[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, OHIO, IND., WYO., WASH.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Jan 25 10:55:49 CST 2006
UNCERTAIN JUSTICE----Efforts to determine whether a state has executed an
innocent man reflect the country's growing unease with capital punishment
The facts in Roger Keith Coleman's case were in many ways similar to those
of dozens of men exonerated in recent years after having been convicted of
rape and murder and sentenced to long prison terms or death row. The
crucial difference in Coleman's case is that he had been executed.
Before leaving office, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner ordered DNA testing that
death penalty opponents hoped would prove Coleman was innocent of the 1981
rape and murder of Wanda McCoy, the crime for which the coal miner died in
the electric chair in 1992.
The test results showed that bodily fluids left at the crime scene
perfectly matched Coleman's DNA. According to the best science available,
Coleman almost certainly was guilty of McCoy's brutal murder.
Coleman's attorney worked without pay for years to fulfill a promise that
he would seek to clear his name. A negative DNA match, he believed, would
have provided the nation's first incontrovertible scientific proof that a
state had sent the wrong man to his death.
In Coleman's case, Virginia got the right man. Death penalty opponents had
counted on the test to give them a powerful argument to add to the
mounting case against capital punishment as exacted in the United States.
The DNA confirmation of Coleman's guilt, however, does not diminish the
concern that innocent defendants have been wrongly convicted. In Texas
this week, a dogged attorney's persistence paid off when, after three
years of searching for biological material to test, a DNA test showed that
Arthur Mumphrey of Montgomery County was not guilty of a 1986 sexual
assault of a 13-year-old girl. Having served 18 years in prison, Mumphrey
is expected to be pardoned.
Polls show most Americans support the death penalty, but their support is
waning. That decline, from 80 % in 1994 to around 64 % now, is attributed
to the frequency with which legal aid organizations have used DNA testing
to prove miscarriages of justice.
The Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic that works to exonerate
the wrongly convicted, lists on its Web site 172 DNA exonerations since
1989, including two Texans pardoned for actual innocence last month by
Gov. Rick Perry: Entre Nax Karage, who served seven years of a life
sentence for murder, and Keith E. Turner, who served four years of a
20-year sentence for aggravated sexual assault.
State lawmakers also are beginning to doubt the infallibility of capital
justice. New Jersey legislators passed a moratorium on that state's
criminal executions pending a review of the costs and fairness of
application. Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey signed the bill Jan. 12 before
The state of Illinois maintains a moratorium on executions. Maryland had a
moratorium but lifted it. The Associated Press reports that 12 of the 38
states that permit capital punishment have appointed death penalty study
Texas is not considering a moratorium on executions, but it should. This
state's death row holds 410 prisoners; 19 were executed last year. That
represented nearly 1/3 of all U.S. executions in 2005. Yet the guilt of a
number of Texas capital offenders, including one juvenile offender already
put to death, is in dispute.
Death row inmate Anthony Graves was convicted of murder primarily on the
testimony of a man who recanted many times over before Graves was executed
in 2000 for his role in the crime. Ruben Cantu, executed in 1993, was 17
at the time of the murder for which he received the death penalty. Like
Graves', Cantu's conviction was based almost purely on the now-recanted
testimony of one man.
Harris County sends more people to death row than any other Texas
jurisdiction. It remains to be seen how many of those convictions might
have been tainted by the shoddy work of Houston Police Department crime
One might question how meaningful a moratorium on executions will be in
New Jersey, where only 10 prisoners reside on death row and the last
execution took place in 1963. There's no question, however, that taking a
capital punishment time-out in Texas to examine disputed cases could avoid
the ultimate miscarriage of justice.
(source: Editorial, Houston Chronicle, Jan. 23)
Emotions flow at Benner clemency hearing--Relatives of 2 victims speak
against convicted killer, who is scheduled to be executed
Rodney Bowser fought to compose himself as he talked Tuesday about his
"baby sister" Trina, 1of 2 young women Glenn L. Benner II murdered nearly
20 years ago.
His voice broke. He took deep breaths. He paused in mid-sentence. "I have
an image of my sister that has been permanently burned into my brain,"
said Bowser, who, along with his parents, found Trina's partially clothed
body in the trunk of her burning car in January 1986.
Bowser stopped again, staring at the typewritten sheet before him.
"I'm done. I'm sorry," he said, throwing the paper on the desk in front of
him, sobs wracking his body.
Bowser was one of six people who spoke against Benner during an emotional,
hourlong clemency hearing Tuesday in Columbus. It was obvious the passing
of nearly 2 decades hasn't eased the pain of the family of Trina Bowser
and Cynthia Sedgwick, the 2 Northeast Ohio women Benner was convicted of
raping and murdering during a 5-month period in 1985 and 1986.
Benner, now 43, who grew up in Springfield Township, was sentenced to
death for raping and murdering Bowser, 21, of Tallmadge, and Sedgwick, 26,
of Cleveland Heights. He was also convicted of attacking 3 other women.
Family members said they want Benner to be executed. He was called an
"angel of Satan" Tuesday.
"Give us physical relief to the mental anguish that will live with us
forever," said James Sedgwick, Cynthia's father, who mentioned in a letter
to the Ohio Parole Board that his daughter had to have a closed casket
because her body -- found in the woods near Blossom Music Center in August
1985 -- was so severely decomposed.
Sedgwick wrote that he wanted a lock of his daughter's hair, but the
undertaker told him there wasn't any.
Execution Feb. 7
Benner waived the clemency hearing but the state was required to conduct
it anyway. He is to die by lethal injection on Feb. 7.
The board is expected to submit its report to Gov. Bob Taft on Monday.
Taft has given only one death-row inmate clemency during his seven years
in office. That inmate's sentence was commuted to life in prison. Phil
Bogdanoff, an assistant Summit County prosecutor, called Benner a serial
rapist and serial killer.
"The defendant killed for one reason: He did not want to get caught,"
Bogdanoff said. "He wanted to continue to rape and kill."
Bogdanoff said there is no doubt of Benner's guilt. DNA testing done in
July 2003 positively identified Benner as Bowser's killer and rapist.
Bogdanoff complained because Benner's appeals have gone on for so long. He
said Assistant Summit County Prosecutor Judith Bandy and several judges
involved with Benner's case are now dead.
"There's something wrong with a judicial system when the prosecutors and
judges are deceased before their sentence is carried out," he said.
Assistant Attorney General Michael Collyer said Benner has a below-average
IQ -- not low enough, though, that he would be considered mentally
retarded. He said a neurologist tested Benner and found that he had no
Compared to other prison inmates, he's not in the ballpark for receiving
clemency," Collyer said.
During the testimony, Sandra Mack, a member of the Ohio Parole Board that
conducted the clemency hearing, said she saw no reason Benner should be
spared from execution.
"To me, this just boils down to pure evil," she said.
Nephew speaks out
Scott Bowser, Trina's nephew, showed a PowerPoint presentation with
pictures and information about his aunt's life. He talked about how she
was a good student, dreamed of being a teacher and took time to mow the
grass for an elderly neighbor. His voice cracked as he named her nieces,
nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews -- many of whom Trina never met.
"As you can see, Trina was a beautiful person," said Bowser, who was 7
when his aunt was killed. "The kind of person who would gladly put herself
before others. The kind of person who family members would gladly call
daughter, sister, niece, aunt and friend."
During this presentation, Rodney Bowser sat a few chairs away, plugging
his ears with his fingers and staring at the desk in front of him. Several
other family members, who took up half of the hearing room, wiped tears
from their cheeks or blew their noses.
One of Benner's surviving victims, whom he repeatedly raped in September
1985 after breaking into her Goodyear Heights home, attended the hearing
but did not testify.
Several dozen people wrote letters to the state in the past few weeks,
urging that Benner be denied clemency. The list included Tallmadge Police
Chief John Kafka, who helped investigate Benner's crimes.
"I can think of no more fitting end than his own demise," wrote Kafka, who
requested to witness Benner's execution. "My only regret is the manner of
his execution. He warrants a much more terrifying death. He certainly
provided this to his victims 20 years ago."
Attorney won't file last-minute appeals----Killer declines to participate
in clemency hearing
Convicted killer Glenn L. Benner II made good on his promise Tuesday and
didn't participate in his clemency hearing, which may have been his last
chance to escape death.
No one spoke on behalf of Benner, who is to be executed Feb. 7 by lethal
injection. He had waived his right to the hearing, but the state was
required to hold one anyway.
"His main focus in a lot of this is a more open process, to allow the
opportunity to allow evidence he had changed," Kate McGarry, Benner's
attorney said in a phone interview from New Mexico, where she lives. "The
clemency process focuses on the facts of the crime. He feels there is no
reason to request clemency in the state of Ohio."
Benner, now 43, formerly of Springfield Township, was sentenced to death
for the rapes and murders of two Northeast Ohio women in 1985 and 1986. He
was also convicted of attacking three other women and was implicated, but
never charged, in the rape of a Stow woman.
In the murders and attacks, Benner strangled or attempted to strangle his
McGarry, formerly a public defender in Ohio, declined to elaborate on how
Benner has changed. She did say he has caused no problems in prison.
McGarry said she won't be filing any last-minute appeals on Benner's
Benner wrote to the attorney general's office in December, saying he did
not want a clemency hearing. Besides raising concerns about the process,
he said he was worried about causing his victims' families more pain.
"Also I feel that my participation in a clemency hearing would add further
stress to those already suffering because of my actions, and I do not want
to do this to anyone," he wrote.
Benner recently released a statement saying he would not grant any
"I will not comment further, other than I underestimated the power of
drugs and in doing so I committed horrific crimes and caused untold and
unimaginable pain to many people -- both to people who knew and loved me,
and to people to whom I was a terrifying, dangerous stranger," he wrote.
Benner said he will address the families of the 2 women he murdered --
Trina Bowser and Cynthia Sedgwick -- at his execution.
A psychological evaluation of Benner before his trial found that he
regularly abused alcohol and marijuana, experimented with other drugs, and
was probably under the influence when he committed his crimes.
"It is quite likely that he was in a state of intoxication, which would be
expected to reduce his behavior controls," Dr. James Siddall, a Norton
psychologist, wrote in his evaluation.
McGarry said Benner partly faults substance abuse for his actions. "He
doesn't blame anybody but himself," she said. "He admits that drugs had a
lot to do with the behavior that went on."
If Benner had his way, McGarry said, he would prefer no coverage of his
"That would be fine with him, frankly," she said.
Letter from Glenn L. Benner II to clemency board
Editor's note: The following is the letter convicted murderer Glenn Benner
II, who is scheduled to be executed Feb. 7, sent to the state saying he
did not want a clemency hearing.
Dec. 28, 2005
Michael L. Collyer
Assistant Attorney General
State Office Building
615 West Superior Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44113-1899
RE: DEATH ROW INMATE GLENN L. BENNER II WILL NOT SEEK CLEMENCY NOR WILL I
PARTICIPATE IN THE PROCESS ALTOGETHER
Dear Mr. Collyer,
It is with respect that I wish to elaborate on my decision not to seek or
participate in a clemency hearing.
I originally thought that clemency was a way of administering Justice with
Mercy, as per Christian teachings, but I have seen in recent rulings that
the decisions of the Parole Board and the Governor not to grant clemency
seem to have been based on the nature of the crime which was committed,
not on whether or not the person facing execution has changed enough to
deserve a sentence other than that of death. I know that I have changed,
and I am now a new person, but sadly I am unable to change the past, so
there does not seem to be point in participating in such a hearing. Also I
feel that my participation in a clemency hearing would add further stress
to those already suffering because of my actions, and I do not want to do
this to anyone. I do of course understand that the Bowser and Sedgwick
families may wish to participate in a hearing in order to express how they
feel, and that is their prerogative, and I will respect that. I just want
them to know that I will do nothing personally to add to their pain.
Glenn L. Benner II, #A190-672
Ohio State Penitentiary
878 Coitsville-Hubbard Road
Youngstown, Ohio 44505
(source for both: Akron Beacon Journal)
Execution-witness bill goes to Senate
Murder victims families would be allowed to witness the executions of
inmates condemned to die for the killings if a bill advanced by a Senate
committee Tuesday becomes law.
Currently, condemned inmates decide who witnesses their executions. Family
members of victims are not allowed to attend unless a condemned defendant
grants them permission.
Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne, said families should have the right to see
the person convicted of killing their loved ones put to death.
"It's a matter of closure for some people," Wyss said.
The bill would allow up to 8 members of a murder victims family to witness
an execution. Inmates would select 5 witnesses instead of the 10 allowed
Marvin Bieghler was scheduled to die Friday for the execution-style
slayings of a Howard County couple in 1981. The witness list for that
execution would not be affected by the bill. If the legislation becomes
law, it would not take effect until July 1.
Witness space is limited at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City
where inmates are executed by chemical injection, said Randy Koester with
the Indiana Department of Correction.
The witness room - a long, narrow space with a picture window - would be
divided, if the bill passes, so families of inmates and victims could be
separated, Koester said.
Koester said many other states with the death penalty allow victims'
families to witness executions.
The Indiana Catholic Conference is against the bill. The group says
closure for victims families can only come from reconciliation and
forgiveness, not anger and revenge.
"Dying is a sacred time and deserves to be respected as sacred, even for
those who have committed heinous acts," the group said in its policy
statement about the bill. "Our view is that the state should protect the
dignity of life, especially at personal and sacred moments."
Wyss said he does not expect more family members wanting to watch
executions if the bill passes. But he said they should have the option
without asking permission from the condemned inmate.
"I don't see this as a matter of revenge," he said. (source: Associated
Judge: State has authority in case
Maps appearing to show Riverton within the boundary of the Wind River
Indian Reservation do not illustrate who has jurisdiction within the city,
District Judge David Park said Monday afternoon. Park denied two motions
questioning the states ability to charge Andrew John Yellowbear with
first-degree murder in connection with the July 2004 death in Riverton of
his 22-month-old daughter, Marcella Hope Yellowbear.
Marion Yoder, a Wyoming public defender, showed various federal and state
maps as she argued the state lacks authority in the case. This line of
argument would place the case in the federal court system, where
Yellowbear would not face the death penalty. Fremont County prosecutors
are seeking the death penalty for Yellowbear.
Yoder joined defense attorneys Diane Lozano and Terry Rogers on Monday for
what was one of the final hearings scheduled before Yellowbears trial
opens in early March. Park, a judge from Wyomings 7th Judicial District
who was assigned to the case, denied or suspended judgment on several
motions made by the defense.
The case has taken a number of twists. Marcella Yellowbear died July 2,
2004, and investigators said they found evidence she had endured weeks of
Macalia Blackburn, the girls mother, initially told police she was
responsible for the childs injuries. Blackburn changed her account days
later, according to reports, and she and Yellowbear were charged jointly
in the girls death. Blackburn later admitted to a reduced charge of being
an accessory to 2nd-degree murder.
Lozano referred to what she said is the "weird part" of this plea and the
fact her client still faces a 1st-degree murder charge. "Who is she an
accessory to?" Lozano asked.
Park denied a motion that pointed to what the defense said was an
inconsistency represented with these charges. He suspended judgment on a
separate motion that would have the death penalty ruled out as a possible
sentence in the case as a result of the murder charge resting on
allegations of child abuse.
Fremont County Attorney Ed Newell argued against claims the state lacks
jurisdiction in Yellowbears case. He said the maps Yoder presented were
"cherry-picked" and called on Riverton's city administrator and police
chief to talk about the range of duties they typically perform in the city
without looking to reservation rules.
Newell said case law that appears to suggest some sharing of jurisdiction
does not apply to criminal cases.
"In the criminal context, Riverton is not Indian Country," Newell said.
Yellowbear's attorneys had argued that because he and his daughter were
enrolled members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, and the alleged crime took
place in Riverton -- which the defense argued is "Indian Country" -- the
case should not be handled in state court.
(source: Casper Star Tribune)
State should study chipping in to help local government
Yakima County officials make a good case when they argue for more state
funding of county operations, particularly the law and justice system they
say now takes about 80 % of the county budget.
Local government - counties in particular - continues to limp along with
outdated funding systems that can't keep up with modern-day demands on
services. Bill Vogler, executive director of the Washington State
Association of Counties, told our reporter that the state's tax system for
counties is flawed because the primary revenue sources are property taxes
and the sales tax.
Consider then that in Yakima County only about 23 % of the county's land
base is taxable because of the large-scale nontaxable presence of
everything from the Yakama Nation reservation to the Yakima Training
Center and federal forest lands.
And while county voters stepped up last year to approve a special 3/10 of
a percent hike in the local sales tax for law and justice, it is not the
kind of broad-based revenue needed to fund county programs, many of which
carry state mandates of one kind or another.
That said, we don't expect any major new money-raising mechanisms to come
out of this 60-day, off-year session in Olympia. But lawmakers could put
together a task force to look into new ways of doing business with local
government and report back in regular budget-writing session in 2007.
Gerry Alexander, chief justice of the state Supreme Court, is promoting
more state responsibility for trial courts. That's certainly one aspect of
the system that needs attention, especially given the large number of
expensive felony cases wending their way through county courts.
Death-penalty cases are particularly onerous for county coffers and 2
defendants in county custody as of last week could face death penalty
trials. There may be more and the going rate is about $1 million each.
In a presession letter to legislative leaders earlier this month,
Alexander pointed out that an earlier finding of a Trial Court Funding
Task Force was a need for a "rebalancing of responsibility for the funding
of trial courts so that the state government contributes in a more
equitable way, along with local government, to the operations of the
superior, district, and municipal courts."
"As an example of the current funding imbalance, in 2003 Washington State
ranked 50th of the 50 states in terms of funding for its trial courts,
prosecution and indigent defense, with less than 3/10 of 1 % of the
state's budget dedicated to the funding of the judicial branch of
government," Alexander wrote.
Little wonder counties are strapped.
Some progress was made in last year's session, Alexander noted, but more
remains to be addressed. Since the courts are agents of the state,
upholding state laws and the state Constitution, that is not an
As Yakima County Commission Chairman Jesse Palacios told our reporter, the
limited tax base makes financing local government difficult.
"It creates a real financial problem for us. Maybe the state should look
at us differently than the more affluent counties. There is a difference
between Medina and Mabton," he said. Medina is the affluent Seattle suburb
that is home to Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates.
We agree. It's time for state leaders to look at a new system with a
broader base. The interim before next January's regular session is a good
time to do it.
(source: Editorial, The Yakima Herald-Republic)
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