death penalty news---US MIL., PENN., USA, VA., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Jan 20 09:22:23 CST 2006
ARMY UPDATES REGULATION ON MILITARY EXECUTIONS
The U.S. Army this week issued a newly updated regulation on military
executions. The move may portend a resumption of capital punishment in the
military after a hiatus of more than 40 years.
"Only the President of the United States can approve and order the
execution of a death sentence," the regulation states. Death is by lethal
A copy of the new regulation was obtained by Secrecy News.
See U.S. Army Regulation 190-55, "U.S. Army Corrections System: Procedures
for Military Executions," January 17, 2006:
The last time that the Army performed a military execution was in April
1961. It involved an Army Private who was convicted of rape and attempted
135 people have been executed by the Army since 1916, according to the
Death Penalty Information Center (www.deathpenaltyinfo.org).
Half a dozen military inmates are on death row at Fort Leavenworth,
Kansas, and by last May 2 of them had nearly exhausted their final
appeals, according to the Houston Chronicle ("U.S. Military Executions
Draw Closer" by Andrew Tilghman, May 1, 2005).
(source: Associated Press)
Alleging torture, D.A. will seek death penalty for couple----James R.
Savage and Heather M. Lavelle are accused of killing Lavelle's
ex-boyfriend, Christian Rojas.
Prosecutors say Christian Rojas was tortured before being smothered and
beaten to death in his Bensalem apartment in August.
The use of torture warrants the death penalty against the man and woman
accused of killing the 28-year-old computer programmer, First Assistant
District Attorney David W. Zellis said during their arraignment in Bucks
County Court yesterday.
James R. Savage, 39, of Bristol Township, and Heather M. Lavelle, 36,
formerly of Bensalem and Newark, Del., pleaded not guilty to 1st- and
2nd-degree murder, theft, robbery, and other charges.
Judge Rea B. Boylan set a June 19 trial date.
Zellis would not elaborate on the torture he said the pair used in the
killing of Rojas, who was Lavelle's former boyfriend. He said the death
penalty also is warranted because Savage and Lavelle allegedly killed
Rojas while robbing him.
In order to seek the death penalty in Pennsylvania, prosecutors must show
that certain aggravating circumstances exist.
Rojas, a native of Costa Rica, was found Aug. 27 with his hands and legs
bound, his face covered with a pillow, and his head submerged in water.
Police believe he had died two days earlier.
6 days after the body was found, Savage and Lavelle were arrested in North
At the time of the killing, Lavelle was awaiting trial on drug charges.
She noted in court papers that prior to her arrest on those charges, she
was earning $75,000 a year at an insurance company.
District Attorney Diane E. Gibbons has said that Rojas told a friend he
had stopped dating Lavelle when he found out she was a drug user. He
allowed Lavelle, who had lost her insurance job after her arrest on drug
charges, to stay in his apartment until she found work, Gibbons has said.
Savage and Lavelle allegedly told police that they were looking for money
in Rojas' apartment and that when they failed to find any, they gagged and
(source: Philadelphia Inquirer)
Jury to ponder death penalty for man convicted of
abduction-slaying----Alvin A. Starks found guilty
The penalty phase of Alvin A. Starks' murder trial will get under way
today to determine whether the Windgap man will live or die.
Yesterday, a jury convicted him of 1st-degree murder for the April 18,
2004, killing of his ex-fiancee, Andrea "Andie" Umphrey, 33, whom he
abducted, along with their 9-month-old daughter, from a Sheraden church.
"I think he deserves the death penalty. He took an innocent life like that
and he should pay with his life," Ms. Umphrey's mother, Audrey Umphrey,
said after the verdicts were read.
In addition to capital murder, the jury of seven men and five women found
Mr. Starks, 32, guilty of a weapons violation, fleeing and eluding police,
reckless endangerment, simple assault, 5 counts of aggravated assault, and
2 counts each of attempted homicide, kidnapping and making terroristic
On that Sunday afternoon nearly 2 years ago, Mr. Starks barged into a
service at Victorious Faith Evangelic Outreach Church in Sheraden.
He punched and struck Ms. Umphrey with his pistol.
When the Rev. Harry Owens intervened, Mr. Starks put a gun to the church
pastor's head, but it misfired when he pulled the trigger. A 2nd attempt,
aimed at Mr. Owens' son, grazed Robert Owens' shoulder.
Then, Mr. Starks forced Ms. Umphrey and the baby, Aaliyah, into her
minivan and led a 50-mile police chase that ended on the Pennsylvania
He shot Ms. Umphrey before he was wounded by police gunfire, police said.
Mr. Starks, who testified in his own defense on Wednesday, said his gun
discharged accidentally after he was wounded and the van careened into
other cars at the turnpike booth in Monroeville at the end of the pursuit.
Investigators said a shot was heard inside the van before a Monroeville
police officer fired into the vehicle.
The baby was not hurt.
"Andie would not want revenge," said Toi Kenney, her best friend and a
retired Pittsburgh Housing Authority police officer who is a member of the
"It was tragic," Mrs. Kenney continued. "She didn't even see it coming. He
shot her in the back. What a coward!"
The shooting and abduction have left an unforgettable mark on the church,
especially the children, said the Rev. Joyce Owens, the pastor's wife.
Ms. Umphrey, who worked as an accountant, had been the director of the
children's choir. Her 2 sons, ages 12 and 9, and about a dozen other
youngsters had sung for church services that day.
"We will always be affected by it," Ms. Owens said.
"This is difficult for the fact that another life may be taken," she
added, referring to the possibility that the jury will recommend a death
Allegheny County Common Pleas Senior Judge Robert E. Colville sent the
jury home last night to gather belongings in preparation for the penalty
phase of the trial.
The jury will hear testimony today before it begins deliberations on Mr.
Starks' ultimate fate.
He could be sentenced to die or to spend the rest of his life in prison
without possibility of parole.
Judge Colville will sequester the jury until after the sentencing.
(source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Can the Death Penalty be Justified?
Thousands of supporters chanted along with Snoop Dogg urging clemency for
Stanley "Tookie" Williams before he was executed on December 13. For many
the issue had been dormant in the back of their minds but all of the
attention on Arnold Schwarzenegger, Snoop and Williams forced them to form
an opinion. Is it right to take another life when that life was allegedly
responsible for someone else's death?
What about the families that need to put the issue to rest? What about the
many lives executed death row inmates might have touched with their story?
Who's to determine someone else's fate? Is that playing the role of the
higher being or does the law allow us that power? Those are some of the
questions swirling around the death penalty.
Even today, most people sit on both sides of the fence when it comes to
the issue. Some choose to look at it on a case-by-case basis, but the law
should be uniform and unbiased. Arguments from the black perspective often
cite the likelihood of poor, black inmates to see execution as a reason to
disagree with it. Politicians are afraid to take a stand on the issue and
it remains an uncomfortable issue to support or condemn.
Globally, many countries have outlawed the practice and see Americans as
being brutal and cruel for still doing it. Our prisons are packed and
jails are profitable. A recent execution of a 76-year old Clarence Ray
Allen, again in California, had Europe in an uproar, according to the San
Francisco Chronicle. Allen was blind, nearly deaf, had diabetes and
suffered a heart attack last September, according to the article. He was
likely close to death anyway so his execution prompted some criticism.
The problem with the death penalty is uniformity. People feel stronger
about it when it comes to certain situations and feel more lenient towards
Frustration comes when people stand divided on moral and ethical aspects
of the procedure. How can we arrive at a solution on an issue with such a
huge impact? At the Hilltop, we think it is time to take a closer look at
the capabilities and limitations of the law. We need to explore its impact
and effectiveness, benefits and hindrances. If the death penalty is to
remain a part of our system, we need to be sure that it is uniform and
(source: Editorial, Howard University; The Hilltop)
Ruling in Va. Case Restores Death Penalty Option
The Virginia Supreme Court ruled yesterday that prosecutors can ask for
the death penalty in the case of a Vietnamese man accused of strangling a
Fairfax County woman and her 22-month-old daughter.
The ruling overturned a lower court decision that prohibited prosecutors
from seeking the execution of Dinh Pham, 34, of Annandale for the January
2004 killings of Loan P. Nguyen, 30, and her daughter, Ashley N. Ton.
Their bodies were found in a crawl space beneath the family's townhouse in
the Merrifield area.
This month, Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Leslie M. Alden threw out the
death penalty option, ruling that police violated Pham's rights under the
Vienna Convention by not informing him that he could contact his embassy.
The Vienna Convention, signed by the United States in 1969, was created to
provide legal protections for people arrested in another country.
But the Supreme Court ruled late yesterday that Alden had exceeded her
authority because she made a sentencing decision based on a motion filed
before the trial. Alden's decision came six days before the scheduled
start of Pham's capital murder trial.
"No statute . . . authorizes Judge Alden to exercise such sentencing
discretion in a pre-trial context," the court said. "In other words, the
action taken by Judge Alden was not within her discretion."
In directing Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. not to
seek the death penalty if Pham is convicted, "Judge Alden performed an
executive function and exercised discretion that resides solely in the
Commonwealth's Attorney," the court added. The court directed Alden to let
Horan seek the death penalty.
"We thought the court had exceeded its powers," Horan said. "That's why we
filed for the writ."
Paul A. Maslakowski, a capital public defender representing Pham, did not
return a call.
The case is the 2nd Fairfax slaying to prompt a legal battle over the
failure to notify a murder suspect of his Vienna Convention right to
consult with embassy or consular officials. In November, the U.S. Supreme
Court agreed to review the case of Honduras native Mario A. Bustillo,
convicted of a fatal beating in Springfield in 1997, because he also was
not told of his international treaty rights.
Horan has said Fairfax police have a written policy requiring them to
notify defendants of their Vienna Convention rights. In Pham's case,
homicide detectives sent a fax to the Vietnamese Embassy informing them of
Pham's arrest but did not tell Pham that he had the right to consult with
his country's officials.
Pham is charged with 1st-degree murder in the slaying of Nguyen and
capital murder in the premeditated killing of a child. He was arrested
Jan. 8, 2004, 1 day after Huy Huang Ton discovered the bodies of his wife
In an interview with Fairfax detectives and with a Vietnamese interpreter,
Pham said he went to the family's home on Lester Lee Court to steal money,
was surprised by Nguyen, strangled her with a belt and then strangled the
crying child, according to court records. Pham had worked for Ton, a
It was unclear yesterday when Pham's trial will begin.
(source: Washington Post)
Cop-slay suspect in court
A San Mateo County man charged with murdering an East Palo Alto police
officer made a brief appearance Wednesday in a packed Redwood City
courtroom, but did not enter a plea.
Alberto Alvarez, 22, is charged with murdering Officer Richard May, 38,
who was responding to a reported fight on University Avenue on Jan. 7.
Alvarez appeared briefly in San Mateo County Superior Court in a courtroom
filled to overflowing: the benches behind the prosecutor packed with May's
widow and family members and his fellow East Palo Alto officers, including
his chief; the defense side seating a small group of Alvarez's family
members and many more members of the press.
Neither group spoke to reporters after the brief hearing.
Alvarez was scheduled to enter a plea Wednesday but his attorney, Charles
Robinson, director of the San Mateo County Private Defender Program,
requested more time to review police documents before continuing. The
arraignment was rescheduled for Feb. 7 at 1:30 p.m.
Investigators have said May responded to the report of a fight at a
University Avenue taqueria and saw Alvarez, who police say was a known
gang member, leaving the scene.
Investigators have said May followed Alvarez in his car and then
confronted the defendant, who shot the father of 3, started to run, then
returned and shot him again before fleeing. The shooting was reported by a
teenage police Explorer riding with May, who died at the scene.
Alvarez could face the death penalty if convicted of the charges he
currently faces. Prosecutors have not yet said whether they will seek that
(source: San Francisco Chronicle)
California Assembly Sidelines a Moratorium on Executions
California lawmakers dashed the hopes of death penalty opponents on
Thursday by not acting on legislation that would have imposed a 2-year
moratorium on executions in the state.
The Assembly Appropriations Committee placed the bill on hold, essentially
killing it for the remainder of this legislative session, several
lawmakers said. The author of the bill, Assemblyman Paul Koretz, a
Democrat from West Hollywood, said he would probably introduce another
version of the bill after the June primary election, but Republican
opponents of a moratorium said they would fight that effort as well.
Mr. Koretz accused the Republicans of playing politics with his proposal.
"Unfortunately, the Republicans in California have turned this issue into
a political wedge," Mr. Koretz said. "And they did not give the bill a
Mr. Koretz said Democrats, who control both houses of the Legislature, did
not want to push the matter further until after the election.
"It has the potential to be used and misused in elections where state
Democrats are running this year," he said.
Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, a Republican from Orange County, said the bill's
demise had "nothing to do with politics."
"It has everything to do with a factual argument," Mr. Spitzer said, "that
the death penalty is not abused or unfairly carried out in California."
California is one of several states reviewing its use of the death
penalty, which is legal in 38 states. New Jersey, Illinois and Maryland
have imposed moratoriums, while in 2004 capital punishment in New York and
Kansas was declared unconstitutional.
The debate in California has picked up in recent months as the state
prepares to quicken the pace of executions and a blue-ribbon commission
studies, among other things, the state's prison system and the
effectiveness, accuracy and fairness of capital punishment.
Mr. Koretz's measure, Assembly Bill 1121, would have imposed a 24-month
moratorium beginning next January so that the Legislature could review the
recommendations of the blue-ribbon panel.
In the meantime, executions move forward. The state executed Clarence Ray
Allen, 76, on Tuesday. In 1980, while serving a life sentence for a 1974
killing, Mr. Allen ordered the killing of 3 people.
A judge on Wednesday set Feb. 21 as the execution date for Michael
Morales, 45, who would become the third death row inmate to die in three
months. Mr. Morales was sentenced to death for the rape and killing in
1981 of a 17-year-old woman.
(source: New York Times)
No Hiatus for Death Penalty----Assembly kills a bill that would have
temporarily halted executions. Democrats feared it could hurt them in
An effort to temporarily halt executions in California died in the
Legislature on Thursday when majority Democrats grew concerned that the
issue could tag the party's candidates as soft on crime in the fall
The measure, which would have created a moratorium while a special
commission studied the fairness of California's death penalty, had
received a good deal of attention during the campaign last year to stop
the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams. The co-founder of the Crips gang
in Los Angeles died by lethal injection on Dec. 13 for committing 4
But supporters of the moratorium, which could have lasted through 2008,
said they didn't have enough votes to get it through the 80-member
Assembly. Backers of the death penalty had hammered the idea as
unnecessary, insisting that California's appeals process had spared the
state from executing the innocent.
"There was a general consensus there was no reason to put people through a
very divisive and emotional vote if we couldn't get to the 41 votes," said
the sponsor, Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood).
He said Democrats were concerned about the Republicans' eagerness to use
the issue in elections, as well as a fear that it might become a topic for
Democratic Assembly members in primary races in June. Koretz said he hoped
to revive the idea later this year if he can round up enough support.
Assemblyman Todd Spitzer (R-Orange) said Democrats were "not going to fall
on their swords for an abstract concept" when Koretz had not shown "that
there is either injustices or inequities of the carrying out of the death
penalty in California."
Spitzer said the Democrats' action showed that they were becoming more
insecure about their stands on criminal justice issues. Democrats this
month have killed GOP proposals for harsher punishments for sex offenders
and child pornographers.
Rejecting the death penalty moratorium "is the first sign of any
reasonableness on public safety issues they've exhibited," he said.
California has executed 13 people since the death penalty was reinstated
in 1978, including Clarence Ray Allen, who was put to death Tuesday. There
are 646 others on death row; Michael Angelo Morales, who was convicted of
the 1981 rape and murder of a 17-year-old in Lodi, is next with a Feb. 21
execution date. Three others might be scheduled to die in 2006, which
would be an unusually high number for the state.
Moratorium proponents had cited six cases in which death penalty
convictions had been overturned in California, but none in which a person
had been wrongfully executed. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuez (D-Los
Angeles), who has been trying to focus lawmakers on subjects that appeal
to middle-class and independent voters, had not been enthusiastic about
the measure, several people familiar with the decision said.
"There was strong bipartisan opposition to the bill on policy grounds, and
this is simply reflecting where the state is on the issue," said Nuez's
spokesman, Steve Maviglio. "Good policy makes for good politics."
Koretz and four other Democrats had pressed for halting executions until
after the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice
finishes its examination of the way people are sentenced to die. The
panel, which was created by the state Senate in 2004, is charged with
taking a close look at why some people have been wrongfully convicted and
making recommendations by the end of 2007.
Ron Cottingham, president of the Peace Officers Research Assn. of
California, said the state's pre-execution review process was so laborious
that a moratorium was not necessary.
"California has one of the of the most intensive review processes in the
country," he said.
The bill, AB 1121, passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee last week
with a 4-2 vote along party lines. But the Assembly Appropriations
Committee declined on Thursday to pass it along to the entire Assembly
before the expiration of a deadline for the consideration of legislation
introduced last year.
Stefanie Faucher, program director of Death Penalty Focus, a statewide
nonprofit advocacy group based in San Francisco, said that although the
bill failed, the level of support it received was impressive given that
the Legislature has not tackled the death penalty in years.
"We came very close, so I think we'll likely see this issue pop up very
soon," she said. "California hasn't had many executions. As we see more
executions, we will probably see more close calls and more errors."
(source: Los Angeles Times)
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