[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----CALIF., OHIO, MO., ORE., ALA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Mar 3 11:02:38 CST 2006
Support for death penalty falls slightly ---- 2/3 remain in favor, but
some question fairness
Californians support keeping the death penalty on the books by 2-1, a
ratio that has held steady since 2000 but is lower than the support it
received two and three decades ago, the Field Poll reported Thursday.
The survey, conducted in mid- to late February, also found an increasing
minority questioning the fairness of the capital punishment system, while
a majority was critical of the recent court-ordered delays in the
execution of convicted murderer-rapist Michael Morales of Stockton.
A federal judge blocked Morales' Feb. 21 execution and has scheduled a
hearing in May to determine whether California's procedures for lethal
injection pose a significant risk of leaving the prisoner conscious and in
pain, in violation of the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual
The poll was released at a time of increased public attention on the death
penalty in California.
In the last 3 months, 2 prisoners have been executed -- Stanley Tookie
Williams, a Crips gang founder who became an anti-gang advocate and
children's book author in prison, and Clarence Ray Allen, a multiple
murderer who was 76 years old, blind and feeble when he was wheeled to the
5 weeks after Allen was killed, Morales got a reprieve less than an hour
before his scheduled execution. Legislation to halt executions for 2 years
while a state commission studies the fairness of the death penalty in
California has stalled in an Assembly committee.
Overall, when asked whether the death penalty should be kept as punishment
for serious crimes, 63 % of those surveyed said yes, 32 % said no, and 5
percent had no opinion. Among registered voters, support was slightly
higher: 67 % yes, 29 % no, 4 % with no opinion.
The previous 2 Field Polls, which surveyed only registered voters, showed
68 % support for the death penalty in 2004 and 72 % in 2002. Earlier polls
surveyed registered and nonregistered voters together and found 63 %
support in 2000, representing a steady decline from the peak levels of 83
% in 1985 and 1986. The last poll with a smaller majority was taken in
1971, when 58 % supported capital punishment.
The new poll reflects a similar trend -- a shrinking majority supporting
the death penalty -- across the United States. In October, a Gallup Poll
found 64 % support for the death penalty nationwide, down from 80 % in
1994 and the lowest level in 27 years.
"The sophistication of Californians on this issue is growing," said Lance
Lindsey, executive director of the anti-capital punishment group Death
Penalty Focus. "We're getting closer to that point when the death penalty
can no longer drive political decisions as it has in the past."
Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice
Legal Foundation, viewed the results differently.
"Anyone running for public office should take note of the fact that we
have a very steady level of public support," he said.
The decline in the pro-death penalty majority since the 1980s can be
largely explained by a simultaneous decline in the murder rate,
The poll also asked whether application of the death penalty in California
has been "generally fair and free from error." Among all adults, 48 % said
yes, 39 % said no, and 13 % had no opinion. 2 years ago, when the question
was asked only of registered voters, 58 % said the system was fair, and 31
Lindsey attributed the shift to increased public awareness, while
Scheidegger said it was probably due to publicity, some of it exaggerated,
about wrongful convictions.
No such change appeared on another topic, the role of race. Asked if
discrimination was a major factor in who gets the death penalty, 40 % said
yes, 51 % said no, and the rest had no opinion, virtually the same results
as in 1997, when the question was previously asked.
In Morales' case, 59 % disagreed with U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel's
decision that a licensed medical professional must administer the lethal
injection to minimize the possibility of an equipment breakdown that would
cause severe and prolonged pain; 28 % agreed with Fogel's ruling, and the
rest had no opinion.
Asked if the state should have gone ahead with the execution when no
doctor was available to carry out the judge's order, 46 % said yes, and 41
% said no. (source: San Francisco Chronicle)
Support for death penalty still strong in California; MAJORITY OPPOSE
DELAY OF MORALES EXECUTION
Californians are cooling to the death penalty in increasing numbers,
although a majority continue to support capital punishment, according to a
new Field Poll of the state's residents.
The latest measure of state sentiment on the death penalty shows 63 % of
Californians back the ultimate punishment for murder, while 32 % outright
oppose it, a poll released today shows. That figure matches 2000, when a
Field Poll also found 63 percent support for the death penalty, the low
mark since the state resumed the practice in 1978.
2 years ago, the Field Poll surveyed only registered voters, who tend to
be more conservative on the issue. It found 68 % backing for the death
penalty, down from the 72 % of voters who favored it in 2002. Support for
capital punishment among all adults has been steadily eroding since the
1980s and 1990s, when it was generally favored by 75 % or more of the
The latest poll comes just a week after California postponed the scheduled
execution of condemned killer Michael Morales while a San Jose federal
judge conducts a thorough examination of his argument that the state's
method of lethal injection amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
46 % of state residents would have allowed the Morales execution to
proceed, while 41 % backed the delay, according to the Field Poll results.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 % points.
Death-penalty opponents were heartened by the Field Poll figures.
"I think the public is becoming more sophisticated and intelligent about
this issue," said Lance Lindsey, executive director of Death Penalty
Focus, the state's leading death-penalty opposition group.
Death-penalty advocates say the poll numbers show continued strong support
for executing the worst killers, despite an increasing push for
moratoriums or limitations on capital punishment. Kent Scheidegger, legal
director for the pro-death-penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, also
noted that the poll shows even stronger support among registered voters.
"Despite California's `left coast' reputation, on this issue Californians
are in sync with the nation as a whole," Scheidegger said. "As polls go,
this is remarkably little fluctuation."
The death penalty has been under increasing scrutiny in recent years in
the wake of instances of death row inmates being exonerated in some
states. Even prosecutors have detected a shift in public sentiment, as the
numbers of death sentences drop across the nation. Between 2002 and 2005,
the number of new death sentences in California ranged from nine to 21,
compared with the state's high of 42 in 1999, according to state
Department of Corrections figures.
Today's Field Poll found increasing numbers of Californians have concerns
about the fairness of the death penalty. 48 % of residents believe that
the death penalty is generally "fair and free of error," while 39 % think
otherwise, the poll shows. 2 years ago, 58 % of registered voters
indicated they thought the death penalty was fairly administered.
(source: Mercury News)
Jury: Lawrence Eligible for Death Penalty
A federal jury has said that Daryl Lawrence, the man convicted of
murdering a Columbus police officer, is eligible for the death penalty.
In January of 2005, Officer Bryan Hurst was working extra duty to help
support his family when he was shot and killed during a botched bank
Surveillance tape caught Lawrence with a gun in hand inside the bank.
Police say Lawrence later admitted to the shooting.
Prosecutors say Lawrence walked into the bank with a gun to kill Officer
Hurst so he could get to the vault.
Sentencing will begin at a later date.
(source: WBNS TV News)
Death Penalty Sought for Man Convicted of Killing Michigan Woman
Federal prosecutors in Missouri say they may try to get the death penalty
for a man whose already been convicted of killing a Michigan woman nearly
6 years ago. John Robinson Junior was sentenced to death in Kansas after
the bodies of Suzette Trouten of Newport and an Indiana woman were found
in barrels on his property, but his sentence was thrown out when the
Supreme Court ruled the Kansas death penalty unconstitutional.
(source: WLNS News)
Jurors begin death-row deliberations
Dayton Leroy Rogers, Oregon's most prolific serial killer, has twice been
sent to death row only to have the Oregon Supreme Court overturn the
sentences. Now a third jury is deciding his fate.
In a nine-minute statement before a Clackamas County jury began
deliberating whether to sentence him to death, Rogers said he has a
conscience and "the enormity of my crimes is so disturbing that it
Rogers killed a total of eight women in 1987 by binding them with dog
collars and coat hangers, stabbing them repeatedly and mutilating them -
possibly while some were still alive.
2 previous juries sentenced Rogers to death for six of those murders. In
overturning the second death sentence, the court said the jury must be
given the option of sentencing him to life in prison without the
possibility of parole.
Defense attorneys capped the three-week trial Thursday by asking jurors to
take Rogers' childhood into account, saying he was beaten by a father who
also killed family pets by gassing them or running them over with a car.
They also said Rogers had changed while in prison.
Drawn to tears, defense attorney Lisa Ludwig said ordering someone to be
executed "represents the belief that redemption is not possible."
Prosecutors, meanwhile, argued that Rogers is a manipulator, not the
Biblical scholar and remorseful man depicted by the defense.
"Mr. Rogers knows what it's like to put a knife into a human body, to cut
through the meat," said John Wentworth, a deputy district attorney. "We
sit in here and debate whether a person who has killed 8 people is
dangerous. Of course he is."
Scott Healy, another prosecutor, told jurors that life in prison isn't
enough of a punishment. He noted that several Seventh-day Adventists have
"He has a more active social life than most of us who are working
full-time jobs," Healy said.
If Rogers is sentenced to death, his case automatically will move to step
1 of a 10-step appeals process that could take another 10 or 15 years.
(source: Associated Press)
Alabama Judge Declares War on U.S. Supreme Court
Sitting calmly in his impeccably neat office at Alabama's Justice
Building, state Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker does not look like a man
at war with the U.S. Supreme Court.
But even before he says a word, his desk offers hints. Prominently
displayed are Mark Levin's conservative attack on the U.S. Supreme Court,
"Men in Black," and Phyllis Schlafly's "The Supremacists: The Tyranny of
Judges and How to Stop It."
The book Parker refers to the most, however, is a small one he pulls out
of his pocket frequently during the conversation with a visiting reporter.
It contains the texts of the Constitution and the Declaration of
Independence and is signed by his hero, Justice Clarence Thomas, who swore
him into office a year ago.
Last month, Parker wrote an op-ed in The Birmingham News, attacking the
high court's "blatant judicial tyranny." The case that had gotten him
roaring was the outcome in 2005's Roper v. Simmons, which tossed out the
death penalty for inmates who were under 18 at the time of their crimes.
It was a blistering opening salvo in what Parker hopes will be a wide
re-examination of the role of the Supreme Court ahead of the fight over
the next vacancy. And despite a certain level of nomination fatigue in
Washington, in Parker's view that vacancy can't come soon enough.
In the column, Parker called for what could be considered an act of
judicial sedition. Because Roper was based, he wrote, on the application
of foreign law (a notion its author, Justice Anthony Kennedy, would
dispute), it was an "unconstitutional opinion" that his Alabama colleagues
should "actively resist."
But instead, Parker's own court, obeying the Roper ruling, last year set
aside the death penalty for convicted murderer Renaldo Adams, who was 17
when he raped and stabbed an Alabama woman.
Parker had to recuse in the Adams case because, as a prosecutor at the
time, he had helped bring the case against the defendant. Still, Parker
felt obliged to publicly criticize the colleagues who spared Adams' life.
"State supreme court judges should not follow obviously wrong decisions
simply because they are precedents," he wrote. "After all, a judge takes
an oath to support the Constitution -- not to automatically follow
activist judges who believe their own devolving standards of decency trump
the text of the Constitution."
Strong words from a state Supreme Court justice, even in a state with a
history of defying federal dictates -- most notably, the late Gov. George
Wallace's refusal to integrate the University of Alabama in 1963.
It's also a place well known for the conservatism of its judiciary. But
that didn't matter to Parker. "It does no good to possess conservative
credentials," he wrote, "if you surrender them before joining the battle."
Reaction to Parker's shot across the bow was swift. His fellow justice
Michael Bolin told the Associated Press that Parker's column was "an
unprecedented attack by a member of the Supreme Court on each fellow
justice and an attack on the court as an institution." Bolin hinted that
Parker had violated a state canon of judicial ethics that states judges
should promote confidence in the judiciary.
More than a month later, Parker now says no ethics complaint has been
filed and his relations with his colleagues are as collegial as they were
before the column appeared. Bolin's comments were made "in the heat of
emotion, but they don't play out over time," Parker says, adding that he
had "strong conversations" with all of his colleagues about the column.
(Bolin did not return phone messages.)
But Parker's attack on the U.S. Supreme Court has had a concrete legal
effect. Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative, which
represents indigent defendants and prisoners in Alabama, says he is aware
of at least 2 cases in which Parker has been asked to step aside in
reviewing pending death sentences. Parker declined to say how he will
respond to the motions.
"There is fear that he will not follow Supreme Court precedents," says
Stevenson. "Judges express dissent or disapproval all the time, but they
apply decisions they do not agree with. The idea that a judge can refuse
to follow a decision he does not like seems to be the very definition of
the kind of judicial activism he criticizes."
Stevenson calls Parker's stance "pretty puzzling and outrageous."
Puzzling? Maybe not. A native of Montgomery, the 54-year-old Parker
graduated from Dartmouth College, got a law degree from Vanderbilt
University, and studied law in Brazil on a Rotary International
fellowship. But though Parker describes himself as a student of foreign
law, his studies have left him certain that it has "no relevance
whatsoever" in Supreme Court determinations. "Our founding fathers made a
clean break with the laws of England," he adds.
Many of his conservative views, Parker says, were shaped at Vanderbilt or,
more accurately, in reaction to Vanderbilt. "I was personally embarrassed
that we could learn constitutional law and never look at the
Constitution." Waving his copy of the Constitution, Parker says, "Once you
cut yourself loose from the text of the Constitution, there is no end."
After law school, Parker plunged into studying the Framers and worked in
the state attorney general's office. In private practice, he was part of
the team that unsuccessfully defended the state's public school "moment of
silence" law in Wallace v. Jaffree, in 1985. He worked for Alabama groups
affiliated with Christian right icon James Dobson.
But Parker became best known statewide several years ago as a spokesman
for then-Chief Justice Roy Moore in his battle to keep a Ten Commandments
monument in the rotunda of the judicial building. Parker was assistant
director of the state court system, and he was filling in for a departing
public information officer; but he acknowledges without hesitation that he
strongly supported Moore's view that the First Amendment permits the
Like Thomas, Parker believes that the establishment clause of the First
Amendment does not apply to the states, so he insists a federal judge had
no authority to order Moore to remove the monument. In November 2003 the
state Court of the Judiciary, which reviews ethics complaints against
judges, ordered Moore removed from office for defying the federal order.
Moore is now running for governor, and in the wake of his January op-ed
(which ran months after Adams' death sentence was commuted), some think
Parker" blast was the opening of a campaign for chief justice. Parker
won't confirm the rumors.
Through side doors and shortcuts, the affable Parker heads for the main
floor of the rotunda, the place where the Ten Commandments monument used
to sit. The floor is bare; the only remaining evidence of the episode,
Parker points out, is the cracked door frame on what was supposed to be
the building's press room. It stored the large monument during the long
In the rotunda a wall display that Parker dismisses as "politically
correct" has now replaced the monument. The display includes the Ten
Commandments along with the Code of Justinian and the Bill of Rights,
among other documents.
In the afterglow of the Moore episode, Parker decided to run for the state
Supreme Court against an incumbent who had been critical of Moore's
During the campaign, as documented by the Montgomery-based Southern
Poverty Law Center, Parker handed out Confederate flags, made appearances
with pro-Confederate groups, and attended a birthday party for the late
Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the original Ku Klux Klan.
"These appearances put Tom Parker way outside the mainstream in Alabama,"
says the center's Mark Potok.
Parker shrugs off the criticism and says with a laugh that the controversy
over his appearances "helped me reach voters I never could have reached"
without the publicity. He says that from his reading of history, Forrest
withdrew from the Klan when it became violent.
Retired Birmingham News reporter Stan Bailey, who covered the Alabama
courts for more than 30 years, was not happy with Parker's tactics. "We've
come a long way from the days when candidates have to pay homage to the
Klan," Bailey says.
But he adds that any charges that Parker is a racist are "totally wrong.
He's been outspoken on the other side." And Parker, too, points to his
work with religious and other groups seeking racial harmony in Alabama.
In spite of -- or because of -- the controversy, Parker won the election
with 56 % of the vote. Through mutual friends, Parker asked whether Thomas
would give him the oath of office in January 2005. Thomas agreed, and
Parker traveled to Washington for the private ceremony. A day later, Moore
gave him another oath back in Alabama, and Parker said, "I have been
doubly blessed to have been sworn into office by two heroes of the
As a justice, Parker has sometimes inserted his beliefs on constitutional
issues into routine cases. In Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center Authority
v. City of Birmingham, last year, he asserted that all 3 branches of
government -- not only the judiciary -- have roles in interpreting the
Constitution. Marbury v. Madison, he noted, said constitutional
interpretation was "emphatically" the role of judges -- but not
"exclusively." In a dissent in a 2005 child custody case, Parker said the
majority's view was flawed in part because it did not recognize that
parental rights flow from God, not the state.
Parker has also issued press releases about legal matters occurring
outside Alabama. One attacked the "state-sanctioned killing" of Terri
Schiavo as an example of judicial excess, and another criticized the
Supreme Court's Ten Commandments rulings last June. Those too were a
"judicial power grab," Parker said.
And in his newspaper op-ed, Parker wrote that the "liberals on the U.S.
Supreme Court already look down on ... pro-family policies, Southern
heritage, [and] evangelical Christianity." (Parker would include Justice
Kennedy in that liberal bloc.)
But Parker says this isn't about advancing his Baptist religious views
from the bench.
"As a Christian, I do value the sanctity of life," he says. "But that is
no different from the inalienable right to life described in the
Declaration of Independence, the foundational document of this country."
His role model Thomas is one of the few justices who agree on the
doctrinal importance of the Declaration.
What, then, is Parker's point? At every turn, he says, he wants the public
to understand that "the big social issues are being decided by the Supreme
Court rather than Congress" and that the Court is deciding them unmoored
from the words of the Constitution as well as religious values. "They are
not giving proper deference to the other branches; they are pushing an
agenda," Parker says of the Court.
Unelected judges, like those on the U.S. Supreme Court, invariably move to
the left under the spell of the liberal media, Parker adds. "I've been
elected by the people to perform a role, not to be part of some nice
society of elected officials."
A LOST OPPORTUNITY
Parker didn't mince words in his Birmingham News piece, labeling Renaldo
Adams "a vicious thug" who was caught by police "literally red-handed with
Parker was an assistant attorney general in Alabama when Adams was
prosecuted. But upon ascending to the state's high court, he had wanted
Adams' case to serve as an opportunity for the U.S. Supreme Court to
overturn its decision in Roper, which was decided in March 2005, before
Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito Jr. joined the
"I wanted the Supreme Court to have another shot," Parker says. He
acknowledges that Alito and Roberts would merely replace justices in the
minority in Roper, making a different outcome unlikely. "Given the age of
the justices, it is not inconceivable there might be another vacancy by
the time the case would have gotten to them, and there could be a
More so than even the last 2 vacancies, Parker says, the next high court
opening will trigger a historic struggle for the soul of the Court, if not
the entire government. "Polls show that public respect for the Supreme
Court is falling. That is self-inflicted damage," he says. "With another
vacancy the Court could redeem itself."
That does not necessarily mean reversing all its liberal precedents right
away, he adds.
"If they would just stop that succession of decisions on cultural issues,"
he says, "if they would just rethink what they are doing and return to
their proper role vis--vis the other branches, that would be a start."
(source: Tony Mauro, Legal Times)
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