death penalty news----CALIF., USA, ALA., TENN., N.C., FLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Jan 16 12:39:10 CST 2006
Ailing Inmate Is Set to Die----Murderer Clarence Ray Allen, 76, the oldest
man on California's death row, is to be executed early Tuesday. Death
penalty foes plan march.
Barring a last-minute, court-ordered stay of execution, 76-year-old
murderer Clarence Ray Allen will be executed by lethal injection early
Tuesday at San Quentin State Prison.
Allen would become the 13th person to undergo capital punishment in
California since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1977, and would
be by far the oldest.
State officials were preparing to put Allen to death a week after the
Assembly Public Safety Committee approved a bill that would suspend
capital punishment for up to three years. During that time, a commission
would study whether California's criminal justice system has allowed
innocent people to be convicted of crimes, both capital and noncapital. It
is far from certain that the bill will clear the Legislature, and even if
it does, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger may veto the measure.
Allen was sentenced to death in 1982 for orchestrating a triple murder in
Fresno in 1980. He had arranged the killings while incarcerated at Folsom
State Prison, serving a life sentence for another murder.
He had been convicted of arranging the 1974 slaying of his son's
girlfriend, Mary Sue Kitts, who had told the owners of a Fresno market
that Allen's gang had burglarized their store. According to testimony in
the 1982 trial, Allen sought to eliminate witnesses who might testify
against him if he got a retrial in the Kitts killing.
In prison, he offered $25,000 to fellow inmate Billy Ray Hamilton to kill
people who had testified against him in the Kitts murder trial. After he
was paroled, Hamilton killed one of the witnesses and two bystanders. When
Hamilton - who also is on death row - was captured, police found that he
had a list of 8 witnesses who had testified against Allen in the Kitts
Allen's case has attracted considerably less attention than that of
Stanley Tookie Williams, 51, who was executed Dec. 13 despite a vigorous
clemency campaign waged by political and religious leaders.
Nonetheless, Allen's appellate attorneys continued to work on his behalf
over the weekend, and death penalty foes have planned a march from San
Francisco to San Quentin today to protest the execution.
In recent weeks, two federal judges and the California Supreme Court have
rejected motions by Allen's lawyers to bar his execution. The inmate's
lawyers said it would violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual
punishment to take the life of a man who is so old and ailing. Allen,
whose birthday is today, had a heart attack in September, is legally
blind, has diabetes and uses a wheelchair.
>From a legal point of view, U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. said
in a ruling released Thursday, that argument has no relevance. The U.S.
Supreme Court has barred the execution of individuals for crimes committed
as juveniles, as well as individuals who are mentally incompetent to
understand the gravity and meaning of their execution. But the high court
has never ruled that it is improper to execute someone because of old age
or poor health.
"Nothing about his advanced age or his physical infirmities - affected his
culpability at the time he committed the capital offenses," Damrell wrote.
He drew a sharp contrast between Allen and juvenile offenders, noting that
in a landmark decision in 2005 the high court said juveniles are immature
with impulsive tendencies, have a greater vulnerability to negative
influences and have more transitory personality traits. "Clearly, none of
these differences apply to a mature adult like [Allen] who committed
multiple murders with cold-blooded calculation at age 50," Damrell wrote.
The judge also said the argument of Allen's attorneys that "his execution
would serve none of the penological purposes of capital punishment is
without merit. [Allen's] current condition is irrelevant to the
fulfillment of those purposes."
Damrell quoted a 2005 decision of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in
which Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote: "If the death penalty is to serve
any purpose at all, it is to prevent the very sort of murderous conduct
for which Allen was convicted."
On Sunday, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed one of Allen's
final legal appeals. The San Francisco-based court ruled against Allen
"because he has not demonstrated substantial grounds upon which relief may
be granted." His attorneys have an appeal pending at the U.S. Supreme
Court, but it is considered a longshot.
On Friday, Schwarzenegger denied Allen's clemency bid. "Allen's crimes are
the most dangerous sort because they attack the justice system itself,"
Schwarzenegger said in rejecting the bid. "The depravity of Allen's crimes
has not diminished with the years."
As Allen's final appeal was being reviewed by judges in Washington, his
relatives and the relatives of his victims were in a pensive mood about
the impending execution.
Patricia Pendergrass, the 55-year-old sister of Bryon Schletewitz, one of
the three people gunned down at his parents' Fresno store by Allen's hired
killer, said she planned to attend the execution.
Pendergrass, of Galt, Calif., said she was the last living member of her
family, since her father, Ray, was run over last March by a driver later
convicted of vehicular manslaughter. She said her father had wanted to
live to see Allen's execution.
Pendergrass said what made Allen's murders even more egregious is that he
had known Bryon and her since they were 9 and 11 years old, respectively.
"Let's not forget why he's there in the first place," Pendergrass said in
a telephone interview last week. "He committed these crimes, and he knew
there would be consequences. He thought about this; there was no snap
judgment. He planned this. He put in a lot of time and effort.
"I'm really hoping I find some relief from this, after all these years,
[with] this hanging over our heads. All the trials, all the court dates
and appeals and all those times when it seemed we were getting close to a
"I try to remember all the good things, and there were so many good things
with my family. Then how Bryon was forced to die slips into my mind, and
all the ugliness comes back."
Schletewitz, then 27, and store employees Josephine Rocha, 17, and Douglas
Scott White, 18, were killed at close range with a shotgun, according to
Cecilia Broughton, Rocha's sister, said that while some of her six
siblings would attend the execution, she would stay overnight with their
mother to offer support. She was unsympathetic to the argument that Allen
should not be put to death because of his age and poor health. She
contrasted the years that he was allowed to live with the fate of her
sister, then a high school senior, who died begging for her life,
according to trial testimony.
Broughton said that despite her efforts to focus on happy memories of her
sister, they are overwhelmed by the way in which she died. "She had had
the whole world ahead of her, and of course I imagine her begging and
crying for her life," she said.
Broughton said Allen's death would finally end fears that have at times
gripped his victims' survivors. "Whether or not it seems reasonable," she
said, "there's a lingering fear that he can still hurt people outside of
Paula Allen, the condemned inmate's granddaughter, issued a statement
through Allen's appellate attorneys.
"My heart goes out to the families of all of the victims in this tragic
situation that, over the years, has brought about nothing but sheer pain,
confusion and needless loss to all involved," she said.
"I will never know the pain the victims' families suffered at the time of
their loved one's deaths, however great it must have been, and surely
still is. I only know for certain the excruciating pain my own family has
had to endure for nearly the past three decades as the result of - hatred
toward my grandfather. I also know that we, too, will soon suffer the loss
of a man dearly loved by his entire family."
"I pray," Paula Allen said, "that his execution - will finally begin a
process of healing for all of the surviving families on both sides of this
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Allen's latest bid to avoid death penalty at midnight fails in court
Clarence Ray Allen moved a step closer to death late Sunday when a federal
appeals court here dismissed one of his final appeals.
Allen, who turns 76 today, would be California's oldest condemned inmate
executed following the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to
dismiss one of his final legal options.
Attorneys for Allen, on death row for ordering the hits of 3 people at a
Fresno market in 1980, claimed executing him would be unconstitutionally
cruel and unusual because of his age and health problems.
The San Francisco-based appeals court ruled against Allen "because he has
not demonstrated substantial grounds upon which relief may be granted."
Allen is also asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block the execution under
the same legal theory. Allen is scheduled to be injected at 12:01 a.m.
Tuesday at San Quentin state prison.
Allen is legally blind, nearly deaf, suffered a heart attack in September
and uses a wheelchair. State prosecutors argued that the U.S. Supreme
Court has never granted a reprieve to a condemned man because of his age
or infirmities. The California Supreme Court rejected that same claim by
Allen on Tuesday.
While serving time for murder at Folsom State Prison in 1980, Allen was
sentenced to death for hiring hit man Billy Ray Hamilton, who killed Bryon
Schletewitz, Douglas Scott White and Josephine Rocha at Fran's Market.
Allen had the trio killed because he feared their testimony would hurt his
chances of prevailing at overturning his murder conviction on appeal,
Hamilton also is on death row.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday declined to grant clemency and
commute Allen's death sentence to life without parole, dismissing his
challenge based on age, illnesses and other reasons.
The case decided Sunday is Allen v. Ornoski 06-00091.
(source: Assciated Press)
Memories of horrible night linger as death nears for aging inmate
Dusk had just fallen on the night of Sept. 5, 1980, when Jack Abbott heard
gunshots at the general store next door. He grabbed his shotgun and
vaulted the wall separating their properties.
"I could see them in there, someone with a gun in their hand. I could see
somebody lying on the floor," Abbott recalled during a recent interview.
Inside, he found the bodies of two clerks, Douglas Scott White, 18, and
Josephine Rocha, 17. The owners' son, Bryon Schletewitz, 27, was dead in
the stockroom. Abbott was shot in the back, but he still managed to shoot
the fleeing intruder in the foot.
The killings at Fran's Market that night put 2 men on death row: a
32-year-old newly paroled convict named Billy Ray Hamilton, and Clarence
Ray Allen, the man who ordered the attack from prison.
Barring a last-minute reprieve, Allen will become the oldest inmate put to
death in California if he is executed as scheduled at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday,
just after his 76th birthday.
Allen's attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene, arguing
that executing a feeble old man amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
Allen has gone blind and deaf and uses a wheelchair. His heart stopped in
September, but doctors revived him and returned him to death row. The 9th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed his case Sunday. Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger denied clemency on Friday.
Allen already was serving life in prison for murder when he gave Hamilton
a hit list of seven people who had testified against him. He wanted them
dead so they couldn't testify during his appeals.
It was the culmination of a violent history between Allen and the market,
known in the community for its friendly service to farmers and their
migrant workers in the San Joaquin Valley.
Allen grew up poor in Oklahoma in the Dust Bowl era and turned to
preaching as a young man.
"From my earliest childhood memories, Clarence Ray Allen imparted the most
loving, giving and generous grandfatherly spirit," Paula Allen of Fresno
wrote in a statement, remembering her grandfather in happier times.
"He was always selfless with his time and devoted his undivided attention
to me and my siblings through special occasions, his many gifts and our
family outings. His gifts of humor and spontaneous frivolity could turn my
dreariest days into the brightest at the drop of a hat," she wrote.
But in the San Joaquin Valley, Allen founded a private security firm and
one photograph from those days shows him brandishing a machine gun, which
he used to threaten workers during grape strikes organized by Cesar
He owned an airplane, luxury cars and horse stables - a lifestyle
authorities have said was supported largely through criminal activity by
his family and employees.
Prosecutor say he arranged a burglary of Fran's Market in 1974.
When his son's girlfriend, 17-year-old Mary Sue Kitts, told Bryon
Schletewitz what had happened, Allen had her strangled, her weighted body
dumped in a canal. Bryon Schletewitz and his father, Raymond, were among
the witnesses at Allen's trial.
Bryon Schletewitz had planned to take over the family store. After the
murders there, his parents sold it, said his sister, Patricia Pendergrass.
She intends to witness the execution to represent her late parents, who
had hoped to live long enough to see Allen die. "They never saw justice
served," she said.
Josephine Rocha's family is not swayed by Allen's appeals that he is too
old and frail to be executed.
"He's too old to die? Josephine was too young to die," said her brother,
Allen and his family declined requests for interviews.
(source: Associated Press)
It's not about Clarence
WHEN STANLEY TOOKIE WILLIAMS was executed last month, we said Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger was right to have questioned the former gang leader's tale
of redemption but still wrong to put him to death. That's because the
existence of the death penalty says more about us as a people than it does
about the criminal being executed. A civilized society should not be in
the business of exacting retribution, especially when relying on a
judicial system with an unacceptably high margin of error.
At 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, it's Clarence Ray Allen's turn to be put to death.
Allen arranged a triple slaying in 1980 while in prison for another
Some argue that the state has no business killing a blind and infirm
76-year-old former warehouse manager. To which we say, again, this isn't
about Allen, it's about us.
The good news is that the Legislature is considering a two-year moratorium
on executions beginning next January. Last week, an Assembly committee
passed a common-sense bill that would suspend capital punishment until a
special commission finishes examining whether the state's criminal justice
system allows innocent people to be convicted.
Evidence that innocent people were on death row led Illinois to place a
moratorium on executions six years ago, and New Jersey enacted a similar
ban last week. Meanwhile, other states and even the U.S. Supreme Court
have recently voiced concern about the death penalty's application.
In recent years, 14 former death row inmates have been exonerated across
the nation by post-conviction DNA analysis, according to the Innocence
Project, which opposes capital punishment.
The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, set up by
the state Senate two years ago, is studying cases in which failures of the
state's criminal justice system may have led to wrongful convictions. It
is an important and necessary review that should look most closely at all
of the nearly 650 inmates on California's death row, the largest in the
More broadly, the commission should carefully look at some of the dubious
tactics that are heavily relied on in capital punishment cases, from
jailhouse informants to the various ways witnesses identify suspects in a
It might be too late for Clarence Ray Allen, but the state of California
needs to soon call a halt, or at least a temporary moratorium, to all
(source: Editorial, Los Angeles Times)
Age grows as issue on death row
Just after midnight, the state of California is scheduled to execute a man
unlike any inmate who has awaited his fate on San Quentin's death row.
Clarence Ray Allen, who turns 76 today, would be the oldest man put to
death in California since voters restored capital punishment in 1978 and
the second-oldest inmate executed in the nation in more than 30 years. He
has spent nearly 1/3 of his life on death row for 3 shotgun murders in
And time has not been kind to Allen. He is legally blind, diabetic,
suffers from heart problems and when he makes his way to the death
chamber, will not walk to the gurney where he will take his last breaths.
He will be rolled in with a wheelchair.
The planned execution of Allen - the second death sentence to be carried
out in California in as many months - has not roused the type of public
debate seen recently with Stanley Tookie Williams' case. But it has raised
other questions about California's idea of justice when it comes to
executing the elderly and infirm.
The question could become acute as a growing number of death row inmates
look toward their twilight while awaiting execution. Currently, there are
5 inmates older than 70 on death row at San Quentin State Prison. About 5
% of death row inmates are in their 60s.
"In the Williams case, the problem was: How do you deal with evidence of
significant rehabilitation? ... Now, it's not the question of redemption,
but frailty," said Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Marshall, who
gained a national reputation as an advocate for the wrongfully convicted
in Illinois and was influential in that state's commutation of death row
"The debate here is not about his freedom," he said. "The debate is, under
these circumstances, what does it make of us when we choose to execute
somebody like this, in this type of health?"
Prosecutors and family members of the victims say the decades-long appeals
process has afforded Allen the luxury to grow old and even frail - a life
span denied to 17-year-old Josephine Rocha; Douglas White, 18; and Bryon
Schletewitz, 27. All 3 were fatally shot Sept. 5, 1980, by a gunman acting
on Allen's orders.
"I think (Allen's age) is a non-issue; it is not an excuse to not execute
him," said White's uncle, Larry Vannatta, who plans to be at San Quentin
tonight. "I believe he should have been executed 20-plus years ago."
Allen's attorneys, led by Michael Satris, have argued that the inmate's
execution would amount to cruel and unusual punishment, would violate
international human rights standards that restrict capital punishment for
the elderly, and would be "pointless as well as inhumane."
A letter sent to the governor last month from former California Supreme
Court Justice Joseph R. Grodin, who affirmed the death sentence against
Allen 2 decades ago, also questioned what is to be gained by executing the
"To execute Mr. Allen now, under these conditions, for a crime he
committed more than a quarter century ago," the Grodin letter states,
"would itself violate societal standards of decency."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger denied clemency to Allen late last week, saying
the passage of time should not erode the sentence handed down by jurors
and affirmed by the courts over the course of 2 decades.
"The depravity of Allen's crimes," he wrote, "has not diminished with the
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals late Sunday dismissed one of Allen's
final appeals. The San Francisco-based appeals court ruled against Allen
"because he has not demonstrated substantial grounds upon which relief may
Allen is also asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block the execution.
Allen, a former owner of a Fresno security guard business, was serving a
life sentence at Folsom State Prison for the strangulation death of
17-year-old Mary Sue Kitts when he concocted a plan to kill eight
witnesses, including Schletewitz and his father, Ray Schletewitz.
The Schletewitzes had testified against Allen at his 1977 murder trial. In
that case, Allen was convicted of commissioning Kitts' murder after she
told the younger Schletewitz that Allen had burglarized the Schletewitz
To carry out his plan against the Schletewitzes, Allen befriended fellow
inmate Billy Ray Hamilton, who was about to be paroled. A few days after
his release, Hamilton entered the Schletewitz store, and pointed a
sawed-off shotgun at Bryon Schletewitz, Rocha, White and a 4th co-worker.
Hamilton forced them to lie on the floor, and demanded to be shown the
Hamilton then led Schletewitz into a stockroom, where he shot the
27-year-old in the forehead.
Hamilton demanded the safe again, then shot White in the neck and chest,
according to a summary of the case from the state attorney general's
Rocha, who was sobbing, was shot through the heart.
The 4th employee, Joe Rios, fled to a restroom, but Hamilton caught up
with him. He was shot in the face but survived.
Hamilton was arrested a week later during a liquor store robbery in
Modesto. Evidence led authorities to Allen, who was convicted of the
Fresno murders and sentenced to death Nov. 22, 1982. Hamilton is also on
At the time of the sentencing, members of the White family wrote a letter
to the court: "Clarence Allen must be sentenced to die in the gas chamber,
and the sentence must be carried out as soon as possible ... . Nothing can
bring back our son, nothing can return our lives to normal ... but if
Clarence Allen and Billy Ray Hamilton go to the gas chamber and the world
is rid of them forever, perhaps our son did not die in vain."
More than 2 decades later, the families still are waiting for that
sentence to be carried out. The past few months have opened old wounds as
the execution date draws near.
"He now says he's too old to die, but Josephine was too young to die. She
was just 17 years old," said her brother, Robert Rocha, who was 13 at the
time of the murder. He is now 38. "The only reason it has taken this long
is because of our appeals process, and we have had to patiently wait."
Patricia Pendergrass, Bryon Schletewitz's sister, said Allen has managed
to outlive both her parents, who had dedicated themselves to reforming the
criminal justice system after their son's death. Her mother died from a
stroke in 2002; her father was killed in a car accident last year.
Tonight, Pendergrass plans to be in the execution chamber to watch Allen
"I want the execution to happen, and I want it to hopefully close this
chapter," she said. "But it isn't over, yet."
(source: Sacramento Bee)
African Americans split on death penalty, polls show ---- Prominence of
opponents may skew public's perception
The high-profile African American leaders who rallied in support of
Stanley Tookie Williams gave the impression the death penalty issue is
black and white.
In fact, national polls show African Americans split evenly on capital
punishment. Though whites favor the death penalty 3 to 1, nearly 50 % of
blacks favor execution for convicted murderers regardless of race.
Author and political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson said African Americans'
opposition to capital punishment is a "myth," evident from the amount of
mail he received from black readers after he wrote in support of clemency
"I got a number of letters from African Americans who said that those who
perpetrate crime must be dealt with," said Hutchinson, a black man who has
also written in opposition to Clarence Ray Allen's upcoming execution.
"Many blacks are conservative when it comes to law and order.
"If you went into a room, turned off the lights and spoke about capital
punishment, you wouldn't know the race of the person you were speaking
The same black politicians, church leaders and celebrities who supported
Williams have not rallied in support of Allen, a man who says he is of
Native American descent and who is set to be executed at 12:01 a.m.
The difference, according to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, is that Williams not
only worked to retract his violent legacy, but may have been a victim of
Jackson said in a recent phone interview that he is philosophically
opposed to the death penalty in all cases but felt compelled to denounce
the system that executed Williams.
"Sirhan Sirhan and Charlie Manson are still alive, but Tookie is dead,"
Jackson said. "There are undeniable facts that race plays a part in who
lives and who dies."
On the other side are African Americans who have every confidence in the
justice system and are upset by the assumption that they would be lenient.
Billy Jeffrey, a 56-year-old San Francisco building inspector, for
example, said high-profile African Americans who oppose capital punishment
perpetuate the misconception that most blacks feel the way they do.
"The message they put out is absolutely wrong," said Jeffrey, who is
black. "They tell you one thing about the community, but the rank and file
are not like that."
He said silence on the part of African Americans who support capital
punishment contributes to the misunderstanding.
"I have friends on both sides of the fence," Jeffrey said. "But those who
support it are trying to be politically correct. So they don't say much
Lawanda Hawkins, a Los Angeles member of Crime Victims United of America,
said she was shocked by the backing Williams received from church leaders
and entertainers and said it will lead them to "lose points" in the black
"We were appalled by these so-called black leaders," Hawkins said. "They
were a smack in the face to African Americans. We have never been
sympathetic to murderers.
"The death penalty is the only solution when you get people that have
killed others," she added. "It is the only thing we have left. I am in
support of it."
An average of responses in General Social Survey polls conducted between
1972 and 2004 by the National Opinion Research Center shows that 49.4 % of
African Americans favor the death penalty -- compared to 77.5 % of whites.
A 2004 Gallup poll showed similar numbers.
Many African Americans who oppose capital punishment believe the criminal
justice system is corrupt; they don't necessarily cite moral grounds for
their opposition. Like Jackson, they point to the disproportionate number
of blacks on death row.
Last year, 648 people were on death row in California, 233 of them African
American, according to a Santa Clara Law Review study. That is, blacks
make up 36 % of people on death row, while only 6.7 % of Californians are
black. "I am against capital punishment because of the inequity in the way
it is administered," said Lita Herron of Mothers on the March, a primarily
African American support group for victims of gang violence. "There are
some people who have been executed and found innocent, which makes it a
Herron said that her group is split about 50-50 on capital punishment and
that when gang violence increased in the 1990s, support for the death
The General Social Survey found among a small sample in 2004 that support
for capital punishment fell as low as 42 % from as high as 57 % in 1994.
Kevin L. Martin, who belongs to Project 21, a conservative African
American political group with members nationwide, said he is an avid
supporter of the death penalty and believes that 99.9 % of the people in
prison are guilty.
He said the idea that blacks rarely support capital punishment results
from the tendency of the public to see outspoken black liberals as
leaders, while conservatives rarely win that title.
"The perception of black opposition is predicated by these black liberals,
who hold these murderers on a pedestal and claim racism is behind the
convictions," Martin said. "They don't speak for me or my community."
(source: San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 14)
New NAACP head Bruce Gordon takes on death penalty---- Q& A: Bruce S.
Gordon, Civil Rights Leader Presses a Full Agenda
The NAACP needed a shake-up. Its membership -- about 500,000 -- had
stagnated. The president of the United States, for the 1st time since
Herbert Hoover, was snubbing its annual conventions. Critics called it
irrelevant. And the organization's own president, Kweisi Mfume, was beset
with internal controversies before resigning in November 2004 and later
launching a Senate bid in Maryland.
Bruce S. Gordon, a retired Verizon executive, was named to head the
venerable civil rights organization. Gordon, 59, was neither a politician
nor a high-profile activist. He did not exactly sound like a firebrand,
but he is proving an outspoken, energetic leader willing to take on
controversial issues -- local and federal. He blasted California Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger for refusing to commute the death sentence of
Stanley Tookie Williams, the ex-gang leader convicted of four murders, and
vowed to campaign for a moratorium on the death penalty in every state
that has capital punishment.
"All those civil rights issues that were around 50 years ago, they're
around today," said Bruce S. Gordon, president of the NAACP.
In an interview, Gordon discussed the reasons he has taken on the death
penalty as a civil rights issue and detailed why the NAACP is campaigning
against the appointment of Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court.
-- Evelyn Nieves
Q Why did you take on clemency for Stanley Williams as a cause?
A African Americans represent 10 percent of the population and 42 % of the
population on death row. That to me illustrates the inequity of the system
and the appropriateness of a need for a moratorium. I do not believe in
the death penalty. But this position around the death penalty is not new
to the NAACP. Until we can be convinced that there is no bias, until we
can be convinced that there is a just and fair application of the death
penalty, there needs to be a moratorium.
How do you plan to keep the issue of a moratorium public?
We are going to make our position and presence known in every state, every
time a prisoner is set to be executed. We will call governors, we will
lobby legislatures. I intend to mobilize the NAACP around this -- we feel
strongly about it, and we're going to be stronger about keeping it front
and center. You've said you want to attract younger people to the NAACP.
Do you consider that the death penalty and criminal justice issues, in
general, resonate with young people?
I do believe that the criminal justice system and its inequities do
resonate with young people. If you look at young men between the ages of
20 and 29, black men outnumber white men by a ratio of 7 to 1 in the
prison system, so the criminal justice system continues to fail us. But I
don't want to generalize about young people. Young people are as focused
in their thinking as older people. Economic justice, entrepreneurship, the
ability to have access to an education, job opportunities -- there are a
number of issues that are important to them and it's up to the NAACP to
align them with a national infrastructure of 2,000 branches. That brings
us to your broader agenda.
I start out with the belief that while much has been accomplished in the
civil rights arena over the last 50 years -- if you use Rosa Parks as a
point in time -- there is still an enormous amount of work to be done. No
matter whether you look at the disparities in health care, educational
performance, the access to higher education, economic equality,
employment, criminal justice -- no matter what statistics you use, from
employment to the poverty line, African Americans are on the bottom range.
If you look at voter empowerment and voting rights, you still have
individual states that still attempt to put into law onerous voter
requirements that disproportionately disadvantage African Americans. So
even in 2006, we still have voting rights issues. All those civil rights
issues that were around 50 years ago, they're around today. . . .
[Hurricane Katrina] brought the issue of a 2-class system out. It brought
the issue of people living below the poverty line front and center.
You said at the outset that you were going to try to establish a dialogue
with President Bush. Any success?
I've had several meetings with the president. The 1st time in a 1-on-1 in
September, and subsequently with eight members of my community. I found
both meetings to be open, honest, direct discussions of the issues on
hand, Katrina being the center of both discussions. I detected a
willingness to listen to and even respond to the concerns we raised. I'm
You've taken on the president's nominee to the Supreme Court, Samuel A.
Alito Jr. What are your concerns about this candidate?
His record is one that has consistently opposed civil rights. . . .
Alito's record as a judge shows that he is not open to affirmative action,
he is not open to employees taking their employers to task for
discrimination, he is not open to civil rights issues in general, the
rights of the individuals against the powers that be -- he is just not
(source: Washington Post)
Expect more death row DNA tests, experts say
So he did it after all. The much-anticipated DNA test results in the case
of a Virginia man executed in 1992 failed to give death-penalty foes proof
of their best argument against capital punishment: the execution of an
Instead of exonerating Roger Keith Coleman in the 1981 rape and murder of
his sister-in-law, the results confirmed his involvement - and that left
death-penalty supporters crowing.
Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation
in California, said Coleman's supporters should hardly be surprised that a
death row inmate would lie about his innocence.
"They made fools of themselves," said Scheidegger, whose organization
advocates for crime victims.
But in a larger sense, the case underscored the value of DNA testing in
the criminal justice system. And some think prosecutors and governors may
allow more testing in death row cases - perhaps even after execution.
"It's a good thing to get the truth," said lawyer Peter J. Neufeld,
co-director of the Innocence Project at Yeshiva University's Benjamin N.
Cardozo School of Law in New York, adding that DNA evidence had cleared 14
of the 100 death row inmates who have been exonerated.
Neufeld credited Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner, whose term ended Saturday,
with allowing the test in the Coleman case. "We've been trying now for
years to get other governors to open up the vaults," Neufeld said. "I
think he's going to break the logjam."
Said Phyllis Goldfarb, a law professor at Boston College: "DNA testing is
of enormous importance because truth matters enormously in capital cases,
and DNA is a vehicle to get us somewhat closer to the truth. We need to be
right all the time in these cases."
Coleman was convicted in 1982 of murdering Wanda McCoy in a small
Appalachian coal town in southwestern Virginia. DNA tests done in 1990 on
semen from McCoy's body showed that Coleman was among 2 % of the
population who could have provided it.
James C. McCloskey, executive director of a Princeton organization that
works to free prisoners it believes have been wrongly convicted, had
promised Coleman just before his execution that he would continue to try
to prove his innocence.
As DNA testing became more sophisticated, McCloskey pushed for a new round
of advanced testing, and Warner finally agreed.
McCloskey said he was surprised that the new results pointed conclusively
to Coleman because he believed that Coleman's whereabouts were accounted
for all but 20 minutes of the critical hour when McCoy was killed. He said
he did not believe Coleman had had time to kill McCoy, clean up and get
home within that short period.
McCloskey's organization, Centurion Ministries, has won the release of
about 3 dozen prisoners.
He said he did not think the results would hurt the death-penalty
opposition. "In this case, we believed Roger was innocent, and it turns
out he was guilty. That has nothing to do with any other case," he said.
DNA testing for death row inmates also came up last week in the U.S.
Supreme Court, which heard arguments on what to do when the inmates seek
the testing late in the appeals process with claims of innocence.
The case involves a Tennessee inmate who has always proclaimed his
innocence. The question is whether scientific evidence has raised enough
doubt to overcome procedural hurdles that bar claims not presented early
in the appeals process.
David L. Raybin, a Tennessee lawyer who helped draft that state's
death-penalty law, said it made sense to take advantage of technological
advances to eliminate questions about guilt.
He sees no reason why DNA should not be re-examined even after an
execution, as long as the inmate's family is willing to pay for the
testing, he said.
"At the end of the day, in the death-penalty case, what people want most
is finality, certainty and comfort that the system has worked, and that
it's worked accurately," Raybin said.
Scheidegger said he believed prosecutors already were more likely to have
DNA examined in old cases.
"In the long run, I think the improvements in forensic science are good
for the pro-death-penalty side," he said.
(source: Duluth News Tribune)
JUDGE WANTS JUSTICES DENIED----In Op-Ed, Alabama Jurist Slams "Activists"
Calls for Resistance of U.S. High Court Ruling
An Alabama Supreme Court judge disagrees with a landmark U.S. Supreme
Court decision that held death sentences for juveniles amounted to cruel
and unusual punishment.
So he wrote an opinion piece in a Birmingham newspaper arguing that his
state judicial colleagues should "actively resist" the ruling, a position
that some critics have likened to nullification.
At the very least, Judge Tom Parker's Jan. 1 essay in the Birmingham News
continues the ongoing national debate over what exactly constitutes
In the piece, Parker criticized the majority in Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S.
551 (2005), as "liberal activists on the U.S. Supreme Court." The ruling,
written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy - and joined by Justices Ruth Bader
Ginsburg, David H. Souter, John Paul Stevens and Stephen G. Breyer - held
that social norms had changed, and that most Americans now disapprove of
sentencing juveniles to death. Also, they cited an "overwhelming" global
opinion that a juvenile death penalty is wrong.
Parker's piece centers on Renaldo Adams, who at 17 was convicted of raping
and murdering a pregnant woman. After Roper, the Alabama Supreme Court
last March commuted Adams' sentence to life in prison without the
possibility of parole.
"The proper response to such blatant judicial tyranny would have been for
the Alabama Supreme Court to decline to follow Roper in the Adams case,"
Parker wrote. "By keeping Adams on death row, our supreme court would have
defended both the U.S. Constitution and Alabama law."
A former Alabama assistant attorney general, Parker assisted in Adams'
prosecution and recused himself from the appeal. That, he wrote in an
e-mail to the eReport, is why he contacted the newspaper about writing the
opinion piece. He says under the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics, as
well as the oath he took as a judge, writing the article was his duty.
"I would have preferred to have been able to reason with my colleagues
privately on this matter, and, if that failed, express my support of the
Constitution in a dissenting opinion," Parker said in his e-mail. "As I
had to recuse myself in this case, however, I could not even discuss the
case with my colleagues, so the other option I had to keep my oath and
follow the canons was a public expression of my opinion after the case was
However, some have chided Parker for criticizing activist judges while
suggesting that his colleagues spurn U.S. Supreme Court precedent. They
cite Canon 2 of the state judicial code, which holds that a judge should
"respect and comply with the law" and at all times conduct himself in a
manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary's integrity and
"He's daring someone to file a judicial inquiry complaint," says Joseph
Van Heest, president of the Alabama Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.
Rosa Davis, an Alabama chief assistant attorney general assigned to
represent the state's Judicial Inquiry Commission, says the agency never
comments on whether a complaint has been filed. Alabama Chief Justice
Drayton Nabers Jr. would not comment on Parker's article.
According to Van Heest, who practices in Montgomery, it's likely that
Alabama defense lawyers will ask Parker to recuse himself from future
Van Heest adds that Parker was an associate of Roy Moore, the former
Alabama chief justice who insisted that the courthouse display a monument
of the Ten Commandments. Ultimately, the state's judicial ethics panel
removed Moore from office because he would not obey a federal court order
to remove the monument.
Parker says that, as chief judge, Moore had appointed him to serve as
deputy director of the Administrative Office of the Courts. Parker also
says he handled public relations for the judges after the public
information officer resigned because there were no funds to hire a new
Moore in October announced a run for governor, and it has been mentioned
in the legal community that Parker plans to run for the chief justice
seat. Van Heest wonders if Parker's piece in the Birmingham News is a
"Not only does he attack his own court, I think very unwisely, he uses old
language that can only be attributed to someone who's running for election
on the fringes," Van Heest says. He mentions a portion of Parker's piece
that refers to the state's "pro-family policies, Southern heritage,
evangelical Christianity and other blessings of our great state."
Parker would not confirm or deny a run for the state's chief justice seat.
He did state that his opinion piece violated no state judicial canons.
"Exactly the opposite is true," he wrote. "Public confidence in the
judiciary will only be restored by many more judges like myself actively
resisting rather than passively accommodating judicial activism."
Charges of judicial activism are increasingly common, but it's rare to see
judges making the criticism, says John W. Winkle III, a political science
professor at the University of Mississippi. He says Parker's piece is
reminiscent of the writings of John C. Calhoun, the 19th century South
Carolina politician who argued states could declare void any federal law
they found unconstitutional.
In response, Parker says his article was not about nullification. Instead,
he maintains that with a changing U.S. Supreme Court, the body should be
given the opportunity to readdress the issue, "until it gets it right
according to the text of the Constitution rather than foreign legal fads."
"Perhaps there's some seedbed in the south for resistance against federal
actions," Winkle says. "I feel relatively certain that his view will
resonate with a portion of the Alabama electorate, but not with the
majority. And I do not believe this will play particularly well with the
bench and bar of Alabama."
Others didn't see Parker's action as judicial activism. Writing the piece
was bold, says John C. Eastman, a professor at Chapman University School
of Law in Orange, Calif., but it didn't amount to nullification.
"The case is no longer pending, it's been decided, and he wasn't a member
of the court that decided it," Eastman says.
Eastman adds that when Justice Antonin Scalia spoke at the law school this
summer, he discussed activist judges, mentioning Roper and Lawrence v.
Texas, the 2003 ruling that found sodomy laws unconstitutional.
"I think the subject of what [Parker is] saying is so profoundly important
that I'm glad he's doing it," Eastman says. "The notion that nobody can
question Supreme Court pronouncements is not very well-grounded, and it
could amount to judicial tyranny."
Others fear that Parker's article will be harmful and reach audiences
outside of Alabama.
"The way the arguments are expressed, they're so broad, so sharp and so
critical, I think they will have some effect of undermining the public's
confidence of the judiciary as a whole," says Thomas M. Keck, an assistant
professor at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and
"He writes that what Alabama judges are doing is imposing their will,
rather than applying the law," Keck adds. "That is a misinterpretation
that is bad for judges everywhere."
(source: Associated Press)
Justice Parker at odds with other justices over murder case
State Supreme Court Justice Mike Bolin was shocked one morning when he
opened his newspaper and saw an op-ed page article by Justice Tom Parker
criticizing Bolin and the other justices for following a decision by the
U.S. Supreme Court.
Parker accused his fellow justices of being accomplices to
unconstitutional actions by activist judges.
"It is an unprecedented attack by a member of the Supreme Court on each
fellow justice and an attack on the court as an institution," Bolin said.
Parker said his op-ed page article, published Jan. 1 in The Birmingham
News, was not meant to be personal or political. "It's judicial
philosophy," he said.
Parker, once an aide to former Chief Justice Roy Moore, got elected to the
Supreme Court last year. His article renewed speculation that he was
getting ready to enter the Republican race for chief justice against GOP
incumbent Drayton Nabers.
"It was not written with that in mind. I am getting people urging me to
run, but I'm just watching and waiting at this point," Parker said in an
Nabers declined comment on Parker's op-ed page article.
The disagreement among the all-Republican court stems from a decision
issued by the court on Dec. 23. All the justices except Parker reversed a
lower court decision upholding a death sentence for Renaldo Chante Adams,
who was 17 when he raped and murdered a pregnant Montgomery woman. The
case now goes back to a lower court, where prosecutors expect Adams to get
a sentence of life in prison without parole.
The Alabama Supreme Court based its decision on a U.S. Supreme Court
ruling last year that barred the execution of people who were under 18
when they committed murder.
Parker couldn't participate in the Adams decision or write a dissenting
opinion because he worked on Adams' case earlier in his career as an
assistant state attorney general. Instead, Parker chose to write an op-ed
page article for the state's largest newspaper, where it got far more
exposure than a dissenting opinion would.
Parker wrote that he was not surprised that "liberal activists" on the
U.S. Supreme Court used "ridiculous reasoning" - including citing foreign
laws - to reach their 5-4 decision against executing juveniles.
"But I am surprised, and dismayed, that my colleagues on the Alabama
Supreme Court not only gave in to this unconstitutional activism without a
word of protest but also became accomplices to it by citing Roper (the
U.S. Supreme Court's decision) as the basis for their decision to free
Adams from Death Row," he wrote.
Parker wanted his colleagues to uphold Adams' death sentence and then use
the case as a way to get the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its decision
- or to at least show that the Alabama Supreme Court was "standing up
against judicial activism."
Parker's desire to buck a U.S. Supreme Court decision came 2 years after
his former boss, Roy Moore, lost his job as chief justice for refusing to
follow a federal judge's order to remove his Ten Commandments monument
from display in the state judicial building.
Bolin said he doesn't like the U.S. Supreme Court's decision against
executing minors, but the Alabama Supreme Court can't ignore it. "It's
controlling precedent," he said in an interview.
Bolin accused Parker of exercising the same judicial activism that he
criticizes in his article.
"It's an activist - I'd call it liberal - point of view," he said.
Gary Palmer, president of the Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative
education and research organization in Birmingham, doesn't like the U.S.
Supreme Court's ruling either. But he said the eight justices on the
Alabama Supreme Court were upholding the rule of law, and Parker was
undermining the decorum of the court by attacking their credibility.
"By writing the article, Parker himself demonstrated a lack of judicial
restraint and that is no way for a member of the state's highest court to
conduct himself," Palmer said in a statement.
Michael Krauss, a law professor at George Mason University in Virginia and
a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said it's unusual to see a judge
write an op-ed article, but "it's almost refreshing to see that difference
of opinion come out in the open."
Krauss doesn't buy the argument about Parker acting like a liberal
"If it's activism to resist judicial activism, then the first activist
always wins," he said.
Krauss, on the other hand, doubts that Parker's strategy would have
worked. He said the 2 recent changes in the U.S. Supreme Court involve
justices who were in the minority on the death penalty case, and even if
more changes occur on the court, the justices probably wouldn't want to
get back into a hot issue so soon.
"At this point the court is not prepared to overturn the previous
decision," he said in an interview.
With Parker's strategy now moot, he's left to wonder whether anyone will
file a complaint with the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission accusing him
of violating the state Canons of Judicial Ethics.
One of those canons says a judge should promote public confidence in the
"You have to question whether some or all of this was a violation of the
canons," Bolin said.
Parker says he was simply upholding his oath of office to support the
Constitution, and his writing didn't violate the canons.
He's heard rumors that a complaint may be filed, like the one that led to
Roy Moore's removal from office, but so far, he says he's seen no sign of
After the reaction to this op-ed article, would Parker write another?
"It depends on what comes up. I'm passionate in defense of the
Constitution I swore to support," he said.
(source: The Tuscaloosa News)
Court should order new hearing for Paul House
In the 20 years since Paul Gregory House was convicted of murder by a
Tennessee court, the use of DNA testing has revolutionized crime-solving.
Now the U.S. Supreme Court should use the House case to acknowledge that
House was convicted in Union County of the 1985 murder and rape of Carolyn
Muncey. The most damning evidence against him was the semen in Mrs.
Muncey's underwear that matched House's blood type. Fifteen years after
House was convicted and sentenced to death, DNA determined that the semen
was that of Mrs. Muncey's husband, Hubert.
Other blood evidence used to convict House has also been called into
question: Carolyn Muncey's blood was found on House's jeans, but the
assistant state medical examiner testified at a court hearing that the
jeans became tainted during the investigation with blood from test-tube
samples collected during the autopsy.
All other evidence was circumstantial. At a subsequent federal court
hearing, 6 witnesses implicated Hubert Muncey in his wife's death; 2 women
said Muncey admitted to them that he killed her accidentally during a
Yet despite the DNA testing that removed the motive for murder, the
position of the state prosecutor has been that even if House didn't rape
Mrs. Muncey, that didn't mean he didn't kill her. A federal district court
denied House's petition challenging the conviction, saying House failed to
argue the points before a state court. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals,
in an 8-7 split, also denied House a new hearing. The majority opinion
said that House had failed to show a "fundamental miscarriage of justice."
How much more fundamental does it get than to have the primary blood
evidence turned around 180 degrees?
In what has been called its most significant death penalty case this term,
the U.S. Supreme Court will use the House case to decide what constitutes
a "truly persuasive showing of actual innocence." At the least, House
deserves a new trial.
A court of law may never be able to prove who killed Carolyn Muncey. Yet
science has already disproved beyond any doubt the central evidence used
to convict House. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has admitted the likelihood
that innocent people have been executed. The House case provides the court
the vehicle it needs to ensure that people who have factual evidence of
innocence get the opportunity to be heard.
(source: Editorial, The Tennessean)
Prosecutors consider pursuing death penalty----Neighbors discuss
noticeable absence of 2 children who died in fire on Tuesday
In Concord, prosecutors are "strongly considering" pursuing the death
penalty for Lisa Louise Greene after being charged with killing her 2
children in a fire.
While prosecutors debate the decision, Greene's neighbors in Midland have
noticed how quiet their neighborhood seems without 8-year-old Addison
Brooke Macemore and 10-year-old Nathan "Daniel" Macemore.
Cabarrus County District Attorney Roxann Vaneekhoven said they are
currently reviewing the investigation file, in regards to a death penalty
"That decision will not be final or complete until we review that file,"
Vaneekhoven said that from the day Greene was arrested, they have 45 days
to file for a hearing to declare whether they are seeking the death
Greene, 40, was arrested Friday in connection with a Tuesday morning fire
that killed Addison and Daniel Macemore. Greene was being held without
bond Sunday at the Cabarrus County Jail.
She was charged with 2 counts of 1st-degree murder and 1 count of
Greene was charged after an investigation which started when Cabarrus
County Sheriff's Office 911 received a call about 1:58 a.m. Tuesday about
a fire. Officials responded to the fire and found the 2 children dead.
Cabarrus County Sheriff Brad Riley said an open flame was used to ignited
He would not say what the materials were, for evidence reasons.
"It's a heart wrenching set of facts," Vaneekhoven said. "And our district
attorneys office will make sure these 2 young children get justice."
While Vaneekhoven reviews the information, detectives are continuing to
investigate Tuesday's fire, Riley said Sunday.
Riley said the investigation shows that Greene was the only adult living
at the home with the children. He said he does not anticipate making any
further arrests in the case.
"There's no reason for me to make you believe that there are other arrests
to come forward," Riley said. "If another arrest is imminent then were
going to deal with that, but theres no reason to suspect that."
Detectives have searched for evidence at the double-wide mobile home on
Candilara Lane, plus they've searched Greene's Lexus SUV. Riley declined
to say what items were seized during the search.
Riley said hes waiting on the medical records for Greene from the morning
of the fire.
That day she told deputies she injured her ankle trying to get help during
"Our expectations are that it's not going to be anything but a minor
injury," Riley said.
At the home on 10925 Candilara Lane, fire line tape still surrounds the
yard, while detectives continue to investigate.
The windows and door are boarded up after the fire damaged the interior of
Michael Rizer, a neighbor, looks at the home each time he leaves for work,
or even just to get the mail.
He said he hopes the county removes the home and the memories it stirs.
"It's burned and 2 children died in it," Rizer said. "Every time you come
out or come home there it is. Its what you think about."
Rizer said he's been neighbors with Greene and the children since about
Rizer's own son used to play with Daniel when they were younger, and
Daniel would often stop by to see Rizer.
Daniel would often ride his yellow electric scooter through the
neighborhood, he said.
"I'd be out in the yard and he'd see me and he'd come talk to me," Rizer
Now, Daniel and Addison's presence are notably absent from the
neighborhood as residents try to figure out what happened.
Greene's 1st appearance is Tuesday in Cabarrus County District Court and
Rizer, like many, is wondering how this case will develop.
"It's disbelief at first," he said. "You hear of things like this on the
news. I still can't comprehend how somebody could kill their own
Greene's home sits at the corner of Candilara and Teresia lanes and many
people in the community who heard the news have visited the neighborhood.
Rizer's home is on Teresia Lane, which is a dead end street and goes right
by Greene's home. Several people drove by the home Sunday afternoon.
"Especially since the funeral there's been a lot of cars that come and
then turn around," Rizer said.
Neighbors said they would have taken the children to raise themselves if
they knew they were in danger. They talked about how Daniel seemed mature
for his 10 years, and was very protective of his sister.
Several people in the neighborhood said they could often hear Addison and
Daniel in the neighborhood, a sound they noticed missing Sunday.
As Rizer talked, his voice shook slightly, and tears formed in his eyes.
"It's been rough," Rizer said. "Because they were about like my own
children to me."
Mel Durham said he felt the same way. His goddaughter, 12-year-old Leah
Wright, had been playing with Addison the Saturday before the fire began.
Addison had recently drawn a picture that read, "I love you Leah, you're
my best friend," Durham said. His wife, Pam Durham, said she remembered
how Addison would come through the neighborhood on her bicycle.
"She'd ride up here on her bicycle in a dress and flip-flops," she said.
Pam joked about how the children would raid her refrigerator, going after
the ice cream sandwiches. She said she still remembers what she used to
"'You kids are going to eat me out of house and home,'" she said. "Now I
wish they were here to eat me out of house and home."
Pam and Mel Durham had known the children for about 7 years.
Pam remembers receiving the call at work Tuesday, when she learned about
Addison and Daniels death.
"It was just like I was a zombie all day," she said. "Because these
children were so precious to us."
(source: Independent Tribune)
Death penalty revamp unlikely----State house leaders oppose efforts to
require unanimous jury decisions
The jury that found Joseph P. Smith guilty of kidnapping and killing
11-year-old Carlie Brucia could not unanimously agree that Smith deserved
the death penalty for his crime.
Jurors voted 10-2 to recommend a death sentence, which is now under review
by the trial judge.
Smith's case is not unusual. Unanimous jury recommendations for death are
rare in Florida, even in cases involving heinous crimes such as the
killing of a child or multiple murders.
A state Supreme Court review of 484 death cases handled by that court in
the 1990s showed only 16 percent of cases had a unanimous jury
recommendation. More than 13 percent of the cases had the minimum vote for
death, a 7-5 recommendation from a 12-member jury.
But some legal authorities, including the Florida Supreme Court, are
suggesting Florida should consider requiring a unanimous jury
recommendation in death cases to protect the state's death penalty law
from future constitutional challenges. They say if the law is not changed,
it may become more difficult for the state to sustain a death sentence in
cases like Smith's.
"There's a distinct possibility of a constitutional infirmity in our
statute," Bob Dillinger, the public defender for the 6th Judicial Circuit
in Clearwater, told a House committee last week.
But getting the Legislature to revamp the death penalty will be no easy
task. House leaders, including Justice Council Chairman Bruce Kyle, R-Fort
Myers, say they do not believe the law needs to be altered. Attorney
General Charlie Crist opposes any changes.
And the state's prosecuting attorneys are adamant opponents too.
"Obtaining a unanimous verdict, we think, would almost end the death
penalty as we know it today in Florida," said Willie Meggs, the state
attorney for the 2nd Judicial Circuit in Tallahassee.
Jerry Blair, who prosecuted serial killer Ted Bundy and obtained a 10-2
jury recommendation for death in the killing of a 12-year-old Lake City
girl, said changing the death penalty law would only open it to more
appeals by the 367 inmates on Florida's death row.
"My fear is we're going to open a Pandora's box that will ensure that our
death penalty statute will continue to be litigated and relegated on
constitutional issues, and the death penalty in Florida will become even
more of a hollow threat than it is at the current time," said Blair, the
state attorney for the 3rd Judicial Circuit.
Despite that opposition, others suggest Florida's law needs to be adjusted
to take into account recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, including the 2002
case of Ring v. Arizona, where the court emphasized the jury's preeminent
role in approving a death sentence.
"We have to understand the law is an evolving principle; it's an evolving
concept," Dillinger told House members.
In an October opinion, a Florida Supreme Court majority warned that
although neither the state justices nor the federal courts have fully
determined the impact of the Ring decision on Florida's law, Florida is
the only state in the country that allows the death penalty to be imposed
by a simple majority vote of a jury, subject to a judge's later review.
The 37 other states that have a death penalty require either a unanimous
jury vote on finding aggravating factors that justify a death sentence or
a unanimous vote on the sentence itself. Many require a unanimous vote on
both issues. The federal death penalty law also requires a unanimous jury
"Assuming that our system continues to withstand constitutional scrutiny,
we ask the Legislature to revisit it to decide whether it wants Florida to
remain the outlier state," Justice Raoul Cantero wrote in the October
House leaders and prosecutors say they believe Florida's law does not have
to be altered because the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld Florida death
sentences since the Ring decision.
Kyle, the justice council chairman, said he believes it is more "a policy
decision" of whether to change the law rather than a constitutional issue.
Christopher White, an assistant state attorney for the 18th Judicial
Circuit in Sanford, warned that changing the law could have an adverse
impact on the families of the murder victims. He cited a death case
involving a 6-year-old victim where the family had to endure 3 trials
because of changes in the law.
"If we seem perhaps, some people might say, unreasonably opposed to
changing the law, I submit it's not, when the law doesn't need to be
changed," he said.
Although the proposal for unanimous jury recommendations is in trouble in
the House, Senate leaders are expected to take a more favorable view as
they head toward their 60-day session that begins in March.
Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, one of the Senate's top leaders, has filed
a bill (SB 1130) that last week was referred to the Senate's criminal
justice and judiciary committees.
Larry Spalding, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union, said he
believes prosecutors are exaggerating the possible impact on Florida's
death penalty law if a unanimous jury vote is required.
He noted both Texas and California, which are states that have large death
row populations, require a unanimous jury vote.
"I think the important thing to recognize is that Florida stands alone
with this system," he said.
(source: Herald Tribune)
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