[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----TEXAS, N.C., IND., USA, N.Y.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Jan 2 00:01:54 CST 2006
Andre Thomas convicted for murdering his infant son
It took jurors less than 45 minutes in March to conclude death was the
only punishment for arguably the most shocking crime to hit Grayson County
Jurors sentenced Andre Thomas to die for killing 13 month-old Leyha Marie
Hughes. The child was the second one born to Thomas' wife, Laura Boren
Thomas. Police found Leyha, her mother, and Andre Boren, a son Boren and
Thomas had together before breaking up, butchered in their Sherman
apartment just 1 year before the trial began in Feburary.
Thomas turned himself in to police, hours after the killing and admitted
to kicking in the door to their apartment before attacking them.
During the 1st week of the trial, jurors listened to video and audio tapes
in which Thomas told investigators he killed the 3 because he thought his
wife was Jezebel and his little boy was the anti-christ. Little Leyha,
Thomas said, was a demon.
Thomas' guilt of the murders was never questioned during the trial.
Prosecutors Joe Brown and Kerye Ashmore fought with defense attorneys
Bobbie Peterson and R.J. Hagood over Thomas' mental state at the time of
the crime. Peterson and Hagood argued that Thomas had suffered from mental
illness for years before the killings and that illness drove him to commit
the unspeakable crimes.
Brown and Ashmore said the crimes sprang from Thomas' habit of mixing
alcohol with marijuana and Coricidin. Mental health experts appeared for
both sides. Those on Thomas' side went back through his repeated pleas for
help with religious delusions that left him, they said, thinking God was
communicating with him. Experts for the defense concentrated on the effect
that the drug use would have had on Thomas' mental state. They contended
that but for the drug use, Thomas would have continued to be mentally ill,
but not violent.
In the end, the jury sided with prosecutors and took very little time in
making the decision about the guilt or the punishment.
Currently, Thomas sits on Texas' death row awaiting while his case is
appealed through a lengthy set of stages in both the state and federal
court. His request for a new trial was denied in May.
(source: Herald Democrat)
LEGAL CREDENTIALS----An aspiring attorney who has failed the licensure
test 4 times challenges the state's limit, which gives him just one more
try to pass; Should Texas lower bar exam standard?
Clifton Eames moved to Houston with big plans. Having just finished law
school in Washington, D.C., in 2002, he hoped to open a small practice
here, specializing in civil rights and discrimination cases.
His dream of helping others right legal wrongs hit a snag, however, when
he got the results from his Texas bar exam. Eames failed the test. Three
subsequent attempts also have ended in failure, leaving him with a law
school degree but no license to practice.
Now, Eames is in a quandary. The State Bar of Texas limits to 5 the number
of times a would-be lawyer can take the bar exam. Worried he could find
himself shut out from practicing law in Texas altogether, Eames has
decided not to take the test again in February, the next time it is
Instead, the 34-year-old, sounding like the attorney he wants to be, is
making it his mission to get the Texas rule changed.
"It needs to be changed. It's not right," Eames said recently. "It has
never been right, and it will never be right. There's no justification for
it. I'm not going to stop until it's changed."
Texas is not the only state to limit the number of attempts to pass the
According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, some states, such
as Iowa and New Hampshire, set the limit at 2 attempts.
Several larger states - including California, New York, Florida and
Illinois - have no limit. Others have additional requirements for
applicants who repeatedly fail.
Georgia, for example, has no limit on the number of times one can take the
exam, but the state requires an applicant to sit out 1 exam and take
remedial coursework after failing the test three times. Rhode Island's
limit is 5, regardless of whether the exam was taken in that state or any
The Texas Board of Law Examiners has recommended striking the limit. The
Texas Supreme Court, which has authority to change it, has made no ruling
on the proposed change, a spokesman said.
The 5-time limit has been in place for more than 20 years. Board records
from the past 15 years indicate only 287 of 53,134 applicants who took the
bar exam have been limited-out of future attempts.
A July 2004 bar study suggested that applicants who had jobs prior to
taking the bar exam were less likely to pass than those who did not.
Julia Vaughan, executive director of the Texas Board of Law Examiners,
said the rule offers the public protection.
"People should and do pass it within 5 times," Vaughan said. "It's not
enough to go to law school; you have to demonstrate what you know and how
to apply it. It's one tool we try to use to measure minimum competency."
About 3,800 people sign up to take the bar exam each year in Texas.
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, authored a bill during this
year's regular legislative session that would have eliminated the 5-time
rule. Eames testified in support of the bill.
Van de Putte argued that the rule would result in many applicants opting
to leave Texas for states with looser or no limits on taking the bar exam.
The rule also could hurt working students who may not have time to
dedicate exclusively to studying for the test, she said.
"It just seems unfair to me to see Texas students being penalized," said
Van de Putte, a pharmacist who says she passed her state licensing exam on
the 1st try. "If every state had a limit, I'd say we need to keep these."
An 'extreme number'
The Senate's Jurisprudence Committee, made up primarily of lawyers, killed
Van de Putte's bill.
Committee Chairman Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, who said he passed
the bar on the first attempt, said 5 tries gives an applicant more than
enough opportunity to pass.
"If you can't pass the bar exam after the 5th time, you need to find
something else to do with your life," Wentworth said. "We think that's
sort of it. 5 times is an extreme number of times to take it. It's a
matter of professional competency."
Not everyone in the legal profession agrees.
"There's nothing magic about passing the bar exam," said James Alfini,
president and dean of the South Texas College of Law. "I don't see the
need for a policy that limits the number of times a person could take the
bar exam. I would worry about other things it doesn't test."
If the issue is protecting the public, Alfini noted, there have been
applicants who passed the bar exam but were denied admission because of
character and fitness issues.
Though many would-be lawyers pass the exam on the 1st try, not everyone
has enjoyed that success.
It took John F. Kennedy Jr. 3 attempts to pass the New York Bar.
Recently, Kathleen M. Sullivan, a noted constitutional law scholar and
recent dean of Stanford Law School, failed the notoriously difficult
California exam. Former California Gov. Pete Wilson needed 4 attempts to
Texas Board of Law Examiners statistics for the July 2005 bar exam show
that the 1st-time passage rate for students from the 9 Texas law schools
was 83 %: Of the 272 who took the test again in July, 170 failed again.
If the Supreme Court does not change the rule, Eames, who faces the debt
of law school and has spent nearly $3,000 on a preparatory course after
failing the bar exam the 2nd time, said he will consider a lawsuit
challenging the limit.
"No one is going to ask you, 'How many times did it take you to pass the
bar exam,'" Eames said. "The ultimate goal is, 'Can you help me?'"
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Money makes FW safer than Dallas----Money helped launch community policing
A recent list naming Dallas one of the most dangerous big cities in
America and Fort Worth one of the safest left many people scratching their
How did these North Texas neighbors end up on opposite ends of a national
crime statistics list?
Some Dallas officials think they know the answer: money. Fort Worth sets
aside a half-cent of sales tax - $43.5 million annually - for
crime-fighting and crime-prevention efforts.
"I think Fort Worth was probably ahead of the curve and made an early
commitment through its half-cent sales tax for crime control," said Dallas
First Assistant Chief David Brown. "During the lean years, when every city
was suffering, Fort Worth bit the bullet."
When the Morgan Quitno Press report was released in November, Dallas was
ranked as the 5th-most-dangerous city with more than 500,000 residents,
and Fort Worth was 9th-safest. The Kansas-based publisher based its
rankings on 2004 FBI crime statistics reported by the cities.
Ralph Mendoza, Fort Worth's police chief, said the Crime Control and
Prevention District has made his job and his officers' jobs easier.
The money generated by the tax, created in 1995, helped start many
community-policing efforts that he said have made a difference.
But now the biggest factor is not the tax but the consistent focus on
community policing, Chief Mendoza said.
"You have to be strategic in regards to how you fight the battles," he
A decade after that initial flood of money, Fort Worth is in the middle of
the pack on police spending per capita, Chief Mendoza said.
Fort Worth's annual police budget amounts to $278 per resident, while
Dallas spends $270. For Dallas to catch up, it would have to add nearly
$10 million to a $333 million police budget.
Jeff Ferrell, a criminal justice professor at Texas Christian University,
said that while Dallas stuck with a more traditional "catch and arrest"
approach, Fort Worth became a leader in the community policing movement.
"Invest your human power in and your resources in calming the conditions
that lead to crime instead of just responding and being in a reactive
mode," he said, describing the philosophy of community policing.
Community policing supporters believe that officers are able to defuse
problems before they become crimes.
One example in southeast Fort Worth is a pilot program that assigns a
prosecutor to handle "quality of life" violations such as code compliance,
manifestation of prostitution, possession of drug paraphernalia and
The reasoning is that ignoring minor offenses leads to an atmosphere where
more serious crime can thrive.
The prosecutor assigned to southeast Fort Worth is also expected to attend
at least 80 community meetings during the fiscal year to get a sense of
the problems facing the neighborhoods.
"This also creates a belief from the community that you're going to do
something, which means they [the public] are more prone to call in," Chief
Police call loads in Fort Worth jumped when the department began focusing
on community policing, and they remain high, Chief Mendoza said, and that
gives officers more civilian "eyes and ears" on the streets.
The Fort Worth crime tax also funds graffiti abatement and security at
city parks, pays for some community policing officers and buys new
equipment for officers.
Since becoming Dallas' police chief in 2004, David Kunkle has also
promoted a new community policing plan to make officers responsible for
lowering crime in small areas instead of answering calls throughout the
Dr. Ferrell said it looks as if Chief Kunkle has brought badly needed
stability and a new direction to the department.
In past years, Dallas police have suffered through the firing of former
Chief Terrell Bolton, the fake-drug scandal and lawsuits from demoted
"Certainly, there have been some fairly serious morale problems," Dr.
Ferrell said, "but I think those are being addressed."
The Dallas Police Department is also receiving a multiyear $15 million
grant from the W.W. Caruth Jr. Foundation Fund of the Communities
Foundation of Texas to help with crime prevention and reduction. That will
bring the police funding closer to Fort Worth's level.
"I think Dallas will see the same results," Chief Brown said, referring to
Fort Worth's success. "In 2005 and 2006, I think we will see some
significant crime reductions."
Charles Terrell, a former Dallas City Council member and public safety
advocate, said that the Fort Worth Police Department has help, especially
The Bass family, who developed Sundance Square, provides private security
to keep that portion of downtown Fort Worth safe. That eases some of the
burden on the Police Department while shoppers, diners and club patrons
"They have done so much in downtown to make it economically alive at
night," Mr. Terrell said.
Dr. Ferrell said that although the comparisons between Dallas and Fort
Worth are interesting to study, the Morgan Quitno ranking shouldn't be
taken too seriously. Placing cities on safest and most-dangerous lists
oversimplifies the crime problems.
"We need to be a little bit cautious," he said.
"This is not an absolute measure of dangerousness but probably more of a
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Do Not Execute Julius Jerome Murphy!
Take action at
Julius Jerome Murphy
January 19, 2006
Julius Jerome Murphy, a 27-year-old black man from Bowie County, Texas, is
scheduled to be executed on Jan. 19, 2005 for the Sept. 19, 1997 murder of
Jason Erie, 26, in Texarkana. After a full day of drinking alcohol and
smoking marijuana, Murphy and his friends are said to have seen Erie
parked on the side of the road having car trouble. Murphy and his friends
are said to have helped Erie with his car. Then Murphy is accused of
having shot and robbed Erie. There were two major problems with Murphy's
trial. First, Murphy was tried by an all white jury. The courts found no
discriminatory act on the part of the prosecution although five of the six
prospective jurors who were black were peremptorily struck by the
prosecutor. It is hard to believe that these peremptory strikes had
nothing to do with the race of the jurors. Second, a major factor of the
prosecution's case was the testimony of Murphy's girlfriend, Christina
Davis. Ms. Davis admitted that she and Murphy had a violent and volatile
relationship and that they were fighting on the day of the crime. She also
admitted that she was present throughout all of the events before, during,
and after Erie's death. It is irresponsible for the court to allow an
18-year-old boy to be convicted based on the testimony of an admittedly
Murphy was only 18 at the time of Erie's death and he had no prior record.
He was not tried by a jury of his peers and his conviction was based on
the testimony of an angry girlfriend who was also involved in any crime
that may have taken place.
Clearly the death penalty is not appropriate in this case.
NORTH CAROLINA----impending execution
Do Not Execute Perrie Dyon Simpson!
Take action at
Perrie Dyon Simpson
January 20, 2006
Perrie Dyon Simpson, a black man, faces execution on Jan. 20, 2005 for the
Aug. 1984 murder of Rev. Jean Ernest Darter, a ninety-two-year-old retired
Baptist minister, in Reidsville, North Carolina. Simpson and his
girlfriend Stephanie Eury are said to have murdered Darter while robbing
Darter's home. Simpson was 22 years old at the time of Darter's death. He
is now 43 years old.
Simpson plead guilty to Darter's murder. However there are some problems
with the way in which his confession was obtained. 22-year-old Simpson was
taken into custody on an unrelated assault charge in Guilford County when
officers questioned him about the murder. The magistrate in Guilford
County did not rule on Simpson's bail and instead sent him to the
magistrate in Reidsville. Clearly this was an error and the Supreme Court
of North Carolina agreed that this was an error. Simpson was not being
charged with the murder in Reidsville, but he was sent to see the
magistrate there. Also at this point he was both not being denied bail and
not being allowed to be bailed out. Simpson was being unconstitutionally
held in custody and he was being transported to another jurisdiction based
on the suspicion of his involvement in a murder that he was not being
arrested for or charged with. After being arrested at 9:30 in the evening,
Simpson finally saw the magistrate in Reidsville around 5:30 the next
morning. His confession was signed between 3:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. that
morning. Had bail been posted by the first magistrate it is likely that
Simpson would have been bailed out and would have never confessed at all.
Clearly then his confession should have been inadmissible at trial in that
it was certainly obtained illegally.
Furthermore, Simpson was held for eight hours, including a car ride to
another jurisdiction, before his bail was posted. He was a 22-year-old who
had been unable to contact his father (he was allowed to call, but did not
succeed in reaching his father). During his eight hours of custody through
the middle of the night, Simpson was repeatedly questioned by police and
finally confessed. Although he may not have been directly coerced into
confessing, the atmosphere surrounding his confession was certainly
coercive. And so, not only was the confession obtained illegally, but it
was also obtained in an atmosphere of coercion.
Allowing Simpson's confession sends a message to other magistrates and
police officers that they do not have to abide by the rule of law when
holding a citizen in custody. This is dangerous precedent to set.
We cannot allow Perrie Dyon Simpson to be put to death based on the effect
on the jury of an illegally obtained confession.
Capital cases tax public defenders----Attorneys must qualify for death
It isn't every day that a county prosecutor seeks the death penalty.
The death penalty is reserved for the most heinous crimes.
Just as there are requirements under Indiana law for the types of cases in
which the death penalty can be sought, there are requirements for the
attorneys who represent a person charged in such a case.
The only 2 public defenders in Allen County qualified to work death
penalty cases have been assigned to a recent quadruple homicide case. If
that becomes a death penalty case, it could become problematic if another
death penalty case develops anytime soon.
But local officials don't believe the situation is of too much concern and
believe it can be resolved easily.
The Indiana Public Defender Commission established the standards for
representing defendants facing the death penalty in November 1989.
Allen Superior Court Judge Kenneth R. Scheibenberger served on the
commission when the standards were developed. The standards are important
to ensure quality representation for those whose lives are at stake, he
Before the standards were in place, many cases were overturned because of
ineffective representation, which is part of what the commission wanted to
change, Scheibenberger said.
Nationwide, more states have standards than those that don't, but the
overall concept has been an issue in the legal community for years, said
Richard Dieter, executive director for the Death Penalty Information
Center. The Washington-based non-profit organization completes research
and analyzes information about the death penalty and related issues.
"The assumption was that if an attorney could represent any criminal case,
then they could do a death penalty case," Dieter said.
That is changing nationwide. 38 states have the death penalty, according
to the center. More states are developing standards, Dieter said. Dieter
described Indiana's system for appointment of attorneys in death penalty
cases as pretty good.
To be a lead attorney in a death penalty case in Indiana, one must have at
least 5 years of criminal litigation experience; have completed at least 5
felony trials; and have experience on at least 1 death penalty case. As
co-counsel, attorneys must have at least 3 years criminal litigation
experience; and at least 3 felony trials completed.
Additionally, attorneys must complete 12 hours of training for death
penalty defense every 2 years.
The Indiana Public Defender Council offers a 12-credit hour seminar
annually in Indianapolis, which many of Allen County's public defenders
regularly attend as their qualifications are about to expire, Allen County
Chief Public Defender Charles Leonard said.
Several scheduling glitches prevented many local public defenders from
attending the most recent seminar, however, leaving Allen County with only
2 qualified attorneys.
Those attorneys, Michelle F. Kraus and John Nimmo, were appointed to
represent Simon Rios, 33, charged with 4 counts of murder in the deaths of
his wife and 3 young daughters.
Prosecutors have not filed paperwork seeking the death penalty against
Rios, but Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards has said it is a
consideration. Deputy prosecutors have already begun researching the
If the death penalty is sought in Rios' case, Allen County will be left
without any qualified public defenders, but the situation isn't an
emergency, Leonard said.
He has begun researching seminars around the country that would re-qualify
those attorneys who missed the most recent session.
At least two public defenders are planning to attend a seminar in late
January in Alabama, Leonard said. He's hoping he'll be able to recruit at
least 2 more to attend, he said.
"I'd like to have four go. I don't know why 4. Four is not necessarily a
magic number," he said.
As one of the larger areas in the state, Allen County typically has
several public defenders qualified to handle death penalty cases, but many
counties - often the smaller or rural counties - do not have any, Leonard
There is an informal process for counties without qualified public
defenders in which the judge who is presiding over the case must find and
appoint 2 qualified attorneys, said Paula Sites, assistant executive
director for the Indiana Public Defender Council.
Judges often call the council or the Indiana Public Defender Commission to
seek names of qualified attorneys located close to their county, Sites
Although there are strict guidelines for public defenders dictating what
qualifies an attorney, there isn't an agency that maintains one
comprehensive list of Indianas qualified attorneys, she said.
About 171 attorneys throughout Indiana attended one of the last 2 seminars
in Indianapolis, according to a list provided by the council. 4 of the
attorneys are from Fort Wayne. Only 2 of those attorneys - Kraus and Nimmo
- are public defenders for Allen County.
Public defenders are attorneys who are appointed to represent the accused
who cannot afford to hire an attorney on their own. Public defenders are
typically appointed in most death penalty cases because significantly more
work is required than a standard case, which prices private attorneys out
of the realm of possibilities for the accused.
Historically, Allen County has not had 2 death penalty cases awaiting the
1st trial at the same time anyway, Leonard said.
The death penalty has only been sought twice in Allen County since 2000.
Statewide, 38 petitions seeking the death penalty have been filed in that
same time, with Marion County filing the most at 7. Lake and St. Joseph
counties follow Marion with 4 cases each since 2000.
Ultimately, the responsibility to find qualified public defenders in death
penalty cases falls on the judge presiding over the case, but two Allen
Superior Court criminal judges say the current situation isn't highly
worrisome. The infrequency of death penalty cases in Allen County is part
of the reason.
Judge Scheibenberger said he was surprised to learn Allen County only had
2 qualified attorneys but also noted the emotional toll death penalty
cases have on attorneys.
"Death penalty cases are a very difficult and stressful situation," he
said. "A lot of attorneys who have worked on one wouldn't want to do it
again, and anyone who says they would is lying. (The death penalty cases)
take their toll on the attorney. Not a legal burden, but an emotional
Judge John F. Surbeck Jr. said the situation might be more of a concern if
Allen County had no other public defenders who met the other requirements
to be qualified. But that isn't the case, he said. Allen County has a lot
of public defenders who meet all of the requirements except the 12-hour
seminar, he said.
Scheibenberger and Surbeck said that if 2 death penalty cases arose at
once before more attorneys are qualified, it would simply be a matter of
obtaining that qualification by getting the attorneys to a seminar, even
if it were out-of-state or by videotape.
(source: Fort Wayne Journal Gazette)
A Chronology of the Death Penalty
1608: In Virginia, George Kendall's execution is the 1st recorded in the
1632: In Virginia, Jane Champion is the 1st woman executed in the
Early 1800s: States begin reducing their capital crimes and building state
1846: Michigan is the 1st state to ban the death penalty for all crimes
1890: New York executes William Kemmler, the 1st prisoner put to death by
1907-17: 9 states abolish or strictly limit the death penalty.
1924: Cyanide gas is introduced as a method of execution.
1930s: The highest level of executions in the United States is reached --
an average of 167 per year.
1966: A Gallup Poll shows support for the death penalty at only 42 %
nationally -- an all-time low.
1972: In Furman v. Georgia, the Supreme Court effectively voids 40 capital
punishment statues and suspends the death penalty.
1976: In Gregg v. Georgia, the death penalty is reinstated.
1977: Gary Gilmore is executed by firing squad in Utah, ending a 10-year
moratorium on capital punishment.
1982: Charles Brooks, in Texas, is the 1st person executed by lethal
1984: Velma Barfield, in North Carolina, is the 1st woman executed since
the death penalty was reinstated.
1986: The execution of insane persons is banned.
1998: Northwestern University holds a conference on wrongful convictions
with 30 inmates who were freed from death row after being found innocent.
2003: Illinois's governor grants clemency to 167 death-row inmates.
2005: North Carolina executes Kenneth Lee Boyd, the 1,000th execution in
the United States since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976
(source: Boston Globe)
No more defending the death penalty
Sometimes we think that holding on to a belief for a long time is reason
enough never to let it go.
But if that were the case, then there would be no need for discourse and
no opportunity for growth or change.
In short, after decades of believing, with some strong reservations, that
capital punishment was necessary and could be administered fairly, I have
finally, after years of argument with several friends (and, incidentally,
my wife) come to believe that it isn't and it can't.
During the years I was a working journalist, I came into contact, one way
or another, with the stories of dozens of killers, including Gerald Stano,
who reportedly bragged at great length about his murders of somewhere
between 6 and 41 women.
Stano confessed so much and so graphically that the Florida Department of
Law Enforcement agents who drove him from one body-dumping site to another
over a period of several weeks had to take turns driving because they were
sickened by the outpouring.
As I recall the other four reporters with whom I worked on a weeks-long
investigation of the Stano case, most of them basically opposed to capital
punishment, voted unanimously in a straw poll that he should be executed.
We had spent hours listening to parents, husbands and friends of his
victims talk about their losses and we had also spent hours reading one
report after another citing the details of his brutal crimes.
There is no doubt that Stano and a few others I remember would easily meet
the requirements frequently ascribed to death row inmates in Texas: "needs
And that was the basis of my longtime support, despite my overall
liberalism, of the penalty for those rare cases in which there is an
almost total certainty that the accused committed the crime and that the
crime was particularly horrible.
This I argued despite the fact that the United States is the last of the
industrialized and allegedly civilized nations (unless you want to count
China - I don't) to have the death penalty, and despite that it is vastly
more costly to execute (considering appellate court costs) someone than it
is to just keep them in a cell. I also argued despite knowing deep down
inside that governments that can get as screwed up as ours simply aren't
qualified to decide who should live and who should die.
But I also remember the case of half-brothers William Riley Jent and
Earnest Lee Miller, who were sentenced to death and came within 16 hours
of execution for allegedly gang-raping, beating and then burning a woman
to death in 1979. The 2 spent 9 years on death row before the alleged
eyewitnesses to the murder recanted their testimony; a reporter found
fingerprint evidence that identified the victim and supported an
alternative explanation for the death that did not involve Jent and
Miller, and an appellate court found that prosecutors acted with "callous
and deliberate disregard of truth and fairness" in obtaining the
I also remember a Pasco County sheriff blaming their release on
"communist" journalists he said would bear responsibility when they killed
again. Both have lived peacefully since their release 17 years ago this
I wish I was one of the "communist" journalists the sheriff castigated,
but I am saddened to say that I was as taken in by the bogus case as
The system does get it wrong, frequently, as we learn in case after case
where DNA evidence proves the innocence of alleged rapists and, last month
proved the innocence of a man on death row for the alleged rape and murder
of his mother-in-law in Maryland.
Nobody will ever make it right for him or for Jent and Miller, but we, as
a society, could have made it a lot more, and irrevocably, wrong for them
and for us.
An appellate court can overturn a conviction; it can't restore life to the
(source: Column, Jan Glidewell, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times)
Justice motive of death penalty
Re: "Quick executions are no solution" Dec. 30 Readers' Letters.
3 criteria must be met for punishment to deter behavior. First, the
punishment must occur soon after the behavior. Second, the punishment must
be harsh. Third, the punishment must be certain to happen. This has been
well demonstrated by science. Unfortunately, thanks to liberals, the death
penalty only utilizes the 2nd reason.
If innocent people are being convicted, the problem is not the death
penalty. The problem is, yet again, our corrupt judicial system.
Liberals want us to think that deterrence is the only reason for the death
penalty because that is the only way they can muddy the water. In fact, it
is not the only reason. Justice is the primary one.
Robert Oliver errs when he states that Oklahoma and Texas have the highest
murder rates in order to draw an imaginary correlation, but that is not
surprising given the liberal propensity to make up facts to suit their
means. New York, California and the District of Columbia have the highest
Justin Hamlin, Springfield)
(source: The (Mo.) News-Leader)
Leakers of defense secrets deserve to be executed
Tom Teepen's syndicated column "Bush beginning to discover that privilege
has its limits" (Dec. 20) whining about President Bush's abuse of power,
is nothing more than a smoke screen to hide the real story, which is the
damage done to our national security by the New York Times.
Hopefully an aggressive investigation is already under way to determine
who leaked top-secret national defense information. The person or
person(s) responsible, for this treasonous act, should be prosecuted to
the full extent of the law and given capital punishment.
Because of this despicable act, our country is less safe, putting our
military in more danger. The people involved in this leak will have
American blood on their hands.
Arthur Smith, Loveland
(source: Letter to the Editor, Cincinnati Enquirer)
New lessons from an old mystery
In 1874 a novelist named Wilkie Collins, famous in his day, wrote a
whopper of a mystery story, The Dead Alive. It was all about how 2
brothers on a farm were convicted of murdering a hired hand and almost
hanged, saved only when the supposed dead man walked back into town --
The story was a page-turner, with a little love story thrown in, but
readers of the day might have been forgiven for thinking it was a bit of a
stretcher. Well really, come on: The defense lawyer is a joke, so-called
expert witnesses mistake animal bones for human ones, a townsman's
cockeyed dream about the murder fuels public suspicions and -- can you
believe this? -- the accused man confesses to a crime he did not commit.
But it was, in fact, just these improbable twists and turns that made The
Dead Alive a particularly fascinating read in 1874 because, as Collins
wrote in an afternote, he based the novel on a real-life murder case in
which all those things really happened. "It may not be amiss to add, for
the benefit of incredulous readers, that all the 'improbable events' in
the story are matters of fact, taken from the printed narrative," Collins
>From the vantage point of 2006, however, Collins' novel and the real-life
case that was his model are freighted with a more insistent significance.
Collins, understandably in his day, presumed that such a gross miscarriage
of justice had to be a fluke -- that's what made his story more of a hoot
than harrowing. But in the last couple of decades, the expose of scores of
wrongful convictions in capital cases has revealed this was no fluke at
all. Bad lawyers, junk science, overzealous prosecutors, witnesses with
huge reasons to lie, the sway of uninformed public opinion, and false
confessions -- this stuff, we can say with certainty today, happens more
than anybody would have imagined.
In an equally fascinating new book, Willkie Collins' The Dead Alive: The
Novel, the Case, and Wrongful Convictions (Northwestern University Press,
200 pages, $24.95), Rob Warden dissects the novel and the true-life story,
spelling out the many ways in which the systemic flaws that produced this
first known miscarriage of justice continue to distort our system of
justice today. Warden is executive director of the Center on Wrongful
Convictions at Northwestern University, and all proceeds from this book
will go to the center.
"I thought this would be an unusual way, if the book happened to catch on,
to get the attention of people who might not otherwise focus on the
problem of wrongful convictions," he explained in an interview.
Warden's book consists of Collins' novel in its entirety, followed by
Warden's own "The Story Behind the Novel." This is followed by brief
summaries of 11 other "dead alive" cases in which defendants were
wrongfully convicted of murders that never happened. And if the reader
still harbors doubts that this is a profoundly real problem, Warden
includes a list of 234 defendants who were wrongfully sentenced to death.
Collins' model for his novel was the true story of two brothers, Jesse and
Stephen Boorn, who were sentenced to death in Vermont in 1819 for the
murder of their brother-in-law, Russell Colvin. The brothers were
exonerated only after Colvin showed up alive and well in New Jersey. While
the investigation and trial were replete with errors, Warden singles out 3
particularly dangerous flaws in the system that remain common today: false
confessions, jailhouse snitches and junk science.
Why do innocent people confess to crimes they did not commit?
"Even 25 years ago, we might not have believed it," Warden said. "We knew
there were crazy people, people who for some strange reason might confess
to a crime he or she did not commit, and we understood torture, but we
didn't understand the psychological factors that would make it possible."
In the case of Stephen Boorn, Warden writes, 2 interrogators succeeded in
filling the accused man with fear -- his only hope of escaping the noose
was to confess. So Stephen wrote a confession in which he portrayed his
brother-in-law's death as manslaughter, a crime for which he might be let
off with a whipping.
As for jailhouse snitches, they came in two varieties in the case of the
Boorn brothers. A town drunk eager to score points with the cops named
Stephen Boorn as the killer. And Stephen's own brother, Jesse, probably
hoping to save his own neck, claimed that Stephen had confided to him
about the murder.
"In capital murder cases, snitches are the No. 1 factor, being present in
45 % of wrongful convictions identified since 1976," Warden said.
"When I define snitch, by the way, I don't mean just anybody who's in
jail, but anybody who has an incentive to testify a certain way."
And then there was the junk science. In the Boorn brothers' case, 4 local
physicians examined bones found at the suspected site of the murder (you
know, the murder that never happened) and pronounced them human. It was
later established that the bones were in fact animal, but this potentially
exonerating evidence was never introduced at the trial.
In his book Warden can only speculate as to why the Boorns' lawyers failed
to present this evidence. Perhaps, given the sentiment in town, the
physicians were reluctant to testify on behalf of the brothers, Warden
writes, and the defense lawyers, out of professional courtesy, decided not
to force the doctors to take the stand.
This seems hard to believe -- professional courtesy trumping the best
possible defense -- but Warden says it is not uncommon. There are times,
for example, when a defendant might fare better in a bench trial rather
than before a jury, but his lawyer will push for a jury trial. Why?
Because the case is a real "heater" and the lawyer knows that the judge
wants a jury -- not the judge -- to decide the verdict.
So, the lawyer figures, why anger the judge? Long after his client goes to
death row, he and the judge still have to do business.
(source: Chicago Sun-Times - Tom McNamee is editor of Controversy)
A record of fairness -- Johnson looks back on 17 years as Bronx DA
When all is said and done, there's one thing Bronx District Attorney
Robert Johnson wants New Yorkers to know about him - he's fair.
Johnson, 57, recently reached a career watermark by becoming the longest
serving prosecutor in Bronx County, having held the post for the past 17
Asked how he has survived so long as the borough's top prosecutor, Johnson
said: "I place an emphasis on getting it right and being fair."
"Since the day I walked into the office, I preached fairness and I am
still preaching it," he added.
Currently in the middle of hiring a new batch of assistant prosecutors,
Johnson said he looks for candidates who are intelligent, articulate and -
most of all - fair.
It's impossible to make sure the scales of justice are balanced without
fairness, he said.
As an assistant prosecutor in the 1980s, Johnson remembered the need to
ask many questions to get to the bottom of a case.
"I went to the precinct on a homicide call," he recalled. "An 18-year-old
man was placed in the lineup for murder. The man stood in position four. A
witness said number 4 looks like him. I was bothered because it was not a
"I couldn't sleep that night," he said. "I called my supervisor at home
after midnight because I wanted to speak to the witness again. I spoke to
the witness again and he said the man looked like the defendant, but it
The next day, the 18-year-old man was released simply because Johnson
asked a few more questions and got it right.
While the courts have barred the death penalty in New York, Johnson was an
early opponent of capital punishment. Among other arguments, he cited his
personal experience, when the brother of a man he had convicted of murder
came forward to confess.
His most controversial case, that of African immigrant Amadou Diallo, who
was killed in a hail of 41 shots fired by 4 police officers in February
1999, was one of the stormiest of Johnson's career. He took heat from both
sides - on the one hand for arguably "overindicting" the cops on 2nd
degree murder charges and on the other for losing the case against them.
To this day, Johnson insists the death of Diallo "was a tragic incident
all the way around, but we handled it professionally."
Over the past 17 years, Johnson said he has worked closely with the police
and the community in order to prosecute cases and fight crime.
Johnson attributes his accomplishments in combating crime to "a balanced
strategy in fighting crime that includes vigorous prosecution combined
with innovative rehabilitative programs, anti-crime education and
His tenure is the longest as Bronx district attorney since Samuel Foley
served from March 16, 1933, until Dec. 31, 1949. First elected in 1988 to
fill the 3 years left on the term of District Attorney Mario Merola - who
died in office - Johnson is also the 1st African-American district
attorney in New York State. He was reelected to 4-year terms in 1991,
1995, 1999 and 2003.
In each of those elections, although a registered Democrat, he was also
endorsed at various times by the Republican, Conservative and Liberal
Reflecting on the broad base of support that he has enjoyed over his years
in office, Johnson said that he is "humbled by the trust that the people
of the Bronx have placed in him, and gratified to have been given the
opportunity to serve, particularly at a time in which New Yorkers have
worked so hard to reverse what had been a trend of rising crime."
(source: New York Daily News)
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