death penalty news----OHIO, IOWA, CALIF., US MIL., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Feb 7 09:15:03 CST 2006
Food, family fill inmate's last hours----Convicted killer dines on bacon
cheeseburgers as he awaits execution
Condemned killer Glenn Benner II spent his final evening munching an
all-American meal of cheeseburgers, blueberry pie and ice cream, while
visiting with family and friends in Ohio's death house.
By 10:30 this morning, Benner will likely be dead.
Gov. Bob Taft denied Benner clemency Monday, 18 hours before his
scheduled death by lethal injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional
Benner didn't seek clemency, but the state was required to consider him
for it anyway. His attorney said there will be no last-minute appeals.
Benner was sentenced to death for the rapes and murders of Trina Bowser of
Tallmadge and Cynthia Sedgwick of Cleveland Heights in 1985 and 1986. He
was also convicted of attacking 3 other Northeast Ohio women.
Benner, 43, formerly of Springfield Township, would be the 20th inmate
executed since Ohio resumed the death penalty in 1999.
Benner rode 6 hours from the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown to
Lucasville, arriving at 9:35 a.m. Monday. He received a medical and
psychological exam and ordered his last "special" meal.
During the afternoon, Benner talked to prison staff and looked through
personal papers he brought with him, said Andrea Dean, a prison
"He's been very calm and compliant -- very conversive with the execution
team," Dean said during a Monday afternoon press briefing.
Dean described Benner as courteous and polite but private. She said, for
example, that he did not want to discuss what his possessions are or whom
he plans to give them to.
Benner will remain in the death house until he is led to the execution
chamber, where he can give a last statement before being administered
drugs that will stop his breathing and heart. In a recent statement, he
said he would address the Bowser and Sedgwick families.
Besides his attorney, Kate McGarry, a former Ohio public defender who now
lives in New Mexico, Benner's witnesses will be Hilary Hughes, a friend
from Ireland, and Mary Lou Silvers, an aunt.
Family, friends visit
About 4:45 p.m. Monday, Benner's time to meet with his family and friends
began. The visits took place in a large room in the death house, where
Benner and his loved ones were to sit around a table. This opportunity was
to last until 8 p.m.
Benner planned to visit with Hughes; Silvers; Lori and Michael Quinn, his
sister and brother-in-law; Bari Kish, his sister; and Kristen
Richmond-Rake, a niece. He will have unrestricted time with McGarry and
the Rev. Herb Weber, a Catholic priest from Perrysburg.
Benner was to have access to a phone to make as many collect calls as he
wants. In his cell, he also has a television, radio, paper and pen, and
This morning, he will be offered the same breakfast as other inmates.
Between 6:30 and 8 a.m., he will be able to have visitors, who will talk
with him from outside his cell.
Benner's victims' families have had a difficult time deciding who will
witness his execution. The state limits each family to 3 spots. This was
particularly a problem for Bowser's 4 brothers, who all wanted to see
Timothy and Bradley Bowser will be witnesses. Rodney and Randy Bowser
planned to decide during the night who would get the 3rd spot.
The Bowser family even asked media witnesses if they would give up their
spots in exchange, but the state's rules forbid such a switch.
James and Barbara Sedgwick, Cynthia's father and mother, and James
Sedgwick Jr., her brother, will be the witnesses for her family.
The 2 families will have 25 people at the prison during the execution. 2
of Benner's surviving victims will also be there.
Benner recently issued a statement saying he would grant no media
He again mentioned concern for his victims' families. "I will not comment
further other than I underestimated the power of drugs and in doing so I
committed horrific crimes and caused untold and unimaginable pain to many
people -- both to people who knew and loved me, and to people to whom I
was a terrifying, dangerous stranger," he wrote.
(source: Akron Beacon Journal)
Gage case prompts death penalty talk----Senator says no conflict exists in
being anti-abortion and killing child killers
The leading death penalty advocate in the Legislature, an anti-abortion
Republican, says there is no conflict between his belief that life should
be preserved and his desire to execute those who prey on children.
"I don't think you can be any more pro-life than to want to defend the
lives of the most vulnerable of our citizens," said Sen. Larry McKibben,
R-Marshalltown. "... I absolutely believe this is pro-life because I'm
fighting for something that will deter the deaths of these people that
can't defend themselves."
McKibben has drafted a bill that would authorize the death penalty in
cases in which a child is kidnapped, sexually abused and murdered.
To avoid one issue that might give abortion foes trouble, the bill
specifies that a pregnant woman sentenced to death must first give birth
before the sentence is carried out.
McKibben said the bill was prompted by the slaying of 10-year-old Jetseta
Gage, who was abducted from her home in Cedar Rapids last spring.
A former family friend, Roger Bentley, 38, of Brandon, was sentenced to
life in prison for kidnapping and murder.
A similar case, the August 1994 kidnap-slaying of 9-year-old Anna Marie
Emry, of Grinnell, prompted the last serious death penalty debate. Larry
Lane Morgan is serving a life sentence in that case.
Then-Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, used the case as an example of why
the death sentence should be reinstated.
A bill drafted in 1997 by Sen. Andy McKean, R-Anamosa, would have restored
the death penalty for those convicted of 2 serious felonies, such as a
rapist who kills his victim or an inmate who kills someone while serving a
life sentence. It failed to pass and was dropped the next year.
McKibbens bill likely faces the same fate.
It failed to get a hearing before the Judiciary Committee. Democratic
Sens. Bob Dvorsky and Keith Kreiman said they are morally opposed to the
death penalty and plan to block debate.
McKibben said he hopes to bring it up before a subcommittee today.
McKibben, a former Sunday school teacher and a board member at a First
United Methodist Church, said he respects the opinions of those who oppose
the death penalty on moral grounds or because of religious beliefs.
"I respect those opinions. I simply don't believe that's where the
majority of Iowans are right now," he said.
David Ozar, a professor of philosophy at Loyola University of Chicago,
said people who support capital punishment often justify their position by
weighing the benefit against harm.
However, he added, "some people, perhaps even child murderers, might say
life in prison is worse than death and so capital punishment is actually
Ozar said some would argue that opposing abortion while supporting capital
punishment are contradictory; it would be difficult to explain why one
considers them consistent.
Iowa repealed its death penalty in 1965, two years after the state's last
execution. Victor Feguer, convicted of federal charges, was hanged at the
Iowa State Penitentiary in 1963 for killing a Dubuque doctor whose body
was dumped in Illinois.
(source: Iowa City Press-CItizen)
Death row appeal statement forged, D.A. says ---- Morales' roommate says
she did not withdraw testimony
Prosecutors opposing clemency for Michael Morales, scheduled to be
executed Feb. 21 for the 1981 murder of a young woman near Lodi, accused
his lawyers on Monday of fabricating a statement by a witness that
purported to withdraw her trial testimony against Morales.
In papers filed with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, San Joaquin County Deputy
District Attorney Charles Schultz called the document submitted by
Morales' lawyers last month "an outright forgery" and said it showed that
none of the assertions in his appeal for clemency were believable. They
backed up their claim with a sworn statement that they said the witness
Prosecutors also dismissed the recent endorsement of clemency by the judge
who sentenced Morales to death, saying he seems to have forgotten most of
the evidence against Morales.
There was no immediate comment from Morales' lawyers. His clemency
petition was filed Jan. 27 by David Senior, his longtime attorney, and
Kenneth Starr, the onetime Whitewater special prosecutor who is now dean
of Pepperdine University Law School.
Morales, 46, of Stockton, was convicted of raping and murdering
17-year-old Terri Winchell in January 1981. She was choked from behind as
she sat in a car, then beaten on the head with a hammer and stabbed with a
knife. In Monday's filing, Schultz said Morales raped her as she lay dying
from the hammer blows, then stabbed her to make sure she was killed.
Morales said he was enlisted by his cousin, Ricky Ortega, who had learned
that Winchell was having an affair with Ortega's male lover. Ortega, tried
separately, was sentenced to life in prison.
In asking Schwarzenegger to spare Morales' life, his lawyers described him
as deeply remorseful, said he had acted under the influence of drugs and
alcohol, and attributed his death sentence to the allegedly false
testimony of a jailhouse informant, Bruce Samuelson.
Samuelson testified that Morales admitted planning the crime, bragged
about it, and referred to Winchell in vulgar language. His fabrication was
later revealed, defense lawyers said, when he told a state investigator
that the two had discussed the crime entirely in Spanish, a language
Morales does not speak. Superior Court Judge Charles McGrath, who presided
over the trial, said he now supports clemency and never would have upheld
the death sentence if he had known of Samuelson's falsehoods.
In Monday's reply, prosecutors contended Samuelson's testimony was
corroborated by other witnesses, including Morales himself at the trial,
regardless of what language they spoke. McGrath's apparent fixation on the
language issue "seems to have dimmed his memory of the compelling facts"
supporting a death sentence, Schultz wrote.
One of the corroborating witnesses was Morales' housemate, Patricia Felix,
who told the jury that Morales had admitted choking Winchell before
killing her -- a critical factor in his conviction on the capital charge
of murder by lying in wait. Morales' lawyers submitted a declaration
bearing Felix's name in the clemency petition, saying she had testified
In rebuttal, prosecutors offered a sworn statement Monday bearing Felix's
signature, and dated Feb. 2, saying she had never seen the declaration,
did not recognize the signature on the document, and had never met with or
spoken to anyone working for Morales. "I testified truthfully at Michael
Morales' trial, and I stand by my testimony," she said.
'Nut Case' trial set to begin ----Conviction could put 21-year-old on
Sunny Thach had just helped his wife carry their laundry inside when he
remembered one more bag of baby clothes still in the car and went to
He was shot dead in his front yard minutes later, begging for his life as
his wife and toddler looked on, by robbers who took $31. His slaying,
police say, capped a bloody 10-week crime spree in late 2002 and early
2003 that included 5 slayings and scores of robberies throughout Oakland
by 6 alleged killers who called themselves the Nut Cases.
The deaths came during a year that saw homicides increase by 30 % in
Oakland, and were committed by men motivated largely by the thrill of
killing, roaming the city looking for victims and joking that they were
single-handedly driving up the tally, police said.
The man police said pulled the trigger in most of the crimes, Demarcus
Ralls, 21, is to go on trial Tuesday. If convicted of Thach's killing,
Ralls could become the youngest person on death row and one of the
youngest sentenced to death since California resumed capital punishment in
"This small gang of thugs drove up Oakland's violent crime rate by
themselves," Mayor Jerry Brown said at the time of the arrest. "These
arrests probably saved some lives and made Oakland a much safer place."
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner has issued a gag order
in the case, barring police, prosecutors and Ralls' attorney from
commenting. But court documents and the suspects' own statements to police
show the Nut Cases were driven by little more than the thrill of killing
and the bravado of boasting to friends about what they'd done.
Ralls nonchalantly described to police investigators his role in the
deaths of 5 people and the robbing of at least 23 others as the Nut Cases
terrorized Oakland for 10 weeks ending in their arrest in January 2003,
The suspects told police they would spend their time getting high and
playing the violent video game "Grand Theft Auto III" -- which rewards
players for committing crimes -- and then would act out what they'd done
when they grew bored with the game.
Ralls, who turned 18 during the crime spree, is charged with 5 murders, 2
attempted murders, and 18 of the robberies. His 5 co-defendants are
expected to be tried later this year.
Horner rejected an effort by Ralls' attorney, Deborah Levy, to suppress
his incriminating statement to police which includes references to
Reached by phone, a woman who identified herself as Ralls' mother declined
to comment. Several weeks after his arrest, Deborah Colbert, the aunt of 3
of the alleged killers, defended the young men she helped raise.
"The things they say about them are too bizarre to be true," she said at
the time. "They are not Nut Case killers. They don't rob people. They
All of the Nut Case defendants are related except for Leon "Twan" Wiley,
28, the man police call the ringleader. They include Ralls' half-brothers,
Joe Ralls, 29, and Jhomari Sutton, 23; their cousin, Deonte "Oink" Donald,
20; and their sister-in-law, 28-year-old Aminah Dorsey-Colbert.
Wiley and Joe Ralls face the death penalty. The other 3 face life in
prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
The Nut Cases started as "a little group of dudes that used to sell dope
on 80th" Avenue in East Oakland, according to the transcript of Wiley's
interview with police. Wiley and several other members sport tattoos
showing the Planters logo Mr. Peanut and the words "Nut Case."
Sometime late in the summer of 2002, police said, they realized robbing
drug dealers and illegal immigrants was easier and more lucrative than
selling crack cocaine.
At first, they sought targets they believed were unlikely to report the
crimes. Cruising the city in a blue 1977 Buick Regal, they widened their
net, seeking victims in more affluent areas, police said.
Their victims were as diverse as Oakland -- blacks, whites, Latinos and
Asians, ranging from day laborers waiting for buses to professionals
driving expensive cars.
It took a while for the police to realize the same crew was behind the
crimes, because the robbers struck all over town and their victims had no
The 1st slaying took place Oct. 24. Police said Demarcus Ralls admitted to
killing Joseph Mabrey, 36, a youth basketball coach who was having an
affair with Dorsey-Colbert -- who admitted to helping arrange the
Ralls, according to his police interview, said he asked Mabrey for a ride,
led him to a dark dead-end street and killed him.
The next homicide victim, according to court records, was Douglas Ware,
19, who died Dec. 18 when the Nut Cases drove up to a crowded West Oakland
street corner seeking a young man nicknamed "Nard," apparently intent on
When Nard wasn't at his usual corner, the crew left to rob a few people.
Demarcus Ralls bragged to police about the electronic items he'd stolen in
a home invasion robbery. Later that night, they returned and Nard still
wasn't around. So they decided to open fire on the crowd, Demarcus Ralls
told police, because they could.
"The people (we) shot did nothing to deserve it," Ralls told police,
according to court documents.
On Dec. 27, Leon Wiley was at his girlfriend's house in West Oakland while
a loud holiday party was going on in a nearby patio. A guest there invited
Wiley's girlfriend to join them -- infuriating Wiley, who stormed over to
the house. But the guest who made the invitation had already left.
Michael Vassar, who witnessed the incident, told the grand jury that Wiley
"asked, 'What's up with your homeboy?' and then pointed a rifle at me. The
armed man said he was from deep East Oakland and he was a Nut Case."
Demarcus Ralls told police that he and Joe Ralls, on Wiley's orders,
showed up at the party less than an hour later and fired 30 rounds from an
AR15 semi-automatic rifle into the front door.
Keith Mackie-Harris, 14, who had begged his family to let him go to the
party to play with his cousin's new Xbox, was shot in the head. Jerry
Duckworth, 24, a family friend who used his body to shield the boy, died
when he was shot 6 times. Vassar was seriously wounded and has since left
California to avoid retribution for cooperating with police.
As violent as the Nut Cases were, the night of Jan. 6, 2003, was
especially bad, investigators said. It began in Berkeley, where police
said the crew robbed 3 people outside the Ashby BART Station. Minutes
later, they robbed and beat another man, then drove to Piedmont, where
they pistol-whipped a man walking home from the Grand Lake movie theater.
Then they headed to a neighborhood just east of Lake Merritt, where they
had committed robberies in the past, police said.
Cindy Li testified she was standing on Sixth Avenue near her broken Ford
Taurus with the hood popped open when 2 Nut Cases approached, demanded
money and started rifling through her pockets.
Just down the block, Sunny Thach was carrying the last load of laundry, a
bag full of clothes for his 11-month-old daughter, Stephanie, when the Nut
Thach's wife, Sylvia Tang, who testified before a grand jury that she was
standing in the doorway of their apartment, witnessed the incident and
"He shot Sunny in the head, and then he tried to shoot me," said Tang, who
ducked with their toddler, avoiding the bullets.
Both Deonte Donald and Demarcus Ralls played down their roles in the
killing. Donald said he fired into the air, while Ralls told police he
shot at Thach but did not try to kill him.
Jhomari Sutton told police "back at the van, (Demarcus and Deonte) said
they were sorry for shooting the man, but the man refused to give them
money, so they had to do what they had to do."
A man who witnessed the commotion on Sixth Avenue from his window gave
police the Buick's license number, which ultimately led investigators to
break the case a week later.
Jhomari Sutton, Aminah Dorsey-Colbert, Leon "Twan" Wiley, Joe Ralls,
Deonte "Oink" Donald
VICTIMS Douglas Ware, Jerry Duckworth, Keith Mackie-Harris. Sunny Thach,
Nut Cases: A bloody crime spree
6 young people who called themselves the Nut Cases roamed Oakland for 10
weeks in late 2002 and early 2003, killing 5 people and contributing to a
spike in homicides in the city, police say.
Oct. 24, 2002
Joseph Mabrey was found shot to death in his car parked in the 3200 block
of Storer Avenue.
Dec. 18, 2002
Douglas Ware was standing in a group of people in the 1000 block of
Kirkham Street when gunmen inside a car sprayed the area with bullets.
Dec. 27, 2002
Keith Mackie-Harris and Jerry Duckworth were killed at a holiday party at
800 block of Campbell Steet in West Oakland.
Jan. 6, 2003
Sunny Thach was shot to death as he pleaded with robbers for his life in
front of his home in the 1900 block of Sixth Avenue.
(source for both: San Francisco Chronicle)
Prosecutor Makes Case Against Clemency----Official says convicted killer
Michael Morales wrote a false account in his plea to the governor.
The San Joaquin County district attorney's office Monday strongly urged
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger not to grant clemency to convicted murderer
Michael A. Morales, scheduled to be executed Feb. 21 at San Quentin State
Morales was sentenced to death in 1983 by Ventura County Superior Court
Judge Charles R. McGrath after a jury unanimously recommended that the
state take Morales' life for the brutal 1981 slaying of Terri Winchell, a
17-year-old Lodi high school student. The case was moved to Ventura
because of heavy pretrial publicity.
"Morales deserves no mercy, nor sympathy, nor clemency," said Deputy Dist.
Atty. Charles Schultz in papers submitted to the governor. "The evidence
that he tortured, raped and murdered Terri Winchell is overwhelming. The
evidence of remorse is weak and unconvincing. And at least one significant
part of his request for clemency is based upon a fictional declaration."
Schultz wrote that Morales submitted "a false account" of the killing in
support of his clemency plea, stating that he had committed the crime in a
drug- and alcohol-induced haze at the request of his cousin, Rick Ortega,
who was angry at Winchell because she had become the lover of a man with
whom he had had a homosexual relationship.
In reality, according to Schultz, when Ortega told his cousin about the
situation, Morales conspired with Ortega to kill Winchell as "payback" for
calling Ortega "gay," and Morales devised the plan.
Morales suggested that the three drive to a deserted area near Lodi where
the crime would occur.
"After giving Ortega a prearranged signal, Morales attacked [Winchell]
from behind, attempting to strangle her with his belt.. When his attempts
to kill Terri with the belt failed, Morales took out [a hammer] and
savagely beat her all about the head with it," according to Schultz.
Evidence submitted at trial showed that Winchell had 23 wounds on her
Morales dragged Winchell from the car and raped her after she was dead,
according to trial testimony. Finally, after walking away, Morales
returned and stabbed Winchell to make sure she was dead, according to
trial testimony cited by Schultz.
The prosecutor said the facts of the crime, along with other alleged
misstatements in Morales' clemency petition, cast doubt on "the sincerity
of Morales' claim of remorse, negate his alleged acceptance of 'full
responsibility,' and demonstrate that nothing submitted in support of his
clemency plea can be trusted."
In January, Morales' bid for clemency got what appeared to be a boost when
McGrath, the trial judge, sent a letter to Schwarzenegger urging that he
commute Morales' sentence to life without parole. In a highly unusual
move, the judge said he believed that the death sentence was based on
false testimony from a jailhouse informant.
Bruce Samuelson had testified that Morales boasted during a jailhouse
conversation that he had planned to rape and kill Winchell. The confession
supposedly took place in Spanish. But the judge said he learned years
later that Morales did not speak Spanish.
McGrath said the false testimony persuaded the jury that the crime was
egregious and effectively negated Morales' claim that he felt deep
remorse. Under the circumstances, executing Morales, now 46, would be "a
grievous and freakish injustice," McGrath wrote.
The judge said that, if he had learned of Samuelson's falsehoods at the
time, he "would not have let the death sentence stand."
Morales' attorneys, David Senior and Kenneth W. Starr - dean of Pepperdine
Law School and a former federal appeals court judge - have until 5 p.m.
today to file a response.
Margita Thompson, the governor's spokeswoman, said Schwarzenegger would
thoroughly review the matter in consultation with his legal affairs
secretary, Andrea Lynn Hoch, after all the papers have been submitted.
(source: Los Angeles Times)
2 killers closer to first military executions since 1961
President Bush now faces a decision that no commander in chief has
confronted in more than 40 years - whether inmates on the U.S. military's
death row should live or die.
Bush became the first president since John Kennedy to be faced with that
choice when, after years of review, the military recently delivered to the
White House recommendations that 2 convicted multiple murderers be
executed for the crimes they committed while in the service.
On the military's death row
Current death-sentence inmates confined to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks
at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., according to the Army:
- Ronald Gray, a former Army specialist at Fort Bragg, N.C., who was
convicted of 2 counts of premeditated murder, 1 count of attempted murder,
3 counts of rape and several other felonies. On death row since April
- Dwight Loving, a former Army private first class at Fort Hood, Texas,
who was convicted of 2 counts of premeditated murder, 2 counts of murder
and robbery, and other felonies. On death row since April 1989.
- Wade Walker, a former Marine lance corporal at Camp Lejeune, N.C., who
was convicted of 2 counts of premeditated murder, one count each of
adultery and kidnapping, and other felonies. On death row since August
- Kenneth Parker, a former Marine lance corporal at Camp Lejeune, N.C.,
who was convicted of 2 counts of premeditated murder, 1 count each of
armed robbery and kidnapping, and other felonies. On death row since
- Jessie (cq) Quintanilla, a former Marine corporal at Camp Pendleton,
Calif., who was convicted of 1 count of premeditated murder, 2 counts of
attempted murder, and other felonies. On death row since January 1998.
- Hasan Akbar, a former Army sergeant from Fort Bragg, N.C., who was
convicted of 2 counts of premeditated murder and 3 counts of attempted
premeditated murder of 16 U.S. soldiers in Kuwait. On death row since May
- Andrew Witt, a former Air Force senior airman from Robins Air Force
Base, Ga., who was convicted of 2 counts of premeditated murder and 1
count of attempted premeditated murder. On death row since October 2005.
If Bush signs the warrants, the 2 convicts - former Army Spec. Ronald
Gray, who has been held for 18 years on death row at Fort Leavenworth,
Kan., and Pfc. Dwight Loving, who has been there for 17 years - would
still have an avenue of appeal through the federal courts before an
execution date would be set.
Even so, the arrival of the warrants at the White House brings into sight
what would be the first military execution since 1961.
In that case, former Army Pvt. John Bennett, 28, of Chatham, Va., was
hanged at Fort Leavenworth for the rape and attempted murder of an
11-year-old girl in Austria while he was stationed in Germany.
In another possible indication of preparations for an execution, the Army
issued regulations Jan. 17 updating its procedures for carrying one out.
Gray, 40, a Miami native and Army cook, was convicted of sexually abusing,
beating and fatally knifing a prostitute; raping and shooting to death a
female college student; killing a female Army private; and raping several
other women in the Fayetteville, N.C., area in 1986 while he was stationed
at Fort Bragg.
Loving, 37, a former artillery gunner from Rochester, N.Y., was found
guilty of the 1988 fatal shooting of two taxi drivers in Killeen, Texas,
as well as the robbery of a convenience store near Fort Hood, where he was
stationed. One of the cabbies was an Army private, the other a retired
In Loving's case, acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee approved his
death sentence Nov. 8, 2004, and the death recommendation was delivered to
the White House on Jan. 23, said Lt. Col. Pamela Hart, an Army
spokeswoman. Brownlee endorsed the death penalty for Gray on Nov. 15,
2004, and it arrived at the White House Sept. 1.
In all, 7 ex-service members now sit on the military's death row - 3
former Army soldiers, three former Marines and one Air Force airman.
Among them is ex-Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar, who took his place among the
condemned last May, after being convicted of killing two fellow soldiers
and attempting to murder 16 others in a rifle-and-grenade attack on his
own camp in Kuwait at the start of the war in Iraq.
Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which is the military's legal
system, only the commander in chief can sign a death order. Presidents
also have the option of granting clemency. The military code provides
death as a possible punishment for 15 crimes, including murder, rape and
espionage in peacetime, and disobedience and desertion during war.
Bennett, the last military convict to die, was the 135th soldier executed
by the Army since 1916. In all, about 465 military members have been put
to death since the Civil War. Most were deserters or mutineers during
wartime, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, an
anti-death-penalty advocacy group.
It was unclear Thursday if the White House would conduct its own review of
the 2 men who could be the next to join that list. A request for comment
was not immediately answered.
Both Gray and Loving lost their 1st round of Supreme Court appeals in
2001. If Bush signs their warrants, they will have the right to appeal
that decision to the Supreme Court, as well.
(source: Scripps Howard News Service)
When Death Is on the Docket, the Moral Compass Wavers
Burl Cain is a religious man who believes it is only for God to say when a
person's number is up. But in his job as warden and chief executioner at
the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Mr. Cain is the one who gives
the order to start a lethal injection, and he has held condemned inmates'
hands as they died.
He does it, he said in an interview, because capital punishment "is the
law of the land."
"It's something we do whether we're for it or against it, and we try to
make the process as humane as possible," he said, referring to himself and
others on the execution team.
But he concedes, "The issue is coping, how we cope with it."
Common wisdom holds that people have a set standard of morality that never
wavers. Yet studies of people who do unpalatable things, whether by
choice, or for reasons of duty or economic necessity, find that people's
moral codes are more flexible than generally understood. To buffer
themselves from their own consciences, people often adjust their moral
judgments in a process some psychologists call moral disengagement, or
In recent years, researchers have determined the psychological techniques
most often used to disengage, and for the first time they have tested them
in people working in perhaps the most morally challenging job short of
soldiering, staffing a prison execution team.
The results of this and other studies suggest that a person's moral
judgment can shift quickly, in anticipation of an unpalatable act, or
slowly and unconsciously.
Moral disengagement "is where all the action is," said Albert Bandura, a
professor of psychology at Stanford and an expert on the psychology of
moral behavior. "It's in our ability to selectively engage and disengage
our moral standards, and it helps explain how people can be barbarically
cruel in one moment and compassionate the next."
The crude codes of behavior that evolved to hold early human societies
together - taboos against killing, against stealing - would have been
psychologically suffocating if people did not have some way to let
themselves off the hook in extreme situations, some experts argue.
Survival sometimes required brutal acts; human sacrifice was commonplace,
as were executions.
The innate human ability to disconnect morally has made it hard for
researchers to find an association between people's stated convictions and
their behavior: preachers can commit sexual crimes; prostitutes may live
otherwise exemplary lives; well-trained soldiers can commit atrocities.
Investigators can identify the precise kinds of thoughts that allow people
to do things that defy their personal codes of ethics.
Now, psychologists at Stanford have shown that prison staff members who
work on execution teams exhibit high levels of moral disengagement - and
the closer they are to the killing, the higher their level of
disengagement goes. The trailblazing research grew out of a high school
In the late 1990's, Michael Osofsky, then a teenage student in New
Orleans, began interviewing prison guards at the penitentiary in nearby
Angola. His father, a psychiatrist who consulted with the prison,
collaborated, as did the warden, Mr. Cain.
By the time Mr. Osofsky graduated from Stanford in 2003, he had conducted
in-depth interviews with 246 prison workers from penitentiaries, including
Angola, in three states. They included guards who administer the lethal
shots, counselors who provide support during the execution, members of the
strap-down team, and guards not involved in executions. The people on the
execution teams "come together, do the execution, then go back to their
regular jobs" in the prison, Mr. Osofsky, now on a fellowship in Asia,
said in a telephone interview. "They never really talked about this part
of their job, even with their families; even with each other."
Working with Mr. Cain, Dr. Bandura and Philip Zimbardo, another Stanford
psychologist, Mr. Osofsky administered a moral disengagement scale to the
execution team members and the guards not on the execution team.
This questionnaire asked workers to rate how much they approved or
disapproved of 19 statements, including: "The Bible teaches that murders
must be avenged: life for a life, eye for an eye"; "Nowadays the death
penalty is done in ways that minimize the suffering"; and "Because of the
nature of their crimes, murderers have lost the right to live."
In an analysis of the answers published late last year in the journal Law
and Human Behavior, the psychologists reported that members of the
execution team were far more likely than guards not on the team to agree
that the inmates had lost important human qualities; to cite the danger
that "they can escape and kill again;" and to consider the cost to society
of caring for violent criminals.
The team members were also more likely than other guards to favor
religious support for the sentence: an eye for an eye.
"You have to sanctify lethal means: this is the most powerful technique"
of disengagement from a shared human moral code, said Dr. Bandura, who has
expressed serious moral reservations about capital punishment. "If you
can't convince people of the sanctity of the greater cause, they are not
going to carry the job out as effectively."
Execution teams are organized so as to divide the grisly tasks, enhancing
what researchers call a diffusion of responsibility. A medical technician
provides the lethal drugs; a team of guards straps the inmate down, with
each guard securing only one part of the body; another guard administers
the drugs. "No one person can say he is entirely responsible for the
death," Mr. Osofsky said.
Firing squads draw on this same idea. Everyone in the squad fires but no
one can be sure whose shot was deadly.
The level of disengagement, as measured by the scale, was about as high in
prison workers who participated in one execution as in those who had been
party to more than 15, the study found. This suggests that, while the job
may get easier over time, "moral disengagement is an enabler, rather than
merely the result of performing repeated executions," the authors
The pattern was strikingly different in members of the execution support
staff, particularly the counselors working with the families of inmates
These staff members were highly morally engaged when they first joined the
execution staff, deeply sympathetic to everyone involved, including the
condemned. "I'm in a helping profession, but there isn't a damn thing I
can do for these guys," one of them said to Mr. Osofsky. "I hate it, but I
do it. I am required to do it."
That ambivalence seemed to affect the counselors' moral judgment over
time, the study found. After they had been involved in 10 executions, the
counselors' scores on the disengagement scale almost matched the
The finding stands as a caution to the millions of people who work in the
service of organizations whose motives they mistrust, psychologists say:
shifts in moral judgment are often unconscious, and can poison the best
instincts and intentions.
"This really gets at the idea of people working in corporate structures
that are involved in selling, say, weapons or tobacco, and saying, 'Well,
I just keep the books,' " when they disapprove of the business, said Susan
Ravenscroft, a professor of accounting at Iowa State University in Ames
who has studied business ethics.
Moral distancing can also be seen in the language of war, politics and
corporate scandal. Pilots euphemistically "service a target" rather than
bomb it; enemies are dehumanized as "gooks," "hajis" or infidels.
Politicians and chief executives facing indictments deflect questions
about ethical lapses by acknowledging that "mistakes were made," or that
they were "out of the loop."
These remarks reflect internal methods of self-protection, as well as
public evasions, research suggests.
Yet it is in the mundane corner-cutting of everyday life that moral
disengagement may be most common and insidious, and least conscious.
In a 2004 study, professors at Iowa State University and the University of
Arkansas tested the moral judgment of 47 college students who had cheated
on a take-home exam, a complex accounting problem.
Many of the students found a solution to the problem online - posted by
another professor who was unaware it was part of an exam - and reproduced
the solution as their own, though it used techniques they had not yet
learned. Others had clearly collaborated, which their professor had
explicitly forbidden. Another 17 students had not cheated, as far as their
teacher could determine.
The professor threw out the test scores and got permission from the
students to ask about their behavior. The cheaters' scores on a standard
test of moral judgment did not correlate at all with their level of
plagiarism or collaboration. On the contrary, it was the most dishonest
male students who scored highest on the morals test.
"Clearly, this is not what you want to find in a test of moral judgment,"
said Dr. Ravenscroft, a co-author of the study, with Charles Shrader of
Iowa State and Tim West of the University of Arkansas.
Only by conducting in-depth interviews with students about their behavior
did the researchers begin to see clear, familiar patterns. One was
displacing the blame: "I think it's hard for people not to look at the
answer manual if it's available," said one student. "Maybe you should have
taken the problem off so people wouldn't be tempted."
Another was justifying the behavior by comparison: "I really don't
consider working with another person that unethical," one student
commented. "Taking and copying answers from the key was highly unethical."
Many students "rationalized cheating behavior as a necessary defense to
the cheating of others," the researchers concluded in their analysis, to
appear this year in the Business and Professional Ethics Journal. "Yet in
an extreme example of moral exclusion, none of the students discussed this
impact on others."
Recognizing these kinds of selfish evasions in oneself is hardly proof of
moral collapse, psychologists say. Rather, they say, moral disengagement
is evidence that a sound moral sensibility is trying to assert itself,
warning against a situation it finds suspect. As a rule people don't like
to cheat or lie, studies find, and they are extremely reluctant to inflict
pain on others, no matter the circumstances.
And moral engagement is dynamic. Once people stop doing what is
consciously or unconsciously upsetting them, the research suggests, they
engage their conscience more fully.
That is, if they have the luxury to walk away.
"I remember the one execution I attended, there was this strange heaviness
in the air all day," Mr. Osofsky said. "These guards you knew were somber
and detached, keeping to themselves. This wasn't something they gloried in
or looked forward to at all. They didn't really seem like themselves."
(source: New York Times)
Outbursts Get Moussaoui Repeatedly Ejected From Court
Despite numerous outbursts by Zacarias Moussaoui, proclaiming "I am Al
Qaeda," a federal judge pushed forward Monday with the lengthy process of
selecting a jury to determine whether the only man to be tried in the
Sept. 11 conspiracy should live or die.
U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema started the process by asking about
500 potential jurors to begin filling out lengthy questionnaires on a
broad number of issues - such as their attitudes toward Muslims, the Sept.
11 hijackers, and even whether they believed it was safe to fly.
One after the other, groups of northern Virginia residents entered the
courtroom, and the 37-year-old defendant in a green jumpsuit with the word
"prisoner" on his back repeatedly interrupted the proceedings. Each time,
the judge ordered Moussaoui removed.
"This trial is a circus," he proclaimed.
"I want to be heard!" he shouted.
"These people do not represent me," he said, referring dismissively to the
team of defense lawyers sitting nearby.
Moussaoui insisted that he would testify on his own behalf when the trial
got underway with the seating of a jury March 6. "For four years I have
waited," he said. "I will tell them the truth I know. I will take the
The jury is being impaneled for the sentencing phase of the trial.
Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, pleaded guilty in April
to 6 criminal charges for his role in the Sept. 11 conspiracy.
Moussaoui did not deny that he was an Al Qaeda operative and a soldier to
Osama bin Laden. But he denied he was sent to the U.S. to board one of the
4 hijacked airplanes, and insisted he was being groomed to fly a 5th
aircraft into the White House.
He was arrested in August 2001, a month before the attacks on the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon, and jailed on immigration charges in
Minnesota after his efforts to obtain flight training had aroused
Federal prosecutors plan to focus the case for his execution on their
contention that if he had cooperated with FBI agents after his arrest and
told them about the plot, the government might have been able to prevent
the loss of nearly 3,000 lives on Sept. 11.
But defense lawyers hope to persuade the jury that the government missed
numerous chances to learn about the impending attacks, citing their
decision not to open up Moussaoui's laptop computer and an earlier FBI
memo voicing concern about Middle Eastern immigrants taking flight lessons
Even with Moussaoui's many outbursts Monday, Brinkema pressed on. Each
time she ordered him removed he was escorted from the courtroom. As each
new group of potential jurors was ushered into court, Moussaoui was
allowed to return.
"I am not resisting," he told federal marshals at one point, raising his
hands in the air.
The judge told potential jurors, "A death penalty case is an awesome
If they do not send Moussaoui to the federal execution chamber in Terre
Haute, Ind., then he will be dispatched to prison with no chance of
The questionnaires are designed to help prosecutors and defense lawyers
streamline the selection process when the jury candidates begin returning
to the courthouse Feb. 15 for individual questioning by the judge.
(source: Los Angeles Times)
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