[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----KAN., MICH., USA, PENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Jun 26 17:03:30 UTC 2006
Alito Breaks Tie, Kan. Death Penalty Stays
New Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito broke a tie Monday to rule that
Kansas' death penalty law is constitutional.
By a 5-to-4 vote, the justices said the Kansas Supreme Court incorrectly
interpreted the Eighth Amendment's protection against cruel and unusual
punishment to strike down the state's death penalty statute.
The dissenters, the four liberal members of the high court, bitterly
complained about the decision.
The Kansas court said the state's death penalty law improperly forced
jurors to impose a capital sentence even if they believed that the
prosecution and defense evidence were equal in weight.
But the justices disagreed. Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence
Thomas disputed the claim by critics that the law created "a general
presumption in favor of the death penalty in the state of Kansas."
The ruling affirms the court's long-held position that states should
determine how juries weigh factors presented by the prosecution and
defense in capital cases.
15 states filed friend-of-the-court briefs, predicting that a ruling in
convicted murderer Michael Lee Marsh's favor would have required states
with capital punishment to set up systems for juries to weigh evidence at
But Justice David H. Souter, writing one of two dissents, said that "in
the face of evidence of the hazards of capital prosecution," maintaining a
system like the one in Kansas "is obtuse by any moral or social measure."
Marsh was convicted in the June 1996 killings of Marry Pusch and her
19-month-old daughter, M.P. Marsh confessed that he had been waiting in
Pusch's house when she and her child came home. Pusch was shot, stabbed
and her throat was slit. Her body was set on fire. M.P. died several days
later from severe burns.
The Kansas court used Marsh's case to find the state's death penalty
statute unconstitutional because it could force juries to impose death
sentences if aggravating evidence of a crime's brutality and mitigating
factors explaining a defendant's actions are equal in weight.
The case is Kansas v. Marsh, 04-1170.
(source: Associated Press)
Why the death penalty won't work
It seems every few years or so legislation is introduced that would lead
to the death penalty in Michigan.
Well, it's happening again.
State Rep. Dan Acciavatti, a Republican from Macomb County, has introduced
a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the death penalty to
be considered in first-degree murder cases.
Michigan is 1 of 12 states that doesn't allow capital punishment. The
state ban has existed since Michigan first became a state in 1837.
There are several levels to this debate.
Are state-sponsored executions moral?
What are the costs of executing murderers compared to the costs of
imprisoning them the rest of their lives?
Is capital punishment a deterrent to violent crime?
When dealing with human lives, this should not be a dollars and cents
issue. The costs of housing prisoners is expensive, but as a society that
is the choice we make in order to be civilized.
Morality debates are important, but we could spend the next 50 years
arguing over what is and isn't moral.
In the business of deciding how to punish criminals, this is the bottom
line: does the death penalty deter violent crime?
We don't believe it does.
We feel if someone is of the mindset to kill another human being, or if
drugs have forced them to a life a violence, or if a fit of rage leads to
a violent moment, then neither life in prison or the death penalty will
We simply believe the person who finds herself or himself at that place in
life cannot connect the dots. They are either unable or are so vicious
that reason simply isn't part of the equation.
The death penalty is not a deterrent. And if it's not, then in adopting it
we would be doing so for all the wrong reasons.
(source: Editorial, Escanaba Daily Press)
Killing people softly
Some medical experts assert that advances in the technique of lethal
injection could make execution of prisoners less painful, which in turn
could undermine the argument of death penalty opponents that injecting
prisoners with fatal doses of drugs is "cruel and unusual" punishment and
forbidden by the Constitution. If anything, finding ways to "kill people
softly" to make it easier for the state to send people to their deaths
only heightens the barbarity of capital punishment.
According to a New York Times report last week, forensic pathologists
knowledgeable in the process of lethal injection believe changes in the
3-drug mixture now in widespread use, specifically a greater reliance upon
a major overdose of barbiturates, would enable those sentenced to death to
suffer less in the process. The current process is actually designed to
make lethal injection less painful for witnesses to watch than for the
convicted prisoner to endure. Pavulon paralyzes the prisoner so he will
not show the effects of deadly barbiturate injections, which can cause
noticeable convulsions. There is no way to know if the prisoner is
suffering while paralyzed by Pavulon, but the witnesses are not.
This discussion itself exposes the barbarity of capital punishment.
Changes in the lethal injection process please death penalty advocates not
because those convicted will suffer less but because lawsuits stalling
executions in many states on the grounds that lethal injection is cruel
and unusual will be undermined. This is the kind of cynicism that results
whenever government gets involved in killing, whether of convicted
criminals or foes in ill-considered foreign wars.
Recent advances in collecting and analyzing DNA evidence - a scientific
effort that actually should be pursued - have saved many prisoners on
death row from being executed for crimes that they did not commit.
Governor Romney's effort in Massachusetts to install a "fool-proof" death
penalty failed because the Legislature was wise enough to know that the
death penalty can't in any way be made fool-proof. If someone is found to
have been jailed unfairly he or she can be released and compensated in
some fashion. There is no undoing a death penalty.
No one should trust government with the power of life and death over its
citizens, least of all conservatives who ordinarily mistrust big
government but are generally supportive of the death penalty. Rather than
find ways to make it easier for government to kill prisoners, let's
continue to work on laws that sentence the deserving to life in prison
without the possibility of parole.
(source: Editorial, Berkshire Eagle)
GET IT RIGHT
Nearly 200 major criminal convictions have been over turned through the
use of DNA testing nationally, and at least three midstate people serving
time for murder either have been released from prison or have strong
grounds for a new trial as a result of this science.
The statistics alone bear out the majority in a 5-3 U.S. Supreme Court
ruling that expands the ability of death row inmates to challenge their
convictions based on DNA evidence produced after their trials.
The high court's ruling -- its first in a post-conviction appeal involving
DNA analysis -- came in the case of a Tennessee man denied a new trial for
a 20-year-old murder/rape conviction even though new DNA evi dence raised
serious ques tions about both his in volvement and motive. A U.S. District
Court judge ruled the man hadn't demonstrated that the new findings
probably resulted in the "conviction of one who is actually innocent."
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the Supreme Court majority, said
the lower court placed too great a burden on the defendant. Kennedy said
it wasn't the court's role in such appeals to determine guilt or
innocence, but rather to weigh whether the evidence might have raised
reasonable doubt in a jury's mind.
That reasoning seems so eminently in line with basic tenets of the
judicial system and the Constitution as to lead us to some head-scratching
on the thinking of the lower court in dismissing the DNA findings.
Likewise for the 3 dissenting justices -- John G. Roberts Jr., Antonin
Scalia and Clarence Thomas (Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. hadn't yet joined
the court when arguments were heard).
This ruling and the overall issue of post-conviction DNA evidence
particularly resonates in central Pennsylvania, where an investigation by
Patriot-News reporter Pete Shellem helped produce DNA evidence that led to
the release of Barry Laughman of Hanover after 16 years behind bars for
murder. DNA testing is also among efforts by lawyers to gain a new trial
for David Gladden of Harrisburg, whose 1995 conviction for murder of a
city woman is now in serious question.
Statewide, 9 inmates who spent a total of 110 years in Pennsylvania
prisons have been cleared through the post-conviction use of DNA,
according to state Sen. Stuart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery. He chairs the
Senate Judiciary Committee and has been a forceful advocate of allowing
convicts to seek DNA testing.
Of course, the number of convictions being overturned through DNA analysis
also raises the question of what went wrong during original
Greenleaf is pushing legislation that could create a commission --
composed of lawyers, judges, police and others involved in the criminal
justice system -- to examine these cases with an eye toward correcting
whatever errors led to these wrongful prosecutions.
That legislation passed the Senate earlier this year and is before the
House Judiciary Committee. We continue to support creation of such a
commission, not for punitive reasons but to eliminate future miscarriages
Toward that end, we applaud the Supreme Court ruling. The American
judicial process is a sound one, but it's not perfect. In the end, the
overriding principle is to get it right, particularly when lives hang in
(source: Editorial, The Patriot-News)
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