[Deathpenalty]death penalty news-----CALIF., USA, CONN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Jan 17 09:36:43 CST 2006
Ailing killer executed at age 76 ---- Condemned for 3 slayings, Allen is
oldest ever put to death in state
Clarence Ray Allen, a twice-convicted murderer enfeebled by age and
illness after more than 2 decades on death row, was executed by lethal
injection early today at San Quentin State Prison for ordering three
killings from his prison cell in 1980.
Allen, who turned 76 on Monday, was pronounced dead at 12:38 a.m., a
prison spokeswoman said. He is the oldest prisoner ever executed in
California and one of the oldest ever put to death in the United States.
The execution took longer than usual, about 18 minutes, and required a
second dose of the heart-stopping chemical potassium chloride, the last of
the 3-chemical sequence, officials said.
Allen's last hope of avoiding execution was extinguished Monday when the
U.S. Supreme Court denied his request for a stay. Allen was legally blind,
suffered from diabetes, had a heart attack last September and was confined
to a wheelchair, and his attorneys argued that executing a prisoner so old
and sick would violate the constitutional prohibition against cruel and
Only one justice, Stephen Breyer, voted to grant a stay.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had denied a clemency request Friday that also
stressed Allen's age and infirmity. "The passage of time does not excuse
Allen from the jury's punishment," Schwarzenegger said.
Allen was able to walk into the death chamber under his own power but was
helped onto the gurney where the lethal drugs were administered.
Allen said "I love you" to friends and relatives watching the execution
before the drugs took effect.
Allen spent most of his final day in a special visiting room at San
Quentin with relatives, friends, members of his legal team and two
spiritual advisers, prison officials said. Allen claimed Choctaw and
Cherokee ancestry, and both spiritual advisers were American Indians.
Prison officials gave him permission to wear a beaded headband and an
Indian necklace into the death chamber.
"He was happy that we came," Allen's niece Rebekah Vaughn said. "Even
though he was somber, he seemed to be in good spirits."
At 6 p.m. Allen was transferred to a "death watch" cell near the execution
chamber, where his contact was limited to the spiritual advisers and
prison staff. The cell also had a radio, a television and a telephone,
which Allen used to call friends and relatives, officials said.
"He's making his peace," said Allen's attorney, Michael Satris. He said
the execution would be "a low point in the history of California's
administration of the death penalty."
Shortly after 7 p.m., Allen had his final meal.
Other inmates were locked in their cells all day, a prison policy for
This was California's second execution in just over a month. Stanley
Tookie Williams, a co-founder of the Crips gang in Los Angeles who became
an activist against gang life and an author of books for children and
youths while in prison, was executed Dec. 13 for four 1979 murders.
Another prisoner, Michael Morales, could be executed in late February for
the rape and murder of a 17-year-old San Joaquin County girl in 1981.
The attorney general's office says 4 more executions are possible this
The increase is due in part to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that brought
more California cases under a 1996 federal law that limited the scope of
prisoners' federal appeals. But state prosecutors say executions are
likely to continue at a deliberate pace in California, which has 646
prisoners on death row, more than any other state.
An Assembly committee approved legislation last week to halt executions
for 2 years while a state commission studies possible flaws in the death
penalty system. But the measure faces a doubtful future in the Legislature
and a likely veto from Schwarzenegger if it passes.
A sponsor of the moratorium bill, Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-Mountain
View, was among the witnesses at Allen's execution. Other witnesses
included five of Allen's friends, his two spiritual advisers, and seven
relatives or representatives of his victims, officials said.
Allen was sentenced to death in 1982 for the murders of Bryon Schletewitz,
27, Josephine Rocha, 17, and Douglas White, 18. All 3 were shot Sept. 5,
1980, while they were closing up a Fresno market.
Until he reached middle age, Allen hardly seemed like a candidate for
Death Row. He went from growing up poor and picking cotton in Oklahoma to
building a successful security firm in the San Joaquin Valley, where he
even served a stint as a church deacon.
His friends and family said he loaned money to those in need, gave lavish
gifts to his employees, framed his own poetry as presents and was
dedicated to his two sons, whom he raised after he and his 1st wife
But there was also a sinister side to Allen. While in his 40s, officials
say, Allen orchestrated eight residential and commercial robberies in the
Central Valley. In some cases, he used his security firm to scope out a
place in advance.
Prosecutors have described him as a charismatic figure who collected
Fresno County's impressionable dregs and turned them into crime
In 1974, Allen and his crew burglarized Fran's Market, a country store on
the east side of Fresno. Allen knew the owners, Raymond and Frances
Schletewitz. In his less affluent days, he had rented a small house on
their property for $75 a month. The Schletewitzes' daughter, Patricia
Pendergrass, said there were times when Allen couldn't afford to pay the
rent, so her father would let him work it off by tilling their grove.
But as Allen's security business grew, he was able to buy his own ranch in
the area and stock it with fancy show horses, an airplane and a swimming
To gain entrance to Fran's Market, Allen invited the Schletewitzes' son,
Bryon, to a party. While Bryon was swimming, someone rifled through his
pants pockets for a key to the store's security system. Allen and two
associates broke into the market and stole $500 and money orders worth
Mary Sue Kitts, the 17-year-old girlfriend of Allen's son, told Bryon
Schletewitz about the burglary.
Raymond Schletewitz confronted Allen, who denied knowing anything about
the crime. According to associates who testified at his 1977 trial, he
ordered his henchman Lee Furrow to kill Kitts because he wouldn't tolerate
"snitches." When Furrow waffled, Allen told him he would end up dead, too,
if he didn't do it, according to prosecutors.
Kitts was strangled and thrown into the Friant-Kern Canal, never to be
found, according to investigators. Allen was convicted of Kitts' murder
and sentenced to life in prison.
In Folsom Prison's cafeteria, Allen met a soon-to-be paroled inmate, Billy
Ray Hamilton, and enlisted him to kill eight people who had testified
against him at his trial, including Raymond and Bryon Schletewitz.
Allen's goals, according to prosecutors, were personal vengeance and to
permanently silence the witnesses before his upcoming appeal. Another
inmate testified he had heard Allen offer Hamilton $25,000 for the
killings, said Deputy Attorney General Ward Campbell.
Allen is said to have smuggled instructions out of prison in his
grandchild's diaper to his son so he could help Hamilton carry out the
On Sept. 5, 1980, Hamilton and his girlfriend Connie Barbo went to Fran's
Market and hung around until closing time. Hamilton then killed Bryon
Schletewitz, Rocha and White at close range with a sawed-off shotgun. He
also shot a 4th worker, Joe Rios, who survived.
Barbo was arrested at the scene, and Hamilton was caught a week later
holding a hit list with the names and addresses of the eight witnesses.
Barbo was sentenced to life in prison, and Hamilton was sent to join Allen
on death row.
Allen becomes the 13th condemned inmate to be put to death in California
since the state resumed capital punishment in 1992.
Allen becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the
USA and the 1005th overall since the nation resumed executions exactly 29
years ago today, on January 17, 1977.
Clarence Ray Allen
Born: Jan. 16, 1930, in Blair, Okla.
Background: Picked cotton with his family as a child and ended his
schooling by the 8th grade. Held jobs in the San Joaquin Valley as a
warehouse manager, ranch hand and night watchman before starting a
successful security firm in 1968.
Crimes: Convicted of ordering the 1974 murder of Mary Sue Kitts, 17, for
implicating him in a grocery store burglary. Sentenced to life in prison.
Convicted of orchestrating three 1980 murders from his prison cell; one of
the victims had testified against him in his earlier trial. Sentenced to
(sources: San Francisco Chronicle & Rick Halperin)
A quieter protest outside San Quentin this time ---- About 300 people,
some of them kin, in the glare of TV
With no celebrity inmate in the execution chamber this time, the ranks of
death penalty protesters were considerably thinner Monday night outside
San Quentin State Prison.
Only about 300 people turned out to protest the execution of Clarence Ray
Allen, some of whom were the 76-year-old inmate's relatives.
The scene was familiar: TV lights blazing, people shivering in the night
air and waves lapping on the shoreline of the bay. But Allen's execution
did not draw the oratory of the Rev. Jesse Jackson or the folk-singing of
Joan Baez, both of whom were among the 2,000 people outside San Quentin's
walls the night Stanley Tookie Williams was put to death last month.
Joss Eldredge, 55, a San Francisco dog walker who showed up to protest
Monday night, said the turnout was "hypocritical" compared with the
showing for Williams, a former gang leader and convicted murderer who had
claimed redemption through his antiviolence writings. He was executed Dec.
"Clearly, a number of people were here last time because of Williams'
celebrity," Eldredge said. "It bothers me quite a bit that not as many
people are here today, but it's the same death penalty."
Jes Richardson, an elementary school teacher from San Geronimo, was
standing beside his 10-foot-tall, papier-mache sculpture of Mohandas
"Gandhi is one of my heroes because he created change through
nonviolence," Richardson said. "I'm opposed to the death penalty. It
creates a violent society."
William Rowan, a 16-year-old junior at Sacred Heart prep school in
Atherton, walked the 15 miles from San Francisco to the prison with
classmates and teachers. He said he had no love for Allen but that no one
deserved to be executed.
"I'm not here because I don't think he's guilty," Rowan said. "I'm here
because I don't think he should be killed in the name of preventing
murder. It just doesn't make sense to try to stop the killing through more
The protesters gathered into what was described as an "Indian prayer
circle" and chanted.
"We pray there is an end to the death penalty and justice for all of us,"
said Raa Thunder, a Cherokee who led the prayers.
About 10 p.m., a half dozen death penalty advocates showed up and shouting
"We're the minority here but we're the majority in the state," said Rudy
Thered, who said he had come to show support for the people Allen ordered
Steve Vaughn, 48, who is married to Allen's niece, was one of a half dozen
relatives of the condemned man who stood beside the prison walls. He was
among Allen's last visitors Monday afternoon.
"He was extremely emotional," Vaughn said. "He's sorry for all the things
that have happened."
Vaughn did not say Allen had acknowledged orchestrating the three murders
that put him on death row or apologized to the victims' families. Allen
has always maintained his innocence.
Vaughn said the family's final meeting was tense, emotional and filled
with long silences. Allen had asked his close relatives not to witness the
"He was somber, trying to say goodbye to everyone," Vaughn said. "He
talked about old times in Fresno, picking cotton and going to church."
(source: San Francisco Chronicle)
California Executes Death Row Inmate, 76
California prison officials executed 76-year-old murderer Clarence Ray
Allen at the state prison here early today after his final appeal was
turned down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
His death by lethal injection was announced at 12:38 a.m. by Elaine
Jennings of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Allen was wheeled into the death chamber at 12:04 a.m. By 12:35 a.m.,
Jennings said, the 3 drugs used in the process had been administered,
however a 2nd dose of potassium chloride -- which stops the heart -- was
Allen, who turned 76 Monday, was by far the oldest of the 13 convicts
executed in the state since California restored the death penalty in 1977
and the 2nd oldest in the nation.
That status, however, may not endure. California has the nation's largest
death row -- 646 inmates -- but executes a relatively small number. As a
result, the ranks of the condemned grow steadily more elderly, and now
include five older than 70, 34 in their 60s and 155 between 50 and 59.
Lawyers for Allen argued that his lengthy time on death row, age and ill
health should have barred his execution; he recently had a heart attack,
suffered from diabetes, was legally blind and used a wheelchair. But Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and a series of courts rejected those pleas over the
last several days.
On Sunday night, Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of
Appeals noted that Allen was already 50 years old and incarcerated at
Folsom State Prison for another killing when he orchestrated the triple
murder for which he was handed the death penalty in 1982. Evidence at that
trial showed he had paid another inmate $25,000 to kill 3 potential
witnesses against him.
"His age and experience only sharpened his ability to coldly calculate the
execution of the crime," wrote Wardlaw, an appointee of President Clinton.
"Nothing about his current ailments reduces his culpability."
The execution was the second in a month's time, which is rare for
California. Last month, the state executed Stanley Tookie Williams, 51,
the former leader of the Crips gang. Later this week, a Ventura County
Superior Court judge is expected to set an execution date for 46-year-old
Michael Morales stemming from a 1983 murder in San Joaquin County.
State officials also have said it is possible that execution dates could
be scheduled later this year for 2 other longtime condemned inmates,
Stevie Lamar Fields, 49, and Mitchell Sims, 45.
Allen's last significant court challenge failed Monday afternoon when the
Supreme Court denied his request for a stay of execution. As it often does
in death cases, the court acted without a written opinion.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer issued the only dissent, a brief statement
noting Allen's age, ill health and the fact that he "has been on death row
for 23 years."
"I believe that in the circumstances, he raises a significant question as
to whether his execution would constitute 'cruel and unusual punishment,'"
Since California reinstated the death penalty, the inmates who have been
executed have had an average stay on death row of nearly 16 years,
according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The cases take a long time for several reasons, but chief among them is
that the state takes considerable care in reviewing death sentences. The
state Supreme Court automatically reviews each capital case. Although the
court upholds the overwhelming majority, it does not begin the process
until an appellate lawyer has been found to represent the inmate. Finding
lawyers able and willing to handle the cases has proved difficult, Chief
Justice Ronald M. George has said.
Currently, more than 100 inmates have no lawyer for their appeal, and the
waiting list to get an appellate lawyer is several years long, said UC
Berkeley law professor Elisabeth Semel, who runs the school's death
Allen's case did not draw as much media attention as that of Williams, who
was executed in December after a massive campaign urging the governor to
Nonetheless, Death Penalty Focus, a San Francisco-based group that opposes
capital punishment, held a 25-mile "Walk for Abolition" on Monday,
starting at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, proceeding across the
Golden Bridge and culminating at San Quentin. The group said there also
would be a rally against the death penalty in Los Angeles and vigils
outside the state Capitol and in several other cities around the state.
Shortly before the scheduled execution, the number of protesters outside
the prison grew to about 300.
Allen maintained his innocence, despite what Judge Wardlaw, in an earlier
decision on the case, had called "overwhelming" evidence of his guilt. The
case involved the murders of Bryon Schletewitz, 27; Douglas White, 18; and
Josephine Rocha, 17. Prosecutors told a jury in Fresno that Allen had
organized the murders and paid a fellow inmate, Billy Ray Hamilton, to
carry them out.
At the time, Allen was in prison, convicted of the 1974 murder of Mary Sue
Kitts. California did not have a death penalty statute at that time.
Kitts, a girlfriend of Allen's son, Kenneth, was found strangled after
telling the owners of a Fresno market that Allen's gang had burglarized
their business. Schletewitz was the son of the store owners and had
testified against Allen in the Kitts case.
According to prosecutors, Allen, who was seeking a retrial in the Kitts
case, paid Hamilton to kill Schletewitz and other potential witnesses.
According to testimony, Hamilton went to the store, Fran's Market, with a
sawed-off shotgun, ordered Schletewitz and 3 other store employees to lie
on the floor and then shot all 4. One employee, Joe Rios, was shot in the
face but survived and testified at the trial.
Hamilton was arrested during a liquor store robbery a week after the
murders. When he was captured, police found that he had the names and
addresses of 7 others Allen wanted killed.
Hamilton also was sentenced to death and is still on death row. Kenneth
Allen, who provided the shotgun to Hamilton, was given a life term for his
role in the crime, as was his girlfriend Connie Barbo. After the Supreme
Court turned Allen down, Deputy Atty. Gen. Ward Campbell, who prosecuted
him, noted that "every court has now rejected all of Allen's claims."
"Allen deserves capital punishment because he was already serving a life
sentence for murder when he masterminded the murders of 3 innocent young
people and conspired to attack the heart of our criminal justice system,"
Anti-death-penalty activists Monday distributed excerpts from an interview
that Michael Kroll, a founding director of the Death Penalty Information
Center in Washington, D.C., had done with Allen, in which he asked if the
condemned man was willing to express remorse for the killings.
According to Kroll, Allen responded that he was "terribly sorry for all
that happened. But I can never express remorse for this crime because I
didn't do it."
"I hope to meet the victims in the afterlife and explain to them I never
plotted to harm them, and I never wanted them to be harmed," he added.
Although Kroll repeated Allen's claims of innocence, other protesters
expressed opposition to all executions.
Lyle Grosjean, 72, a retired Episcopal priest who was one of the marchers
Monday, said he had participated in virtually identical marches from the
Legion of Honor to San Quentin for every execution in California in the
last 46 years, starting with the 1960 gassing of Caryl Chessman, the
rapist who gained fame through his death row writings.
"We do it every time. We believe that there is a need to have a witness
against the death penalty on the eve of every execution regardless of the
person or the crime or the victims," Grosjean said in a telephone
interview as he marched Monday. "We believe murder is wrong and [the]
execution of murderers is just as wrong."
Outside the prison, a San Quentin spokesman, Lt. Vernell Crittendon, told
reporters that Allen had been "surprisingly upbeat."
"He is at peace with this process that's about to unfold in the next few
hours," Crittendon said Monday night.
Crittendon said he has been present at all of the executions in the state
since 1978, and for a few in other states, including Arizona and Maryland,
and that Allen's "jovial" demeanor was far from the norm. In the last few
days, Allen was visited by friends, family and supporters, and "he has
insisted that they don't engage in sobbing or crying," Crittendon said.
At 6 p.m., Allen was moved to the death-watch cell and met with a Native
American spiritual advisor. Crittendon said Allen would be allowed to
carry several Native American religious artifacts with him at the time of
his death, including a headband and a neck piece known as a "stairway to
Allen, whose mother is part Choctaw and father is part Cherokee,
"professed to be a Native American since about 1988," Crittendon said.
Kroll said Allen had told him that when the time came, "the last words
I'll speak is an old Indian saying, hok-ah-ei -- it's a good day to die."
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Extra chemicals needed to kill Calif.'s oldest condemned inmate
4 months after he was revived from a nearly fatal heart attack and
returned to death row at San Quentin State Prison, California's oldest
condemned inmate needed an extra dose of a lethal chemical to end his life
Clarence Ray Allen was put to death the day after his 76th birthday amid
controversy over whether the state should kill a diabetic old man who, his
attorneys said, could barely see, hear or walk.
Supported by four large correctional officers, he shuffled from his
wheelchair to the gurney where he was executed for arranging a triple
murder at a Fresno grocery store 25 years ago.
"My last words will be, 'Hoka Hey, it's a good day to die,'" Allen said in
a nod to his Choctaw Indian heritage. "Thank you very much, I love you
Allen was pronounced dead at 12:38 a.m., hours after he exhausted legal
appeals that his life should be spared because of his advanced age and
infirmities. Though legally blind, Allen raised his head to search among
execution witnesses for relatives he had invited, mouthing "I love you."
Anticipating a possible replay of his September heart attack, Allen had
asked prison authorities to let him die if he went into cardiac arrest
before his execution. In the end, doctors had to administer a 2nd shot of
potassium chloride to stop the barrel-chested prisoner's heart.
"It's not unusual, this guy's heart had been going for 76 years," said
Warden Stephen Ornoski.
Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, R-Orange, witnessed the execution as a member of
a legislative committee debating a moratorium on the death penalty.
"He did not appear to be as infirm as news accounts portrayed him. For 76
years-old, he looked to be in remarkably good shape," Spitzer said.
Allen died wearing a beaded headband, a medicine bag around his neck and a
ceremonial eagle feather on his chest. 2 American Indian spiritual
advisers visited with him in the hours before the execution.
He released a last statement read by Ornoski saying he enjoyed his last
meal. But Allen had proclaimed his innocence, and his final words never
mentioned the 1980 hit job that resulted in the murders of a 17-year-old
girl and 2 men, ages 18 and 27.
The family of one of Allen's victims, Josephine Rocha, said in a statement
that Allen "abused the justice system with endless appeals until he lived
longer in prison than the short 17 years of Josephine's life."
Allen was serving a life term at Folsom State Prison when he gave a
recently paroled convict a list of 7 witnesses who had helped put him
behind bars for the 1974 murder of Mary Sue Kitts, his son's teenage
girlfriend who helped him burglarize a Fresno grocery store.
He wanted the 7 killed so they couldn't testify during his appeals.
Among those targeted was Bryon Schletewitz, whose family owned Fran's
Market. Schletewitz and 2 clerks - Rocha and Douglas Scott White - were
The killings landed Allen and hit man Billy Ray Hamilton on death row. No
execution date has been set for Hamilton.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected Allen's last-minute appeal.
One of Allen's attorneys, Annette Carnegie, blamed "prison authorities'
deliberate neglect of his medical needs" for his physical condition.
But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger rejected similar arguments in denying Allen
Allen's case generated far less publicity than last month's execution of
Crips co-founder Stanley Tookie Williams, whose case set off a nationwide
debate over the possibility of redemption on death row.
There were only about 200 people gathered outside the prison, about 1/10
of the crowd that came out last month.
Allen was the 2nd-oldest inmate executed in the United States since
capital punishment resumed nearly 30 years ago, behind only a 77-year-old
in Mississippi last month.
His was California's 13th execution since state lawmakers restored capital
punishment in 1977 and the 3rd in the last 12 months.
"It went smoothly, it went as it was planned, and I believe ultimately,
Mr. Allen received the justice he deserved for the murders he committed,"
state prosecutor Ward Campbell said.
(source: Associated Press)
Debate death penalty, but not on Clarence Allen's terms
With some dissent, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied an appeal from
a 76-year-old convicted killer who argued that he was too old and feeble
to be executed.
The ruling cleared the way for Clarence Ray Allen to be put to death early
Allen at this writing is legally blind, nearly deaf and confined to a
wheelchair. His attorney had argued that putting such a pitiful person to
death was cruel and unusual punishment. Allen's counsel also argued that
Allen's 23 years on death row already constituted punishment that was
cruel and unusual.
Justice Stephen Breyer filed a dissent to the court's decision not to
delay Allen's death, saying Allen's circumstances raise "a significant
question as to whether his execution would constitute cruel and unusual
punishment." This is not the 1st time Breyer has sided with convicted
killers looking to delay their deaths on such flimsy grounds; in 2002 he
stated that a Florida inmate who spent 27 years in prison also was fair in
asking whether such punishment was "both unusual and cruel."
Justice Clarence Thomas countered with cold logic, writing that the
inmate, "could long ago have ended his anxieties and uncertainties by
submitting to what the people of Florida have deemed him to deserve:
The death penalty deserves debate. And convicted killers will continue to
argue that putting them to death is cruel and unusual. But we're fools to
let them argue, as Breyer would, that the time they've spent in prison
stalling that death sentence through appeals and every possible legal
technicality is also cruel and unusual. They can't be allowed to have it
Clarence Ray Allen killed his son's 17-year-old girlfriend for fear she
would tell police about a burglary. He then was convicted of trying to
kill off all the witnesses to his crime; a hitman hired by Allen while he
was already behind bars killed one of those witnesses and two innocent
bystanders, earning Allen a death sentence.
We repeat: Allen earned this death sentence; he practically went out of
his way to get it.
That he staved it off for over 2 decades until he was in frail health -
and then tried to argue that his health was reason for further clemency -
is his fault, not the state of California's.
(source: Editorial, The (N.C.) Daily Dispatch)
DNA Tests May Signal Shift in Death Penalty Debate----Capital Punishment
Supporters Say Stance Is Boosted by Results Proving Guilt of Executed Va.
As Jim McCloskey drove last week from Virginia back to the New Jersey
charity he founded 2 decades ago to help free wrongfully convicted
inmates, his mind was on the murderer and rapist who fooled him with false
claims of innocence.
On May 20, 1992, in the hours before Roger K. Coleman was executed,
McCloskey shared a pizza with Coleman outside Virginia's death chamber and
vowed he would keep fighting to exonerate him. Coleman told him to turn to
look at a television, where the phrase "miscarriage of justice" flashed
across the screen as prison guards watched "Jeopardy."
McCloskey, convinced for years that he had witnessed a fatal mistake in
the criminal justice system, last week learned that DNA tests proved that
Coleman was a rapist and killer. Now he will try to figure out how he was
"He pulled the wool over my eyes," said McCloskey, 63. "I'm going back and
reflecting. Why was I blinded by this or that? We will learn from this."
For McCloskey, Coleman's guilt is a "bitter pill to swallow." But in the
overall debate about the death penalty, Coleman's DNA results may be a
Coleman's case is rare. It had elements that very few other cases of
executed inmates have: preserved DNA evidence, advocates willing to do
legal work for free and, ultimately, a governor in Mark R. Warner who was
willing to order the tests.
Now, death penalty foes will have to look for a new case on which to make
Michael Mello, a professor at Vermont Law School who has represented death
row inmates, said an exoneration of Coleman would have cemented what he
says is declining support for the death penalty nationwide -- a shift he
attributes to concern over wrongful convictions and to states adding the
option of sentencing felons to life without the chance of parole.
Last year, as the United States recorded the 1,000th execution since the
Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, 60 inmates were
executed, compared with a record-high 98 in 1999. The number of people
sentenced to death has also been dwindling, with 125 felons entering death
row in 2004, compared to about 300 annually in the mid-1990s. In recent
years, the U.S. Supreme Court has banned executions of minors and mentally
But for advocates of capital punishment, Coleman's test results are proof
that the system works, and some think it switches momentum to their
"The Coleman case proves exactly what we've been saying: that the
safeguards are there," said Stanley Rosenbluth, president of Virginians
United Against Crime, a support group for victims that supports the death
Coleman, a coal miner from the town of Grundy in southwestern Virginia,
was convicted and sentenced to death in the 1981 rape and stabbing of his
sister-in-law, 19-year-old Wanda McCoy. He maintained his innocence in
television and newspaper interviews that generated attention around the
world. After he was strapped into Virginia's electric chair, he declared,
"An innocent man is going to be murdered tonight."
McCloskey, other Coleman supporters, death penalty foes and media outlets,
including The Washington Post, lost a years-long court battle to have
biological evidence in the case tested using modern techniques. But last
month, Warner (D) agreed to allow the analysis, becoming the nation's 1st
governor to order post-execution testing.
On Thursday, Warner announced that there was a one in 19 million chance
that semen found on McCoy's body belonged to someone other than Coleman.
Virginia Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell (R) issued a statement
saying that the tests showed that "trust in our criminal justice system is
well founded" and that the death penalty has been fairly carried out in
At the same time, death penalty opponents have noted that although Coleman
was guilty, more than 170 prisoners have been exonerated by DNA tests in
recent years. Some of them were on death row. In December, Warner ordered
a broad examination of samples in old cases after two men who had been
wrongly convicted of rape were exonerated by DNA tests. The governor
quietly allowed the Coleman tests about the same time.
Ira Robbins, an American University law professor, said perhaps the most
important contribution of Coleman's case is that it may help persuade
officials across the country to seek DNA tests in other post-conviction or
"I think that other governors have cover provided by Governor Warner,
because he comes from a conservative state," Robbins said.
Indeed, McCloskey and others have urged other officials to follow Warner's
"Governor Warner's decision . . . establishes an important principle: that
we should always continue searching for the truth in criminal cases," said
Shawn Armbrust, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project.
The testing in Coleman's case marks only the 2nd time nationwide that DNA
tests have been performed after a defendant was executed. In 2000, tests
ordered by a Georgia judge on evidence in the case of Ellis W. Felker, who
was executed in 1996, were inconclusive.
Genetic tests exonerated Florida inmate Frank L. Smith in 2000, several
months after he died of natural causes while awaiting execution.
McCloskey, who left work as a management consultant to go to Princeton
Theological Seminary in the 1970s, will go back to investigating other
cases. He said there's a man in a Texas prison who might be innocent and
someone who has spent 22 years in a California prison for a murder he says
he didn't commit.
So far, McCloskey's nonprofit group, Centurion Ministries, has helped
clear 36 inmates. In 5 other cases, including Coleman's, the group's work
confirmed guilt. He said he feels betrayed by Coleman, but he is glad to
finally know the truth.
"People ask me if I'm mad at Roger. That might develop, but it hasn't
yet," McCloskey said. "We all get fooled by somebody. We have to face up,
admit that and not hide."
(source: Washington Post)
What's wrong with this picture?
A 76-year-old man, legally blind, nearly deaf and confined to a
wheelchair, Clarence Ray Allen, is scheduled to die by lethal injection
just after midnight Monday.
He has been on death row for 23 years, in prison for about 30 and last
September his heart stopped beating, but prison doctors were able to
revive him and return him to death row.
How much sense does it make to revive a man whose heart has stopped
beating so that the State of California can carry out the execution? It is
not like there is a shortage. California has 648 inmates on death row.
The question has to be asked, "What purpose does this execution serve?"
Prevent others from committing crimes?
You come up with the answer, because we can't really find a good one.
What we have here is a system that is broken.
Last week, in another case, DNA tests showed that the man that the State
of Virginia executed some 13 plus years ago was indeed guilty. That
probably should make us feel better about the system, but 14 years of
legal hassle to get a DNA test?
"Stunned. Betrayed. Mystified".
That was how Jim McCloskey, executive director of Centurion Ministries, a
nonprofit organization that works to free prisoners it believes have been
convicted of murders or rapes they did not commit described what he was
feeling yesterday after DNA tests revealed that Roger Keith Coleman was a
killer after all.
Just before Roger Keith Coleman was executed in Virginia in the spring of
1992, Jim McCloskey made him a promise: to continue efforts to prove
It has taken nearly 14 years, but McCloskey kept his word, and this week
advanced DNA testing showed conclusively Coleman raped and murdered his
sister-in-law, Wanda McCoy, in a tiny Appalachian coal town back in 1981.
After Coleman's death, McCloskey pressed on as DNA technology became more
sophisticated. Centurion Ministries and several newspapers went to court
in 2001 seeking retesting of semen removed from McCoy's body. The Virginia
Supreme Court refused in 2002, so McCloskey turned to the governor.
Last week, Virginia Governor Warner said he ordered the testing - which
began last month - because technological advances could provide forensic
certainty that was not available when Coleman was convicted in 1982.
"All of us in the criminal-justice system who care about the truth and do
everything we humanly can to secure the truth, we all live and die by the
sword of DNA," McCloskey said.
McCloskey, took solace in the fact that at least the truth was now known.
"None of us should fear the truth," said McCloskey, who added that DNA
testing should be done any time there are questions about innocence and
biological evidence was available. "Let the DNA chips fall where they
McCloskey's organization, Centurion Ministries, has won freedom for about
3 dozen prisoners who had been convicted of murders or rapes, including 4
McCloskey said he remained confident in his organization's work, and in
his belief that innocent people had been executed.
And he said the people of Virginia could rest easy with the scientific
assurance that the man who was executed was actually guilty. "Now we have
settled the question," he said. "Virginia can breathe a sigh of relief
that an innocent man was not executed. That serves a great public
We don't think that capital punishment is really about punishment or
preventing crime. We aren't sure exactly what it is about, but we think
perhaps, judging from the reaction of the prow death penalty supporters to
the Virginia case, revenge may be the motivation.
The president of Throw Away The Key, Michael Paranzino had harsh remarks
about the DNA results and was hardly magnanimous in victory. He also, in
our humble opinion, demonstrates one of the problems with the application
of the death penalty - gross over generalization.
Paranzio said: "Stop the presses: it turns out that rapists and killers
are also liars. Roger Keith Coleman, like every killer on death row,
professed his innocence until the very moment he took his last breath. The
only problem was, prominent liberals fell for Coleman's lies hook, line
and sinker. New DNA tests released today show that the likelihood that the
DNA found in the victim was not Coleman's would be 1 in 19 million. In
short, Coleman was a killer. Everyone who said otherwise was dead wrong.
"As they almost always do, they (The Jury)looked past the defense lies and
well-funded pro-killer activist groups to do justice in this case. Thanks
to this jury, a rapist-killer is no longer a threat to the women of
Virginia. But this case is an important reminder that the pro-killer
forces are powerful and relentless."
"But the fact remains, every killer executed since the American death
penalty was restored in 1976 has indeed been a cold-blooded killer.
"The next time a death penalty opponent insists that some killer on death
row is innocent, remember that's also what they told us about Roger Keith
Coleman. Thug huggers have every right to claim innocence for every
cold-blooded killer out there, and we have every right to ignore them.
Death penalty opponents have long overreached, but this time they got
caught. This is a watershed moment that will further weaken their efforts
to protect killers from facing justice."
There you have it, 2 sides to the issue. Not exactly. The DNA testing
proved guilt and showed that the State Of Virginia did not execute an
innocent man when it executed Roger Coleman, it did not demonstrate in any
meaningful way that execution was the proper penalty.
The testing did demonstrate that in that particular case the individual
executed was guilty of the crime. It did not, by any extension of logic,
prove that any other verdict in any other case is accurate.
It did, once again, demonstrate the high cost of the death penalty. Eleven
years of litigation before the execution, 14 more years after. We spend a
lot of money executing people.
Every study shows we spend way more to exercise capital punishment than
There is a moral argument. Thursdays issue did not address the morality of
executing anyone, guilty or innocent. How high is the cost on ethical
grounds? How high would it have been if the results had turned out
differently on Thursday?
Will the world be a better place for us all when we wake up Tuesday
morning, after an old man has been put to death?
We doubt if anyone will notice a difference.
(source: PostRockCountry.com, Jan. 15)
Church group takes death sentence issue to high court
The legal arm of the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ
asked the state Supreme Court on Wednesday to compel a state board to come
up with regulations for commuting death sentences.
James Wade, a lawyer working for free for the Missionary Society of
Connecticut, argued that the Board of Pardons and Parole should have set
standards to help it decide whether to reduce an inmates death sentence to
life in prison without parole, or another charge.
"What are the standards for commutation?" asked Wade. "If we're going to
kill them, there ought to be a process thats recognized."
The Missionary Society, which opposes capital punishment, has said it
believes commutation hearings should be mandatory in all death penalty
The group made similar arguments last year when serial killer Michael Ross
was facing execution. At the time, Ross was refusing a hearing because he
said he was willing to be put to death for his crimes.
A trial court later ruled that the Missionary Society did not have the
legal standing to force the board to hold a commutation hearing for Ross,
who was put to death by lethal injection last May and became the 1st
person executed in New England in 45 years.
Wade is appealing that decision. It is expected to take the states highest
court about 6 weeks to determine whether the trial courts ruling was
Wade said he's appealing the decision because he still has not been able
to persuade the Board of Pardons and Parole to draft regulations.
"What they're doing is effectively ignoring me," he said. "We have a board
that is operating ad hoc. They're running the show the way they want to
run the show."
But Assistant Attorney General Steven Strom, who is representing the
parole board, said that if the Missionary Society wants regulations on
commutations, they should ask the state legislature to change the law and
require the board to craft regulations. They would then have to be
approved by the legislatures Regulation Review Committee.
Strom said current law only requires the board to come up with written
policies. There is no mandatory language that compels the board to write
regulations, he said.
That is not unusual, he said. Strom argued it would be impossible for
state government to function if every state policy required going through
the regulations approval process.
At one point in Wednesday's hearing, Chief Justice William J. Sullivan
asked Wade whether he has asked the legislature to change the law and
require commutation hearings for all death penalty cases, or require the
Board of Pardons and Parole to create regulations outlining the rules and
standards for commutations. Wade said he had not, but would not rule out
doing so in the future.
(source: Associated Press)
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