death penalty news----TEXAS, VA., ALA., USA, ILL., PENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Mar 6 09:34:56 CST 2006
The Dena Schlosser trial
You shrink from punishment
Re: "Justice Is Too Blind - Jury should know consequences of verdict,"
The Dallas Morning News is predictably siding with the criminal support
elements in society who don't want women like Dena Schlosser and Andrea
Yates punished for murdering their children.
If The News is so concerned that a 2nd trial for Ms. Schlosser would be
useless and cruel, you should encourage her legal team to avoid it by
The treatment that Ms. Schlosser and Ms. Yates need is inexpensive, swift
and sure. The only equipment required is a short rope and a tall tree. If
God really motivated them to kill their kids, surely he will have mercy on
Mark McKnight, Rockwall
We need 'guilty but insane'
Re: "Justice Is Too Blind - Jury should know consequences of verdict,"
I completely agree with the last sentence of this editorial: "In the name
of justice, the Legislature should rewrite the law."
Most people accept that mental illness can cause people to commit truly
heinous crimes but cannot logically support "not guilty by reason of
insanity." The very words "not guilty" equate to being absolved from
committing the crime. Most Americans believe a person should be held
accountable for his or her actions, regardless of whether they are
clinically diagnosed as insane.
I urge our Legislature to adopt the Arizona law that allows a person to be
found "guilty but insane." The key word being "guilty," rather than "not
If Texas had this law, we would not have had the debacle of the Andrea
Yates and Dena Schlosser trials.
Patti Goodbread, Dallas
Do away with this defense
Re: "Justice Is Too Blind - Jury should know consequences of verdict,"
I agree with this editorial concerning the change of the law with regard
to the murder of the infant by the mother who sawed her arms off.
I suggest the Legislature make the insanity defense illegal immediately.
Don Marquis, Dallas
No need for another trial
I have been amazed by the vitriolic outcry over the Dena Schlosser capital
murder trial. From accounts in the newspaper and elsewhere, it seemed as
if everyone in the courtroom - except for 1 juror - believed she was
insane during the gruesome killing.
If any case merited the rare occurrence of actually being declared insane,
this was it. If this case does not merit it, then we should simply do away
with this avenue, since having it on the books is a farce.
There is no need to have another trial. It is a waste of time and money
for the residents of Collin County, and the effort can be directed to pay
for an intervention program to help women and their families who suffer
from postpartum depression.
Maybe it can save a baby out there, and Maggie Schlosser's brutal death
will have a purpose.
John Biggers, Fort Worth
Death only fitting sentence
Re: "Jurors: 1 man firm on guilt - 3 say holdout told panel he wouldn't
consider insanity for Schlosser," Tuesday news story.
I happen to agree with the lone juror: The question was did she do it or
not? If she did it, a death sentence is the only fitting punishment. This
is one of the most hideous acts I've ever heard, and surely there has to
be a point where everyone who commits such a terrible act is assumed to be
mentally screwed up.
Instead of providing millions of tax dollars to mental institutions to
care for these criminals for the rest of their lives, they should be
executed, thus relieving society of the burden.
We can't bring their victims back to life, but we can use that money
instead to ensure a decent future for hundreds of children who really need
Norman Hines, Dallas
(source: Letters to the Editor, Dallas Morning News, March 5)
2 inmates freed after scandal at Houston lab
A probe of the city's police crime lab by an independent criminologist has
found a high rate of faulty DNA test results and blood analyses that would
not pass usual standards, but only 2 men have been released from prison as
a result of the substandard work.
Prosecutors argue that lab evidence was not the key to many convictions,
so few deserve to be overturned.
In 2002, Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal and top police
officials announced that 400 cases involving DNA testing performed at the
lab would be re-examined. They made the announcement after a series of
television reports questioned the lab's operations.
Some lab officials subsequently were disciplined or fired.
2 grand juries that investigated the lab's operations found no proof of
criminal negligence, but the trickle of complaints erupted into a major
scandal. City leaders closed the lab and hired an outside specialist to
evaluate several years' worth of criminal prosecutions.
A report released in January by Michael Bromwich, a former Justice
Department inspector general, found problems with 40 % of DNA cases and
22.5 % of blood-work cases handled by the laboratory between 1987 and
The city then allowed Mr. Bromwich to examine convictions dating back to
1980 in which work performed by the crime lab was a key factor.
One of two convictions overturned was that of Josiah Sutton, who had
served more than 4 years on a rape charge when a retest found that DNA
evidence used to convict him was false. He was released in 2003.
George Rodriguez served 17 years before being released in 2004. He also
was cleared by DNA retesting.
Mr. Rosenthal, who has sent more men to death row than any other Texas
district attorney, vowed to make sure those convicted wrongfully are
either tried again or released.
"We have that obligation," he said.
The lab investigation has cost more than $4 million, and some lawmakers
are ready to become more involved.
State Sen. Rodney Ellis, a member of the Criminal Justice Committee and
board member of the New York-based Innocence Project, introduced a bill in
the last session that would have resulted in the formation of a state
Innocence Commission, but the bill was shelved.
Mr. Ellis said he plans to reintroduce the bill this session.
"There needs to be some mechanism to giving those individuals the proper
legal representation they deserve," the Houston legislator said.
Some proponents of the legislation fear it will be overshadowed by
pressure to find a new method to pay for the state's public school system.
Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, has created a Criminal Justice Advisory
Council that will recommend changes in legal procedures to keep pace with
advances in forensic science.
Almost unspoken but pervasive is a fear that a case will be uncovered in
which a suspect was put to death wrongfully.
"I am bracing for it," City Council member Adrian Garcia has said.
(source: Washington Times)
Moussaoui`s death penalty trial to begin -- The sentencing trial begins
After more than 4 years of wrangling and delay, the death penalty trial of
the only man charged in connection with the September 11, 2001, terrorist
attacks is ready to begin.
Final jury selection was scheduled for Monday in the sentencing trial of
Zacarias Moussaoui, a 37-year-old French citizen who has admitted his
loyalty to the al-Qaida terror network and it leader, Osama Laden but
denies that he has anything to do with September 11.
A jury pool of 83 was called to the federal courthouse in Alexandria.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers will whittle that group to a jury of 18 -
12 plus 6 alternates - using peremptory strikes, which allow each side to
dismiss jurors for any reason they choose except race or gender.
Each side gets 30 peremptory strikes. Defense lawyers asked for additional
strikes last week, but the judge denied that request on Friday.
The jurors scheduled to report for service already been qualified to serve
during a 2-week jury selection process in which they were quizzed
individually by US District Judge Leonie Brinkema and filled out 50-page
questionnaires asking their views about the death penalty, al-Qaeda, the
FBI and their reactions to the September 11 attacks.
Opening statements are scheduled for Monday afternoon, and the first
witness is also expected to take the stand on Monday.
Arrangements for the trial have been years in the making. Among the plans
are provisions for victims of the terror attacks and their families to
watch the trial on closed-circuit television at federal courthouses in
Boston, Central Islip, NY, Newark, NJ, Philadelphia and Alexandria, Va.,
thanks to legislation passed in Congress.
Moussoaui pleaded guilty in April to conspiring with al-Qaeda to hijack
planes and commit other crimes. The trial will simply determine
Moussaoui`s punishment, and only 2 options are available: death or life in
For some, trial's a 'strange' way to search for 9/11 justice
Is Zacarias Moussaoui really responsible -- at least partially -- for
Sept. 11, 2001? Or is he just a convenient stand-in, a scapegoat, a
representative of all that has haunted and frightened us for 54 months?
And will Moussaoui's unusual -- perhaps unique -- trial, scheduled to
begin today in a federal court in Virginia, produce new information on
whether the attacks that took 3,000 lives could have been prevented?
"It is a strange proceeding," says John Azzarello of Green Brook. A man in
a unique position. Once a federal prosecutor, and senior counsel to the
Who lost 2 close relatives to the attack on the World Trade Center.
So, while Azzarello has personal reasons to want to see justice, he also
has a background that makes him wonder what exactly federal prosecutors
are trying to do in the Moussaoui case, the only criminal case brought as
a result of the 9/11 attacks.
"The prosecution theory strikes me as strange," says Azzarello, in private
practice with the international firm of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson
The core issue is whether Moussaoui's alleged failure or refusal to tell
the truth after his arrest in August 2001 -- on a tip from a flying school
instructor -- was an act that led to death in New York, Washington and
Pennsylvania a month later.
If prosecutors prove that to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, then he
could be sentenced to death. If they fail, he will be in prison for life,
In a letter to 9/11 victims' families, U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said
the prosecution's case "will essentially focus on whether the government
could have stopped the September 11th attacks had Moussaoui told the truth
at the time of his arrest.
"If, and only if, the jury unanimously finds that the government has
proven this threshold beyond a reasonable doubt, the penalty phase will
move to the 2nd part."
In that second part, victims' family members are expected to testify. But,
if prosecutors fail in the 1st phase, the proceeding ends and federal
Judge Leonie Brinkema -- a Douglass College graduate from Teaneck -- must
sentence him to life.
What makes the proceeding so odd is that, while Moussaoui already has pled
guilty to conspiracy charges -- dispensing with the need for a formal
trial -- the court in Alexandria still will conduct what looks very much
like a trial anyway on the nature of Moussaoui's "act" and the intent
behind it. And it may last a month or more.
Although much of what has happened during closed hearings in court remains
sealed, enough has been released to show that his defense is based at
least partially on the idea that the government, in fact, knew more than
he did about the planned attacks.
"Substantial evidence will be presented at trial that the United States
government knew more about al Qaeda's plans to attack the United States
than did Mr. Moussaoui," one defense filing in the case states.
Moussaoui's defense could become an attempt to try the federal government
-- under both Bush and Clinton -- for failure to act in the face of
growing evidence that al Qaeda was about to attack the United States.
Some of the government's severest critics see it that way. Lorie Van Auken
of East Brunswick says she has no problem with giving Moussaoui the death
penalty if he could have stopped 9/11, but didn't.
"The problem is that the same could be said about many government
officials," says Van Auken, whose husband was killed. "No one is
suggesting they be executed."
Azzarello, whose wife's 2 brothers, Timothy and John Grazioso, were killed
at the World Trade Center, says successful proceedings against Moussaoui
might bring a measure of relief to victims' families -- "but only if they
believe he really had something to do with what happened to their loved
ones on 9/11."
But the connection between the Moroccan-born French citizen, an admitted
al Qaeda member, and what happened that day may be what he calls
"He doesn't appear to be the 20th hijacker," says Azzarello, who developed
evidence on the hijackings for the 9/11 Commission. "If he were, then the
trial would be more meaningful to family members."
The 20th hijacker (19 commandeered four planes) is now thought to be
Mohamed al-Qhatani, whose attempt to enter the country on Aug. 4, 2001,
was foiled by an immigration agent in Orlando. He was captured in
Afghanistan and held in Guantnamo.
"Moussaoui seemed more like a loose cannon on deck for al Qaeda," says
Azzarello, "someone bin Laden might not have trusted for the operation."
While denying he was a 9/11 hijacker, Moussaoui did sign a "statement of
facts" in which he said he lied to FBI agents to allow his "al Qaeda
'brothers' to go forward with the operation to fly planes into American
"The irony is that he may have done that to achieve the martyrdom he
wanted, but was denied because he really wasn't part of the 9/11 plot,"
The symbolic impact of his trial may be lost because of the secrecy and
security surrounding it. While a few media representatives have reserved
seats at the trial, no broadcast is allowed. Only family members will be
allowed to watch it from various federal buildings, including Newark's.
"I finally want to see something like accountability for what happened,"
says Sally Regenhard of the Bronx, whose son, Christian, a firefighter,
was killed on 9/11.
But Talat Hamdani of Queens, the mother of Salman, a police cadet lost
that day, says she can't bring herself to watch Moussaoui's trial.
"I know what his mother is going through," says Hamdani, a retired teacher
born in Pakistan. "Killing him won't bring my son back."
(source: The Star Ledger)
Bill seeks to increase judgeship standard----Measure would establish legal
experience minimum for office
Alabama is among only a handful of states that require a bare minimum of
qualifications for state judges.
But a bill in the Legislature would require judges to be members of the
Alabama Bar Association for 10 years to qualify for the Supreme Court,
five years to qualify for an appellate court judgeship, and three years
for circuit court seats.
Alabama now requires only that judges have a law degree.
"It makes sense that we have good, experienced folks in the judiciary,"
said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood. The bill passed
the House 103-0 Wednesday.
In making the case for the bill, DeMarco cited an Alabama law that
requires attorneys to have a minimum of five years experience before they
can try death penalty cases. "You could have a judge with less experience
than an attorney," DeMarco said.
The bill would grandfather in current judges who would not have qualified.
In fact, several members of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals would
not have qualified for their judgeships under the proposed law.
Judge Sue Bell Cobb was appointed as a district judge a year after she
graduated from law school. Judge Kelli Wise would have been borderline.
She was put on the court with a little less than 5 years as a member of
the bar. And Bucky McMillan, the presiding judge, was elected to the Court
of Criminal Appeals 4 years after he graduated from law school. Cobb said
she is "very much in support" of DeMarco's bill. "Coming on to the bench
without previous practice experience is certainly not the best way to
become a judge," she said.
Most states have much stricter requirements for judges. Georgia requires
seven years as a member of the state bar to be qualified for a trial or
appellate court judgeship. Mississippi requires five years as a state bar
member for trial and appellate court judges. Florida requires 10 years as
a member of the state bar for appellate court judges and five years for
trial court judges.
John Carroll, dean of the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University
in Birmingham and a former federal judge, said the new law could cut down
on inexperienced political appointees.
"It keeps a completely political appointment from being on there," Carroll
Hartwell Lutz, a former Madison County district judge, questioned the
effectiveness of the three-year standard for circuit judges, and said no
matter how qualified a candidate is, they still have to run for election.
"It sounds like a step in the right direction," Lutz said. "But ultimately
people are going to be the ones who decide who's going to be a judge."
DeMarco, who has the support of the judges' associations, said he
compromised on the 3-year requirement for circuit judges at the request of
rural counties, who have a smaller pool of attorneys from which to choose.
The bill had overwhelming support on the House floor. Rep. Demetrius
Newton, D-Birmingham, a lawyer, praised the bill.
"They need to have at least 3 years under their belt to be any kind of
judge," Newton said.
The bill now goes to a Senate committee for consideration.
(source: The Huntsville Times)
Death By Design" Examines Psychology Behind U.S. Death Penalty
In his new book, Death by Design: Capital Punishment as a Social
Psychological System, Craig Haney argues that capital punishment, and
particularly the events that lead to death sentencing itself, are
maintained through a system that distances and disengages people from the
true nature of the task. Haney, a professor of psychology at the
University of California, Santa Cruz, relies on his own research and that
other of other scientists in approaching the question, "How can normal,
moral people participate in a process designed to take the life of
The book cites 3 key factors that skew the justice system to facilitate
death sentences: a jury selection process that favors those who are more
likely to support capital punishment and to convict defendants,
complicated sentencing instructions that jurors do not understand, and
cultural and media myths about crime. "The flaws that riddle the system
combine and operate in tandem. They help enable people to participate in
behavior--actions designed to take the life of another person--that many
of them otherwise would reject or resist," Haney concludes.
In "Death by Design," Haney recommends a series of extensive reforms could
improve the fairness of capital trials. His suggested changes include
encouraging education about capital punishment and alternative sentences
such as life without parole, working with journalists to provide a more
accurate and balanced picture of the real caues of violence in society,
strengthening the requirement that attorneys fully and completely
investigate and present to jurors the social history of defendants during
the sentencing process, and revising jury instructions to improve their
understanding of mitigation.
(Oxford University Press, 2005) See Books and Sentencing. See also DPIC's
report "Blind Justice: Juries Deciding Life and Death With Only Half the
Truth." (source: Death Penalty Information Center)
Illinois governor's election could shape state's death penalty debate
The Illinois governor's race could determine whether the state returns to
executing its most heinous criminals, more than 6 years after then-Gov.
George Ryan imposed a moratorium on capital punishment and cleared death
Incumbent Democrat Rod Blagojevich says he would continue the moratorium
if re-elected. But 2 GOP candidates say they would resume executions and
two more are leaning that way.
Death penalty experts agree the country is watching Illinois, but what
happens here likely will be more symbolic than having a practical effect
on the national debate.
"The death penalty is so multifaceted now, politicians have to be
cautious," said Richard Dieter, director of the Washington, D.C.-based
Death Penalty Information Center. "To go out there and say, `The death
penalty has no problems, we should get on with these executions,' you're
going to be challenged not just by the ACLU but by mainline people who
say, `What about those cases where we got the wrong person?'"
All eyes have been on Illinois since January 2000 when Ryan halted
executions after 13 people condemned to death were found to have been
wrongfully convicted. Ryan assigned a commission to study a system
"haunted by the demon of error" and recommend changes. He emptied death
row days before leaving office in January 2003, pardoning 4 men and
commuting to life in prison the sentences of 167 others.
That fall, lawmakers agreed on a plan that, among other things, makes it
easier for murder defendants to get access to favorable evidence,
including DNA; gives judges unprecedented power to set aside sentences
they feel are unjust; and prohibits executing the mentally retarded.
Blagojevich says he supports the death penalty but has refused to lift the
"The death penalty should exist in Illinois, but only when we are
confident the system once again works," Blagojevich said in response to an
Associated Press questionnaire.
Some Republican challengers say that time has come.
"A governor has the power to stay executions or commute sentences on a
case-by-case basis, not to issue a blanket moratorium," Bloomington state
Sen. Bill Brady said in answer to the questionnaire. "We have put in place
the safeguards necessary to protect innocent men and women from being
Judy Baar Topinka, the state treasurer, agreed executions should resume.
Businessmen Ron Gidwitz and Jim Oberweis, however, were not so direct,
saying they would lift the moratorium only if they were confident the
reforms are working.
Rob Warden, director of Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful
Convictions, questioned how a governor could be sure the reforms have
succeeded. The 2003 legislation created a committee to study the new
safeguards and gave it 5 years to report to the General Assembly on its
Warden also said Illinois' moratorium is irrelevant during the next
several 4-year gubernatorial terms because the handful of people condemned
to death row after Ryan's mass commutation don't face execution any time
"It will take years for those cases to wind their way through the system
... so it doesn't really mean anything," Warden said.
Despite the national skepticism and a steep decline in death sentences
nationwide since Ryan turned on his spotlight, only 2 candidates for
governor would consider abolishing it. Blagojevich's Democratic primary
challenger, former Chicago Alderman Edwin Eisendrath, said he "would not
veto" a bill eliminating the death penalty. Republican Andy Martin said he
would eliminate the "barbaric anachronism" of capital punishment.
It's possible that the public's wariness of executions will continue until
capital punishment is so rare it dies of attrition, Dieter said.
"It could also have a resurgence and if Illinois went back to the death
penalty, it may be a sign that this slowing-down period is over," Dieter
said, "but the fact that they haven't yet is maybe evidence that there's
more staying power."
(source: Associated Press)
Singley's execution delayed
A federal judge's order last week will delay the scheduled execution of
Michael Singley, a Chambersburg man who murdered his cousin's wife in
U.S. Middle District Judge John E. Jones III issued a stay of execution
after Singley requested an attorney, according to a reporter who attended
the hearing in Williamsport on Friday. Jones said Singley's request
automatically required him to issue the stay.
Last month, Gov. Ed Rendell signed an execution warrant against Singley
and scheduled his execution for April 6.
Singley, 29, pleaded guilty in August 2000 to 1st-degree murder and other
charges in the stabbing death of Christine Rohrer. A month later, Franklin
County Judge Douglas Herman found him guilty of 1st-degree murder in the
shooting death of neighbor Jim Gilliam.
In 2001, Herman sentenced Singley to death for Rohrer's murder and to life
in prison without parole for the shooting death of a neighbor in the same
He added up to 94 additional years in prison for 2 counts of attempted
murder and 1 count each of rape, criminal trespass and theft.
Singley went to his cousin's home on election night in November 1998. He
told Rohrer he had car trouble and needed to use her telephone. Inside the
house, he raped her and used duct tape to bound her to her bed. Singley
stabbed Rohrer about 20 times. When her husband, Travis Rohrer, came home,
Singley, who was in the home, stabbed him and then shot him twice.
As Singley was leaving, he was confronted by his cousin's neighbors -
Gilliam and his fiancee, Deb Hock. Singley fired two shots at them, 1
(source: Chambersburg Public Opinion)
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