinsic
The California attorney general's office appealed. A 3-judge 9th Circuit
panel, led by Pamela Ann Rymer, reversed the decision, holding that
biblical verses were "the kind of common knowledge which most jurors are
presumed to possess."
But last September, the 9th Circuit vacated that ruling and ordered a
rehearing by a larger panel, setting the stage for Wednesday's hearing
before 15 members of the court, which hears federal appeals from 9 western
Several of the judges indicated that they were troubled by the juror's
failure to disclose during jury selection that his wife had been raped two
years before Cobb's murder.
The wife's assailant - like Fields - was a young black male and had not
been captured, and she believed that Fields may have been her rapist.
Moreover, the juror and his wife discussed the issue during the trial. He
told his wife he did not want her to come to court to look at Fields,
fearing that it might lead to his removal.
"What bothers me," said Judge Margaret McKeown, is that "every night he
talked about this defendant with his wife . who, whether it is crazy or
not, believes this defendant is the one who attacked her. That is the
difficulty you have to get over," McKeown told Deputy Atty. Gen.
He responded that what mattered was what the juror was thinking, not his
wife. But Judge Stephen Reinhardt countered, "It doesn't matter what the
juror feels." Rather, Reinhardt said it was what the average juror would
have done under the circumstances.
Reinhardt said testimony showed that the juror's wife had been so
traumatized that she would not leave the house, and her husband guarded
the door with a rifle.
There was brisk questioning of both Jorstad and Fields' lawyer, David S.
Olson of Sherman Oaks, concerning the jury foreman's use of the biblical
quotations. Some of the judges appeared skeptical about Olson's argument
that the foreman's action was misconduct, saying that jurors are expected
to discuss their life experiences, including their feelings about right
"How can we expect jurors to come to a conclusion without sharing their
views on morality? Jurors are not expected to be insular," said Judge Alex
Kozinski. "We expect them to share common experiences, especially
comparing moral judgments."
But when Kozinski and Judge Marsha Berzon questioned Jorstad, they noted
that the biblical passages were invoked during the penalty phase when
jurors are supposed to balance aggravating and mitigating factors. Berzon
said the biblical quotes were spoken as "absolutes," which is "contrary to
the notion of mitigation and aggravation."
"The list of biblical quotations all cut one way," Kozinski said. "There
are probably things in the Old and New Testament that could have been
found to cut the other way."
Jorstad acknowledged Kozinski's argument, citing the Sermon on the Mount.
Then Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw added, "Turn the other cheek. That was not
on the list brought into the jury room. If you look at the record, all the
biblical quotations are in favor of the death penalty."
Jorstad countered that the quotes talked about the death penalty "in an
abstract way" and that there was evidence that the biblical commands "did
not supplant" the judge's instructions to the jury on how to deliberate.
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Political Drama Re-enacts Moments in a Death Chamber
As drama, what happened on stage at the Black Repertory Theater of
Berkeley early Wednesday morning was not classic theatrical fare. The
actors were mostly motionless, the play had only one line, and everyone in
the audience knew how the story was going to end.
But creating a compelling narrative may not have been the authors' point.
The play was a re-enactment of the execution of the convicted killer
Stanley Tookie Williams, staged on the 1st anniversary of his death by
lethal injection at San Quentin State Prison.
The performance was written and produced by Barbara Becnel and Shirley
Neal, 2 friends of Mr. Williams and death penalty opponents, who were
unapologetic about their play's being agitprop.
"This is political theater in the extreme," Ms. Becnel told a crowd of
about 150 people who gathered to watch the performance. "But it's
political theater in the extreme because we need it."
The execution of Mr. Williams, 51, a founder of the Crips gang who was
convicted of murdering 4 people in 1979, has continued to be a rallying
point for death penalty opponents as well as a source of contention about
the methods of lethal injection.
In September, a representative of the state attorney general's office
acknowledged that prison guards and nurses had botched Mr. Williams's
lethal injection, failing to hook up a backup intravenous line to his arm.
Ms. Becnel said Mr. Williams was in agony during his execution, which took
35 minutes to complete.
"I was there, I saw what they did," Ms. Becnel said. "And I can tell you
it was a 35-minute torture-murder."
State officials deny that Mr. Williams suffered unnecessarily. "The
execution went exactly as the protocol is designed to carry it out," said
Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer. "The lack
of the extra IV line was definitely a mistake, but it didn't affect the
Michael Rushford, president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, an
advocate for victims' rights and law enforcement, said he believed Mr.
Williams was a bad role model for a play.
"I think it hurts the anti-death-penalty movement to hold up as dastardly
a criminal as Tookie," Mr. Rushford said, citing Mr. Williams's work with
the Crips, a violent gang based in Los Angeles.
Mr. Rushford added that Wednesday morning's performance was simply
"preaching to the choir" of Mr. Williams's supporters, many of whom
rallied in front of San Quentin the night of his execution.
"I don't expect an accurate portrayal of what happened," he said. "But
when you've made such a big deal of it, you cant just let it drop after a
Mr. Williams's experiences in the death chamber were part of a Federal
District Court hearing in September stemming from a lawsuit by Michael
Morales, a condemned rapist and killer that may affect death penalty
methodology in California. The judge overseeing the hearings, Jeremy
Fogel, effectively halted executions in California until he could hear
arguments on whether methods of lethal injection caused undue pain. Judge
Fogel is expected to issue a ruling soon.
For supporters of Mr. Williams, his execution, which drew international
press attention and a cadre of celebrity protesters, was unjust, in part
because of his post-incarceration work speaking about the dangers of gangs
through a series of childrens books, lectures and memoirs, many of which
were written with Ms. Becnel. Mr. Williams also claimed to be innocent.
On Wednesday, the theatrical re-enactment began at 12:01 a.m., the time
Mr. Williams entered the death chamber. It was performed by 6 actors,
including Darby Tillis, 64, an exonerated death row inmate from Chicago
who played Mr. Williams and said he had little trouble connecting with the
"When you're on death row, you always have an imaginary scene that you
live out many times: how you would feel if you went down for an
execution," Mr. Tillis said.
With a simple set folding chairs, a gurney and a platform the play's
action was minimal: three witnesses stood, a guard strapped Mr. Tillis to
a gurney, a nurse fumbled with an IV. Only once did anyone speak, when Mr.
Tillis asked the actor playing the frustrated nurse whether she knew what
she was doing. The entire performance took about 12 minutes about 1/3 of
the actual execution time.
And while the audience was silent throughout, some said the experience had
left them shaken. Kirya Traber, 22, who wore a Save Tookie T-shirt, said
she had been outside San Quentin the year before, but felt a lot closer to
the drama on Wednesday.
"Here tonight," Ms. Traber said, "was a lot more solemn."
(source: New York Times)
Victim's kin seeks death penalty----Family of Southgate woman killed in
'04 by husband she met online says punishment is just.
Former resident Sandra M. Ozment VanPelt was surfing the Internet for love
when she fell for a man looking to get rich, prosecutors say.
Now, an Alabama man convicted of courting her online, marrying her for 13
days and killing her for $300,000 in insurance could face the death
penalty -- a punishment her Downriver relatives say is just.
The body of the newlywed was found in a wooded area in Hackleburg, Ala.,
on Nov. 24, 2004, just weeks after she moved to the state to be with Kim
VanPelt, 45, who was convicted of capital murder this year.
"He should get the death penalty because that is wrong how she died," said
William Ozment, 22, of Wyandotte, a nephew of the woman he called "Aunt
"She was a really good mother who went there to start a brand-new life. It
makes me mad that she had to die like that."
Sandra Ozment VanPelt died from a head injury and suffocation.
Investigators believe she was killed a day or two earlier in the couple's
mobile home. A jury voted 10-2 on Monday to recommend that VanPelt be
sentenced to death. Jimmie Ozment said his ex-daughter-in-law left behind
three daughters. She worked as a waitress and caregiver before divorcing
his son, Jeff Ozment, and moving to Alabama. The 2 were on-again,
off-again before she met VanPelt online, he said.
"I don't think that she deserved any treatment like that," said Jimmie
Ozment of Wyandotte. "She was a human being trying to get through life.
Her children are torn and miss her."
(source: The Detroit News)
OHIO SUPREME COURT----No-smoking rule didnt affect jurys death-penalty
A Licking County judge did not violate a Newark man's right to a fair
trial by forbidding jurors to smoke during deliberations in his
death-penalty trial three years ago, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled.
"We find that the sentence imposed in this case was appropriate," wrote
Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton in the unanimous decision announced
Attorneys representing Phillip Elmore, 43, who was convicted and sentenced
to death for beating and strangling his girlfriend, had claimed among 17
appeal allegations that the jury rushed to judgment to convict and
"The judge's refusal to make any accommodation of jurors' request to smoke
predisposed those jurors to agree on a quick decision," the attorneys said
in Elmore's appeal in August.
"The record indicates that there was only one smoker on this jury,"
Stratton wrote. "Elmore's claim that this juror suffered nicotine
withdrawal is totally speculative ... Nor is there any evidence that this
juror rushed the other jurors during their deliberations."
The 6-man, 6-woman jury took 6 hours on Oct. 28, 2003, to convict Elmore
of aggravated murder in the June 2002 slaying of Pamela Annarino, 47. The
same jury deliberated three hours a week later to recommend the death
The Supreme Court did find that Common Pleas Judge Jon Spahr committed a
procedural error in sentencing Elmore to maximum and consecutive sentences
on 5 other counts: murder, kidnapping, aggravated robbery, aggravated
burglary and grand theft. Spahr must re-sentence him on those convictions.
The judge said he was satisfied by the Supreme Court's decision to uphold
the death penalty.
"When the request was made, counsel for both the state and the defense
agreed it wasn't appropriate to give a smoke break," Spahr said. "The
Supreme Court decision does not surprise me."
Nor did it surprise Joseph Edwards, one of Elmore's appeal attorneys.
"We understand that very few capital cases are reversed in the Ohio
Supreme Court," Edwards said. "Smoking was an interesting issue.
"His best chance of getting off death row is through the federal courts."
Edwards was unsure how long the federal process could take, but noted the
most important issue raised in the appeal was that Elmore's trial lawyers
were ineffective during sentencing by not calling any relatives to testify
on his behalf.
"This doesn't mean the fight ends. The fight goes on," Edwards said.
Ohio ranked 2nd to Texas in executions this year
Ohio once again ranked 2nd in the nation to Texas in the number of
executions this year.
The annual report by the Death Penalty Information Center showed Ohio's 5
executions this year (a 6th one scheduled for earlier this month was
postponed) compared to 24 in Texas. 4 states had 4 executions.
However, Ohio's continued high pace of executions runs counter to a
national trend in reduced use of capital punishment which reached a
10-year-low of 53 this year, the center reported.
The number of people on death row nationally also dropped for the
5th-straight year to 3,366.
Ohio, which has had 24 executions since 1999, has 2 lethal injections
planned in the first 5 weeks of 2007.
(source for both: Columbus Dispatch)
More information about the DeathPenalty