death penalty news---TEXAS, ALA., OHIO, CALIF., USA, IOWA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Jan 16 13:59:07 CST 2006
Judicial system won't work if jury box is empty
Inconvenient. Can't afford it. Too busy. Boss won't give me time off from
A summons for jury duty - the invitation to participate in a cornerstone
of democracy that people in most countries can only dream about - too
often inspires only excuses.
Studies have found that one of the greatest barriers to serving on a jury
is economic. People simply cant afford to take time off work - in many
cases without pay - for the grand sum of $6 per day. That doesnt pay for
courthouse parking and a sandwich for lunch, much less make a dent in the
monthly rent or utility bill.
But Texas lawmakers are offering a helping hand. On Jan. 1, a new law,
Senate Bill 1704, increased juror pay from $6 to a minimum of $40 per day
after the 1st day of service - a 500-plus percent increase. The new
provision, long recommended by the Texas Supreme Court and various legal
organizations, should take some of the economic sting out of jury service.
Too busy? Most of us have many demands on our time, and thats showing up
in declining jury participation. In Texas' largest counties, almost 3/4 of
all those called for jury service simply don't show up.
Yet our highest elected leaders have found time to serve.
Recently, President Bush said he intends to answer a jury summons from
McLennan County, where his Crawford Ranch is located. And Texas Gov. Rick
Perry reported to the Travis County Courthouse in 2002 when called for a
Their willingness to serve despite many pressing demands highlights the
importance of citizen participation in preserving the rule of law in our
democratic system. They recognize that our judicial system will not work
if the jury box is empty.
Our founders treasured the jury trial, along with voting, as the two great
pillars of citizen control over government. Thomas Jefferson described the
system as "the only anchor ever yet imagined by man by which a government
can be held to the principles of its constitution." In the 19th century,
Alexis de Toqueville observed: "The institution of the jury . . . places
the real direction of society in the hands of the governed . . . and not
that of the government."
The Texas Constitution has 2 separate guarantees of the right to a jury
trial. Texas jurors decide not only guilt or innocence but assess
punishment as well. They decide more types of civil disputes than jurors
in most states. If your life and property were at stake, youd want the
best possible jury, not just the best that could be obtained among the one
in 4 citizens who bothered to show up.
We talk a lot about how to get and keep good judges in Texas, but good
juries are just as important. When large numbers of people avoid jury
service, we all suffer. Obviously, the plaintiffs and defendants in a
particular lawsuit need good jurors. But the entire public depends on a
strong, honest jury pool to render verdicts that keep us safe, secure and
At a time when our soldiers are risking their lives, the least we can do
for our country is to sacrifice a little time and money to keep our
justice system strong. Lets each resolve to make answering the call to
jury service a New Years resolution for 2006.
(source: The Amarillo Globe-News - Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, is a
state senator who represents Senate District 25 and is co-author of SB
1704. Fred Heldenfels IV, president and CEO of Heldenfels Enterprises
Inc., is a member of the board of directors of Citizens Against Lawsuit
Abuse of Central Texas)
Text of Justice Parker's op-ed page article
The text of Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker's op-ed page article:
In 1997, a vicious thug entered the home of a pregnant Alabama woman. He
raped and repeatedly stabbed her, then fled, leaving her to die in a house
with three other children. Police acted swiftly and caught the attacker,
Renaldo Adams, literally red-handed with blood. After a fair trial, Adams
was convicted of rape and murder and given the death penalty. It took the
jury less than 30 minutes to recommend his execution.
As an Assistant Attorney General under then Attorney General (now U.S.
Sen.) Jeff Sessions, I helped prosecute Adams and was satisfied that the
Alabama jury chose the punishment that best fit his crime. Consequently, I
was shocked to learn that the Alabama Supreme Court just freed Adams from
Although I am now a justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, I had to recuse
from any involvement in Adams' case because I helped prosecute him.
Because I believe the Court's decision illustrates a serious problem with
our judicial system, however, I write to explain what I regard as a
failure to defend our constitution and laws against activist federal
You see, my fellow Alabama justices freed Adams from death row not because
of any error of our courts but because they chose to passively accommodate
- rather than actively resist - the unconstitutional opinion of 5 liberal
justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Those liberal justices declared last spring in the case of Roper v.
Simmons that "evolving standards of decency" now make it
"unconstitutional" to execute murderers who were minors at the time of
their crime. The justices based their ruling not on the original intent or
actual language of the United States Constitution but on foreign law,
including United Nations treaties.
Ironically, one of the UN treaties invoked by the U.S. Supreme Court as a
basis for its Roper decision is a treaty the United States has refused to
sign. By insisting that American states submit to this unratified treaty,
the liberals on the U.S. Supreme Court not only unconstitutionally
invalidated laws in 20 states but, to do so, also usurped the
treaty-making authority of both the President and the U.S. Senate.
I am not surprised that the liberal activists on the U.S. Supreme Court go
to such lengths to usurp more political power. I am also not surprised
they use such ridiculous reasoning to try and force foreign legal fads on
America. After all, this is the same Court that has declared state
displays of the Ten Commandments to be unconstitutional.
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 as the
basis for their decision to free Adams from death row.
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. By
keeping Adams on death row, our Supreme Court would have defended both the
U.S. Constitution and Alabama law (thereby upholding their judicial oaths
of office) and, at the same time, provided an occasion for the U.S.
Supreme Court, with at least 2 new members, to reconsider the Roper
After all, Roper itself was established as new U.S. Supreme Court
"precedent" only because the Missouri Supreme Court refused to follow
prior precedent. The U.S. Supreme Court used the appeal resulting from the
Missouri decision to overturn its previous precedent and declined to
rebuke the state court for disregarding the prior precedent.
State supreme courts may decline to follow bad U.S. Supreme Court
precedents because those decisions bind only the parties to the particular
case. Judges around the country normally follow precedents in similar
cases because they know that if those cases go before the Court again they
are likely to receive the same verdict. But state supreme court judges
should not follow obviously wrong decisions simply because they are
After all, a judge takes an oath to support the constitution - not to
automatically follow activist justices who believe their own devolving
standards of decency trump the text of the constitution. Thus, faithful
adherence to the judicial oath requires resistance to such activism, and a
changing U.S. Supreme Court membership makes such resistance more likely
to bear good fruit.
The Adams case presented the Alabama Supreme Court with the perfect
opportunity to give the new U.S. Supreme Court the occasion to overturn
the unconstitutional Roper precedent. If our Court had voted to uphold
Adams' death penalty, he would have appealed the decision to the U.S.
Supreme Court. Because the U.S. Supreme Court can accept only a handful of
the petitions it receives, the Court may not have heard the case at all,
and Adams would have been executed as he deserves. However, if the new
John Roberts-led court had taken the case, it could very well have
But even if, in the worst-case scenario, the Roberts Court had taken the
Adams case but failed to overturn Roper, the Alabama Supreme Court would
have been none the worse for standing up against judicial activism.
After all, the liberals on the U.S. Supreme Court already look down on the
pro-family policies, Southern heritage, evangelical Christianity, and
other blessings of our great state. We Alabamians will never be able to
sufficiently appease such establishment liberals, so we should stop trying
and instead stand up for what we believe without apology.
Conservative judges today are on the front lines of the war against
political correctness and judicial tyranny. Happily, Alabama's Supreme
Court has a reputation of being one of the most conservative in the
However, it does no good to possess conservative credentials if you
surrender them before joining the battle.
(source: Associated Press)
Justice Parker advocates defying the law of the land
Justice Tom Parker ought to know judicial activists when he sees them.
He's acting like one - as his Alabama Supreme Court colleague Mike Bolin
The extraordinary public dispute between the two results from a dissenting
opinion that Mr. Parker filed in an unusual place - on the opinion pages
of The Birmingham News, rather than in the court clerk's office.
Mr. Parker was not eligible to help the court decide whether to overturn
the death sentence against Renaldo Chante Adams because, in a previous
job, Mr. Parker prosecuted Adams. The court voted 8-0 to reverse that
sentence, which brought about Mr. Parker's dissenting newspaper column.
Mr. Parker says the Alabama high court should not have complied with an
"activist" 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that outlawed the execution of
people who were under 18 when they committed murder. Adams was 17 when he
raped and murdered a pregnant Montgomery woman.
As Mr. Parker wrote in his column, it was a vicious crime worthy of the
death penalty. But the law is the law, and there is no higher authority on
U.S. law than the U.S. Supreme Court. To refuse to honor that court's
decision would deny the defendant his constitutional right to due process
And Mr. Parker's idea that a defiant stand by the Alabama court might lead
to a reversal by the nation's high court is fantasy. President Bush's two
recent appointees, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, are replacing justices
who voted against the 5-4 execution ruling. The 5 justices who voted for
it are still in place.
Mr. Parker is a protege of former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was
booted from office for defying a federal judge. Neither of these 2 seems
to understand what it means to obey the law.
(source: Editorial, Decatur Daily)
Actors plan play to support Richey appeal
A host of leading Scottish actors and literary figures - including
Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh - are collaborating on the production of
a controversial play about death row Scot Kenny Richey.
The dramatisation of Richeys conviction for the murder of a 2-year-old
girl in Ohio in 1986 has already attracted actor David Hayman, of ITVs
Trial And Retribution series, and River City stars Tam Dean Burn and
Moves to secure Sir Sean Connerys involvement in the project are also
In an ambitious attempt to publicise the case, organisers plan to run at
least 5 performances of the play on Burns Night in venues as diverse as
the Scottish Parliament, Glasgow's ranMr and in London, Dublin and Orkney.
The intended date of the shows - January 25 - will also mark one year to
the day since the US Federal Court overturned his conviction and sentence.
Richey's hopes of release were crushed in November, however, after the
Supreme Court erased the ruling, sending him back to death row. Despite
evidence of his innocence, the Scot faces being executed by lethal
The hour-long play - A Letter From Death Row - dramatises for the 1st time
the night that 2-year-old Cynthia Collins died from smoke inhalation after
an alleged arson attack on her mothers flat in Columbus Grove, Ohio. It
depicts Richeys arrest and prosecution by Randall Basinger, the states
assistant prosecutor, who has long been accused by the Scot of cynically
using the case to win election as a judge.
Although details of the performances and cast are yet to be finalised,
Hayman will play the role of Basinger in the show at ranMr, while theatre
actor Stewart Porter will play Richey. Pieraccini will also take part.
Burn, who plays hardman McCabe in River City, will play Richey in a Burns
Night performance to be broadcast live on the digital London-based radio
station Resonance FM.
The Scottish Parliament is also to be transformed into a venue for a
performance of the work by Edinburgh theatre group Spartaki.
In Dublin, Irvine Welsh is negotiating a venue for the play and a further
show is being planned in Orkney.
Other actors being approached include Billy Elliot star Gary Lewis and
John Comerford . But organisers are also attempting to pull off a major
coup by asking Hollywood legend Connery to get involved .
A source close to the project said: "We already have some top names on
board, but we are in the process of contacting Sean Connery. It would be
just fantastic for the case, but it would also be fitting, given that
Kenny named his son Sean after the actor and they grew up in the same part
The events are being put together by the Miscarriage Of Justice
Organisation Scotland (Mojo Scotland).
Playwright Johny Brown, a close friend of Irvine Welsh, began writing the
play on Christmas Eve after reading about the case. He said: "The more I
read about the case, the more it sunk in that it is a travesty."
Last night Brown said there were plans to take the play to theatres and
radio stations in the US to press the government for Richeys release.
Actor Hayman described the Richey case as a "blatant political stitch-up"
and added: "This is a terrible miscarriage of justice. It's incumbent on
all of us to do what we can to raise awareness of the case."
News of the play comes on the weekend after Dead Man Walking author Sister
Helen Prejean voiced her support for Richeys case.
Susan Sarandon, who played Prejean in a film version of Prejeans book, has
also given her backing to the Scot.
Richey, now 41, is currently held in Ohios Mansfield Correctional
Institution awaiting execution.
(source : Sunday Herald (UK))
Democrats again handing Republicans soft-on-crime ammo
California has undergone dramatic evolution over the last generation.
Demographically, culturally, economically, numerically and politically,
California is a substantially different place than it was in the 1970s and
In one respect, however, there has been very little change - the fixation
in the media and general public on crime as a scourge, and, inferentially,
as a hot button political issue that could once again singe Democratic
During the 1970s, 1980s and into the 1990s, Republicans feasted on
Californians' fear of crime, repeatedly portraying Democrats as being more
sympathetic to criminals than to victims.
Republican Attorney General George Deukmejian parlayed his anti-crime
credentials into the governorship in 1982, for instance, while Democratic
Gov. Jerry Brown's bid for the Senate was rejected that same year, in part
because of his opposition to capital punishment and the anti-death penalty
rulings of Rose Bird and his other appointees to the Supreme Court.
Bird was later turned out by voters; the Republican who had defeated Brown
in 1982, Pete Wilson, won the governorship in 1990 as an advocate of
lock-'em-up laws; and four years later, Wilson defeated Brown's sister,
Kathleen, hammering her on opposition to capital punishment.
Meanwhile, Republicans made substantial gains in the Legislature on the
same issue - defeating several veteran Democratic incumbents - as
Democratic leaders cavalierly rejected anti-crime bills pushed by law
enforcement groups and Republicans. The most spectacular example was the
"3-strikes-and-you're-out" law that voters later enacted after 12-year-old
Polly Klaas was kidnapped and murdered by a recently paroled felon.
Democratic politicians began to get the message: oppose the death penalty
and other anti-crime measures and risk rejection. Dianne Feinstein, then
running for governor, was loudly booed when she reminded a state
Democratic convention in 1990 that she supported capital punishment, but
eight years later, Gray Davis won the party's gubernatorial nomination and
the governorship as a death penalty advocate - defeating Deukmejian's
protg, Dan Lungren.
Presenting a tough-on-crime, pro-death penalty face became a guiding credo
for Democrats who understood that middle-of-the-road swing voters could be
swayed by the issue. But as the Legislature takes on an increasingly
liberal tilt - thanks largely to the bipartisan gerrymander of legislative
districts in 2001 - it's developing a new soft-on-crime image that could
backfire on Democrats.
That syndrome was displayed last Tuesday when the Assembly's
liberal-dominated Public Safety Committee passed a measure calling for a
3-year moratorium on executions and both it and the Senate's equally
liberal Public Safety Committee rejected Republican bills to enact a
"Jessica's Law" that would increase penalties for sex crimes and provide
closer supervision of sexual offenders after their release, including a
ban on living within 2,000 feet of schools and parks.
There are cogent arguments to be made, but setting aside the merits of the
actions, from a purely political standpoint they gave Republicans -
especially Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger - a gift of potent campaign
ammunition. The death penalty moratorium vote came just a week before
Clarence Ray Allen was to be executed for arranging the 1980 murder of a
witness - plus 2 bystanders - to another murder in which he was involved 6
years earlier. And Schwarzenegger is a strong advocate of Jessica's Law,
which may become a ballot initiative this year.
Schwarzenegger is facing a tough re-election campaign and clearly wants to
consolidate his Republican base and appeal to moderates and independents
as a champion of tough anti-crime laws - including a Jessica's Law
initiative. Democratic legislators are giving him a platform on which to
argue that he should be re-elected to frustrate a Legislature that's
seemingly bent on making life easier for criminals - and to challenge his
Democratic opponent to either embrace or reject his fellow Democrats in
Politics, as always, is about perceptions, not necessarily reality, and
Democratic lawmakers are re-creating a perception that led to two decades
of Republican gains just a few years ago.
(source: Sacramento Bee)
The power of DNA proof
DNA has the power to cut short nightmares - the horror of an innocent man
behind bars for a crime someone else committed, the fear of a murderer
walking free and looking to kill again.
In the past 16 years, DNA testing has freed scores of prisoners found to
be wrongfully convicted, resolved old mysteries including murders and
rapes, and transformed the debate over the death penalty.
It has shaken the foundations of the criminal justice system itself.
DNA proved pivotal again last week, when an analysis confirmed that Roger
Keith Coleman was indeed the man who raped, stabbed and nearly beheaded
his sister-in-law, as a jury concluded.
Coleman was executed in 1992, proclaiming his innocence as he went to the
The case was closely watched by both death penalty advocates and
protesters because no executed convict in the United States has ever been
exonerated by scientific testing.
Despite the lack of an explosive result in the Coleman case, the power of
DNA is unquestioned and is sure to come into play again.
Advocates for reform remain convinced that there are other executions that
need to be retested, sure that an innocent person somewhere along the way
has been executed - even as prosecutors and courts have been hesitant to
go back and revisit cases that juries and courts have deemed closed.
"There are many more like the Coleman case," said defence attorney Barry
Scheck, co-founder of the New York-based Innocence Project, a legal clinic
that seeks to exonerate inmates through DNA testing.
"DNA has shown, whether it's the death penalty or not, there are flaws
with eyewitness testimony, false confessions and crime labs.
"We know many more people have been wrongfully convicted than anyone
It took years of effort to get DNA evidence accepted by the courts, with
the 1st exoneration - of David Vasquez, convicted of 2nd degree murder in
Virginia - coming in 1989. It began with a trickle, and then became a
The 100th exoneration came in late 2001.
"There are all these cases. There's a crescendo of cases, of innocence,"
And the impact has hit everyone from police officers to judges. "It was a
world-shattering event," said Geoff Alpert, a criminal justice professor
at the University of South Carolina.
"It's kind of like computers. That's how my kids think of it. The before
and after differences are enormous."
Scheck and others such as Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey organisation
that investigated Coleman's case and became convinced of his innocence,
argue that with DNA tests exonerating 172 wrongfully convicted prisoners
over the years, the technology raises bigger questions about the justice
By proving flaws, DNA raises doubts about other cases in which genetic
testing doesn't play a part.
DNA can only help in cases where biological evidence ties the victim to
the criminal, such as rape cases or murder cases where the criminal's
blood or skin - or maybe even a chewed-up piece of gum - is left behind.
But DNA evidence cuts both ways - as in the Coleman case.
Death penalty supporters say DNA can help strengthen the case for capital
punishment by determining with scientific certainty that those convicted
Such supporters say they're willing to support ways to curb flaws that
lead to wrongful convictions - from presenting photo line-ups of suspects
to victims to videotaping police interrogations that can lead to false
But they dismiss allegations that DNA evidence proves the justice system
is deeply flawed.
"That's absolute hogwash," said Joshua Marquis, district attorney of
Clatsop County, Oregon.
"Wrongful convictions are episodic, not epidemic. They're highly isolated,
He ticked off numbers - 172 exonerations out of some 15 million felonies.
To take those numbers and argue they prove widespread mistakes - even
while acknowledging they are only reflect a fraction of the flaws ?
unfairly distorts the picture.
But there are a range of other doubts.
New Jersey legislators just approved a moratorium on executions, which
awaits the governor's signature. Moratoriums are being considered in North
Carolina and California.
That followed Illinois's startling move in 2000 to suspend the death
penalty after revelations of several wrongful convictions.
Questions driven by DNA reached the US Supreme Court last week, as it
weighed the desire to bring closure to criminal cases with concerns over
how courts should treat newly discovered evidence of innocence years after
a capital conviction.
Last summer, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said DNA evidence has
shown "that a substantial number of death sentences have been imposed
Echoing advocates of reform, he told a gathering of lawyers: "It indicates
that there must be serious flaws in our administration of criminal
On top of that, executions have fallen in the last few years, down to 59
in 2004 and 60 last year, from a high of 98 in 1998 and 85 in 2000.
The exonerations are the cause, and the doubts they've raised about the
death penalty and the justice system overall, said Richard Dieter,
director of the Death Penalty Information Centre.
"It cuts across liberal versus conservative lines, party lines. Everybody
would agree that innocent people shouldn't be executed."
(source: The (South Africa) Daily News)
Death Row cellhouse to face wrecking ball
An old death row cellhouse at the Iowa State Penitentiary at Fort Madison
will be demolished Tuesday in an effort to improve prison security
following the escape of two dangerous inmates in November.
Cellhouse 297, which housed inmates awaiting execution, is scheduled to be
torn down with a wrecking ball at 9 a.m., said prison spokesman Ron
Welder. No inmates have been executed in Iowa since March 1963, when
Victor Feguer, a drifter convicted of kidnapping and murdering a young
doctor, was hanged at the Fort Madison prison.
A state investigation of the Nov. 14 escapes of inmates Martin Moon and
Robert Legendre found they had climbed atop the roof of Cellhouse 297 and
used a hand-crafted rope with a grappling hook to gain access to a 30-foot
stone wall surrounding the prison. Upon reaching the wall, they fled the
prison property. They were both arrested within in week; Moon was captured
in Illinois, while Legrendre was apprehended in Missouri.
State officials have said tearing down Cellhouse 297 in the southwest
corner of the prison should reduce the potential for future escapes. The
1-story concrete block structure has not been used to house inmates in
recent years except on a temporary basis to segregate certain inmates from
the rest of the prison population, Welder said.
(source: Des Moines Register)
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