[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, ALA., USA, N.C., VA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Jan 28 21:55:02 CST 2006
Why not use DNA tests to confirm, overturn convictions?
The truth, helped by DNA, is setting people free.
Last week, Arthur Mumphrey of Montgomery County near Houston was released
from prison after DNA tests proved he didn't commit the 1986 sexual
assault that put him behind bars for 18 years.
In the past year, about 20 people have been exonerated by forensic
testing, according to the Innocence Project. That is nearly 2 people per
month. But recent DNA testing also proved that Virginia executed the right
perpetrator in 1992. In that case, Roger Keith Coleman went to his death
proclaiming his innocence in the 1981 rape and murder of Wanda McCoy.
Death penalty opponents had raised serious doubts about whether Coleman
did the crime. Rather than learn the truth through advanced DNA tests, the
state of Virginia resisted, which only increased doubts about the case.
The controversy swirled for years until then-Gov. Mark Warner ordered
posthumous forensic tests. The tests proved conclusively that Coleman did
the crime. DNA brought truth to the case, and the public was reassured
that Virginia got the right man.
Prosecutors have been able to identify the true criminals in many cases
because of technological advances that weren't available years ago. And
the technology has helped exonerate people who were wrongly convicted and
imprisoned. In the Mumphrey case, it was a younger brother who likely
committed the crime, legal officials said. Last month, Gov. Rick Perry
issued pardons for two innocent men exonerated by DNA: Keith Edward Turner
spent 20 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit; Entre Nax Karage was
convicted of murder and was imprisoned from 1997 to 2004.
New technology has made it possible to learn the truth in many cases. Yet
states - including Texas - have been slow to employ wide use of
post-conviction DNA testing. In Texas, defense lawyers say that it remains
too difficult to get such tests if prosecutors object. That's absurd. As
publicly elected officials charged with seeking and obtaining justice,
prosecutors should have a strong interest in ensuring that the right
people are punished for the crime.
Since 1989, more than 170 people nationwide have been exonerated based on
DNA evidence. Of those, 14 spent time on death row. Some were within hours
of being executed.
We should not be afraid to seek the truth, and forensic testing is the
best way to do that in many old and new cases. State leaders must confront
the fact that the criminal justice system is as flawed as any other
government program. They should follow the lead of former Virginia
governor Warner who before leaving office this year, ordered blanket DNA
testing of old cases. Warner understood that the same public that supports
tough sentencing and capital punishment also wants its system to be fair
and just. Under his leadership, Virginia passed a law requiring that DNA
evidence be preserved in death penalty cases.
Mumphrey wasn't guilty of raping the 13-year-old girl, but DNA testing was
not available then. It is now. Texas should use it.
(source: Editorial, Austin American-Statesman)
Too certain, to be sure
Everyone should share Clay Crenshaw's confidence, his utter conviction
that Alabama hasn't executed and won't execute the wrong person for a
But everyone doesn't.
Many people and organizations who have studied the issue, including The
News' editorial board, have reached the frightening conclusion that our
state's system of capital punishment is the direct opposite of fair and
foolproof. Even a poll that found Alabamians strongly support the death
penalty revealed an even bigger majority - 80 % - believes the state might
put an innocent person to death.
Yet Crenshaw, who heads the state attorney general's capital appeals
office, can say without the tiniest hesitation those fears are misplaced.
"No innocent people have been executed in Alabama," Crenshaw on Wednesday
told a Senate committee considering bills to install more safeguards in
death penalty cases.
When state Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, questioned his absolute
certainty, Crenshaw didn't budge: "I do know that," he said.
Because every person who has ever been executed in Alabama got a bang-up
defense? Because there has never been any doubt about the guilt of a
person executed in Alabama? Because there has never been any hint of
infallibility in our justice system?
Tell that to the tube-tied woman convicted of murder in Choctaw County for
killing an infant she couldn't have possibly conceived.
Indeed, one thing science is making more and more clear is how very
fallible our justice system can be. DNA evidence has exonerated people who
were positively identified by confident eyewitnesses, who were seemingly
nailed by airtight evidence, who have confessed to the crime. Some of
these spent years and even decades in jail.
Yes, death-penalty cases get more attention from appeals courts than most
cases. Yes, they are often overturned on those appeals. Yes, some on death
row have been exonerated outright before they were put to death.
But to think Alabama's haphazard and low-budget system will correct every
injustice before it's too late - we're talking with 100 % accuracy -
requires a leap of faith we haven't seen since Peter walked on water.
There can be no margin of error when we're talking about a sentence as
irreversible as death.
That's why, at the very least, the moratorium bill pending in the Senate
must be passed.
State Sen. Hank Sanders' bill would call a three-year halt on executions
while Alabama studies and addresses the serious flaws in our death penalty
system - particularly the serious doubts about its reliability.
Then, perhaps, there'd be more reason for Crenshaw's confidence and more
reason for the rest of us to share it.
(source: Birmingham News)
"Truth Be Told: Life Lessons from Death Row"
Truth Be Told: Life Lessons From Death Row features correspondence between
Agnes Vadas and Richard Nields, who is on death row in Ohio. The book
contains letters exchanged between the 2 over 6 years. They discuss a wide
range of topics, including life on death row, how they have coped with
challenges in life, and the lessons they have learned from hardship. Agnes
Vadas is a musician and human rights activist from Washington.
(source: Death Penalty Information Center)
The scheduled execution of Patrick Lane Moody in March (news item, Jan.
27) is a clear example of how unfairly the death penalty is often
administered in our state.
Moody was the perpetrator of a homicide and has confessed. However, it was
the victim's wife who hired him to commit the murder for monetary gain.
She convinced him that her husband was abusing her. Moody is borderline
retarded and suffered extreme abuse as a child, which made him susceptible
to the story of a battered wife unable to escape a brutal husband.
The victim's wife, who had tried to hire several others to kill her
husband, is serving a life sentence. Moody, who might have thought he was
saving this woman's life, is scheduled to be executed March 17.
Both of these people are guilty of a heinous crime, but the question to
ask ourselves before we take another life is whether justice has been
(source: Letter to the Editor, The News & Observer)
N.C. Episcopal Diocese calls for end to death penalty
The Episcopal Diocese representing central North Carolina approved a
resolution Saturday calling on the governor and General Assembly to
abolish the state's use of the death penalty.
"Imposing the death penalty precludes people coming to reconciliation
seeking forgiveness," Hal T. Hayek, chairman of the convention's faith and
morals committee, said after the vote.
The resolution asks state leaders "to commute the sentences of those
already sentenced to die at the hands of the State."
A resolution that called for commuting all death-row sentences to life in
prison without parole was defeated, Hall said.
The vote among some 600 delegates was "overwhelmingly" in favor of the
resolution, he said, adding that delegates voted by holding up a colored
Delegates want state leaders to take up the proposal during the next
legislative session that begins in May.
"We don't want (the resolution) to just sit out there, we want them to
step up to the plate now," Hall said.
A 20-member state House Select Study Committee is examining the fairness
of North Carolina's death penalty.
House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, created the committee when a bill
seeking a two-year moratorium on carrying out executions during a death
penalty study failed to reach a vote last year.
In 2003, the state Senate became the 1st legislative body in the South to
approve such a moratorium.
Another resolution passed during the diocese's annual convention affirms
the denomination's "solidarity with all who suffer and with all Christians
in all places who are persecuted because of their faith," in particular
Uganda, it said.
(source: Associated Press)
Death penalty foe joins Crespi defenseJudge appointing 2nd lawyer to
represent father of slain twins
Charlotte lawyer Jim Cooney, a devout Catholic and death penalty opponent,
is being appointed to defend David Crespi, who's accused of stabbing his
twin 5-year-old daughters to death.
Cooney, a private attorney, will join Mecklenburg Assistant Public
Defender Jean Lawson, said Danielle Carman of the state's N.C.'s Indigent
Cooney is considered a death penalty expert. He helped get Alan Gell off
North Carolina's death row in 2002 and won him a retrial, in which he was
acquitted. Cooney also has defended some of the state's most notorious
murderers, including Fred Coffey, convicted in 1979 of killing a
10-year-old. Cooney worked to get Coffey's death sentence overturned. He's
serving life in prison.
Cooney persuaded a jury to spare the life of Allen Gaines, convicted of
killing a police officer in 1991. And he represented Henry Louis Wallace,
who is on death row for the murders of nine Charlotte women in the early
On Monday, District Court Judge Phil Howerton ordered a public defender be
appointed to defend Crespi, a Wachovia bank executive, in the 2 1st-degree
The court can revisit whether Crespi qualifies for a state-funded defense,
said the state's Carman. Howerton made the appointment because Crespi had
not hired an attorney and, because of his mental state, may have been
unable to complete the paperwork to determine whether he qualifies, she
The state does not have specific guidelines defining indigent, Carman
said, but provides counsel to anyone "who is financially unable to afford
the expense of legal representation."
She said the state can recoup money spent on lawyers if Crespi isn't
Crespi's case could be capital, though prosecutors have said it will be
weeks before they decide whether to seek the death penalty.
He was arrested Jan. 20 after a police dispatcher told officers a man,
later identified as Crespi, had called 911 and said he had stabbed his
daughters and was about to kill himself. Crespi's twins, Tessara and
Samantha, were found dead in the family's southeast Mecklenburg home.
Crespi was unharmed. He has been on suicide watch since his arrest and was
sent Tuesday to a state prison hospital.
Public defender Lawson, who was put on the Crespi case Monday, represented
Van Brett Watkins, the man who admitted shooting Cherica Adams when she
was 8 months pregnant in November 1999. Watkins was sentenced to 40 years
in prison for killing Adams, who had been carrying the baby of former
Carolina Panthers player Rae Carruth.
(source: Charlotte Observer)
Court upholds death penalty
Former Wagram Town Commissioner Jimmy McNeill was properly convicted and
sentenced to death for killing his wife, the state Supreme Court ruled
McNeill, 52, emptied a rifle into his wife, Shirley Ann McNeill, 6 years
According to court records, Jimmy McNeill was upset because he and Shirley
had separated after many troubled years and she had started dating someone
Jimmy McNeill drank heavily, the record says, and he called Shirley
repeatedly. On the day of the murder he had followed her and threatened to
kill her, but she did not believe him.
The record says that evening, Shirley McNeill drove a friend home from
work. Jimmy McNeill followed them to the co-workers house and blocked
Shirley McNeills car in the driveway.
Jimmy McNeill walked up and shot Shirley McNeill in the chest, the record
says. She got out and tried to run away, beging for her life as he fired
all 16 cartridges in his rifle.
At least 8 of the shots were into Shirley McNeills back as she lay
face-down on the ground.
The autopsy found that one of the shots struck her ring finger where her
wedding band would have been.
After shooting Shirley McNeill, he kicked her and drove away, the record
The shooting was witnessed by the co-worker, a neighbor and 6 or 7
neighborhood children who were playing nearby before the shooting.
Jimmy McNeill was arrested that evening. He was sentenced to death on July
The law requires every death sentence case to be appealed to the state
In his appeal, McNeill said said there were mistakes in the presentation
of the trials closing statements to the jury, that he had bad lawyers and
that the murder was not atrocious or cruel enough to warrant the death
The N.C. Supreme Court ruled that there were no mistakes in the trial and
his lawyers were qualified.
The Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty is warranted under North
Carolina law because of the number of shots Jimmy McNeill fired, his lack
of mercy as Shirley McNeill pleaded for her life, the psychological
scarring the murder inflicted on the witnesses, the shooting of Shirleys
ring finger and the fact that he kicked her and left her for dead after he
ran out of bullets.
(source: Fayetteville News)
Death Penalty Still an Option
2 weeks after Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Leslie M. Alden
prohibited the death penalty in the upcoming trial against Dinh Pham, the
Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty is still an option.
Pham is charged with the murder of Loan P. Nguyen and the capital murder
of her daughter Ashley N. Ton, of Merrifield.
On Jan. 3, 2006, Judge Alden granted Pham's motion to prohibit the death
penalty in his upcoming murder trial because his rights were violated
under the Vienna Convention. Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr.
appealed immediately to the Virginia Supreme Court.
Alden's ruling would have precluded prosecutors from seeking the death
penalty even if he is found guilty of capital murder, according to the
court's ruling on Jan. 19, 2006.
"Judge Alden's pre-trial order not only eliminated one of the statutorily
prescribed sentences that could be imposed if Pham is found guilty of
capital murder, but her ruling is tantamount to a refusal by Judge Alden
to conduct a penalty phase hearing at which 'future dangerousness' and
'vileness' aggravating factors would be at issue," states the ruling.
Although the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Alden does not have the
authority to make sentencing decisions when ruling on a pre-trial motion,
she would have the authority to decide whether to impose the death penalty
if a jury fixes Pham's punishment at death or if the case is tried without
During a hearing last Friday in Fairfax County Circuit Court, Alden set
March 27 as the new date for Pham's trial.
(source: Vienna/Oakton Connection
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