[Deathpenalty]death penalty news----TEXAS, FLA., USA, S. DAK.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Mar 19 21:05:43 CST 2006
Yates case revisits rigid insanity test----Defense lawyers decry the
standard still used in Texas
Between 2001 and 2004, 4 Texas women became famous - notorious, actually -
for the deaths they inflicted on their children. 2 opted for drowning, 1
grabbed a knife and the other used a heavy rock.
But their choice of method was less significant than the method in their
madness. All were convinced they were doing right by their children,
according to their attorneys. So intense was their disturbed mental state
that it was capable of overpowering the strongest, most basic human
In the aftermath of their horrific acts, the most pertinent question was
not the most obvious one. Why they did it was not really answerable except
in the vaguest of ways: They're insane. Of greater urgency was the one
thrown in the lap of the legal system: What to do with them?
In each case, prosecutors offered the same response: Try them, convict
them, send them to prison - save for the case of Andrea Yates, where they
chose the extreme option of attempting to have her executed. Even a Harris
County jury would not agree to that, convicting her of capital murder and
giving her a life sentence for drowning her children in the bathtub of
their Clear Lake home.
This week a new jury is expected to begin wrestling with that issue again
as Yates stands trial a 2nd time. Her 2002 conviction was thrown out
because of erroneous testimony by a psychiatrist.
After weeks of legal wrangling and negotiations on a plea deal that would
have headed off the new trial, prosecutors and defense attorneys are
scheduled to begin jury selection Monday in downtown Houston.
Although they won a conviction in the Yates case, prosecutors have had
less luck with the others. Deanna Laney, who bludgeoned two sons to death
outside of their Tyler home in 2003, was found not guilty by reason of
insanity. Lisa Diaz of Plano, who drowned her 2 daughters later that year,
received the same verdict. Last month, Dena Schlosser's trial ended in a
hung jury, with 11 voting for acquittal. Prosecutors intend to retry
Schlosser, also from Plano, who cut off her infant daughter's arms in
"The fact that you have different results in these cases is itself a
problem," said Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law
professor who has written about the insanity defense. "I've yet to meet
anyone who seriously argues Andrea Yates was not insane. But by sticking
to a rigid standard of only knowing right and wrong, you exclude the most
common forms of insanity: people responding to evil voices."
Damning phone call
Texas law requires only that the jury find that the defendant knew his or
her conduct was wrong. The fact that Yates called police after drowning
her children indicates that, at least, she understood that society
considered it wrong. Such knowledge often trumps an otherwise delusional
"People like Yates may very well be able to articulate that they knew what
they were doing was wrong," Turley said, "yet they were unable to keep
from yielding to an irresistible impulse."
Turley and others argue that the insanity definition should be broadened
to where it used to be. Juries used to be allowed to consider irresistible
impulse. That was the basis upon which John Hinckley was found not guilty
of the attempted assassination of President Reagan.
The public response to that verdict spurred lawmakers to make it more
difficult for the insanity defense to succeed. Now, defense lawyers face a
Herculean task when attempting such a defense, especially if testifying
psychiatrists disagree about the defendant's mental condition.
'Real struggle' ahead
"It's going to be a real struggle to convince a jury that (Yates) was
insane at the time," said Joe Lovelace, who has lobbied the Texas
Legislature on behalf of the state chapter of the National Alliance on
Mental Illness. "(Jurors) don't know what happens to a person found not
guilty by reason of insanity. All they see are 5 dead kids."
NAMI's recent proposals were seemingly modest: Change one word of the
insanity definition - from "know" to "appreciate" (the wrongfulness of an
act) - and allow juries to be told what happens to a defendant who is
found not guilty by reason of insanity. Neither proposal got a warm
"They were way too radical for the digestive tract of the Legislature and
the governor," Lovelace said. "And the DA's association opposed any
changes of what to tell the jury. They're prosecutors. It's their job to
prosecute, not make it easy on the defendant, especially when they feel
the community demands more."
Rob Kepple, executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys
Association, said prosecutors understand they are dealing with a troubled
person and not a run-of-the-mill defendant, but their job must override
feelings of compassion.
"It's a tough situation," said Kepple, a former Harris County prosecutor.
"The prosecutor's No.1 duty is to protect people. You've got somebody
who's proven that they are capable of killing, not just burglarizing.
Everybody is going to be afraid that that person is going to get in that
state again and be able to kill."
And a murder conviction offers far more assurance than an insanity verdict
that the offender is going to be locked up. The latter requires
hospitalization and court supervision. If the offender improves over time,
however, there is no guarantee of indefinite commitment, even though some
recent changes in state law have improved the continuity of local
As to why criminal charges should be pursued against people like these
four women in the 1st place, when it is unimaginable that they would have
hurt their children had they not been mentally ill, Kepple said it would
not be right to substitute a prosecutor's judgment for a jury's.
"Our job is to run it up the flagpole and see how much somebody wants to
hold them accountable," he said.
Mental health and the law
Perhaps Yates' conviction and the publicity that attended it made some
impact on the jurors in those later cases. Or perhaps it was just the
particularities of the evidence, of the appearance of the women, of the
uncertain nature of the jury system itself. But the fact that 2 women
received not-guilty verdicts, and the other may yet, offers little
confidence to defense lawyers.
"Cases like this are never going to be easy, no matter what the statutory
formulation is," said David Haynes, Schlosser's attorney. "Where mental
health meets the law, it's not a smooth junction."
Haynes said the rationale behind an insanity defense is betrayed if
obviously ill people cannot successfully use it.
"The reason we say insanity is a defense is that if you have a diseased
mind, you shouldn't be punished as completely blameworthy," he said. "I
don't know what to do with these people. We should not say, 'To hell with
them, they did a bad act, stuff them in a prison.' Nor do I think we
should say, 'Here, you didn't do so good, take your pills and we'll let
you go in a few months.'"
"They have to be segregated from society to protect society, and get the
best kind of treatment we can give them," Haynes said. "And we should
house them in a way that is humane, recognizing that what they did is
different from those who killed for money or out of anger or whatever."
Question of control
Some states provide for something close to that with an alternative
verdict - guilty except for mental illness, or guilty but insane. But
conservative lawmakers, district attorneys and even some mental illness
advocacy groups would oppose such a change in Texas.
Turley argues that there is no need to go that far. All he pushes for is
allowing juries to consider whether defendants were really capable of
controlling their actions.
"The state would lose nothing," Turley said. "They could still argue the
person is faking or not really insane. They could still put on expert
witnesses. It simply would remove this artificially rigid test that
prevents a jury from reaching a reasonable decision in cases like Andrea
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Attorney speaks out against death penalty
Days after one of his clients was sentenced to death, assistant public
defender Adam Tebrugge spoke to a group of church parishioners on
Saturday, telling the audience that life in prison is a better, and more
Tebrugge represented Joseph P. Smith, the man sentenced to die Wednesday
for the kidnapping, rape and murder of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia.
In the Smith case, "If the death penalty had not been in play, the
defendant would have walked into court and pleaded guilty," Tebrugge said
during his talk Saturday morning at St. Joseph Catholic Church in
"There would have been no trial."
A defense attorney for 21 years, Tebrugge has made nearly a dozen such
appearances in the past year, since he offered to be a guest speaker at
local Catholic churches.
Tebrugge says the death penalty is a "topic of increasing importance"
And it's a bigger issue this year than usual in Manatee and Sarasota
counties, where court officials are preparing for as many as 4 death
In Manatee, the state is seeking death against three young men -- Blaine
Ross, Richard Henderson and Cliff Davis -- who are accused of killing more
than one family member in brutal attacks.
And in Sarasota, prosecutors want Elton Murphy, who authorities say killed
downtown art gallery owner Joyce Wishart, to die for his crime.
But death penalty cases often take years to resolve after conviction.
Tebrugge said the criminal justice system would be better served by
allocating resources to help victims and their families through counseling
and other support.
A sentence of life with no possibility of parole, he said, means a killer
will die behind bars in a "drab and bleak" prison.
"Yes, the system achieved its desired goal, but at what cost?" asked
Tebrugge, fielding a question Saturday about Smith's death sentence.
"The case is just beginning and will continue on."
(source: Bradenton Herald)
Judge in Moussaoui Trial Faces a Delicate Task----Deciding when attorney
who 'tainted' witnesses will testify while keeping jury intact are her
With the sentencing trial for Zacarias Moussaoui stumbling forward again,
lawyers for the two sides were sharply at odds Saturday over when a
government attorney would testify about why she tried to influence
The coaching efforts by Carla J. Martin nearly shattered the prosecution's
effort to have Moussaoui receive the death penalty for his role in the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Defense lawyers want Martin on the stand as soon as Monday in the trial
over whether Moussaoui, 37, should be executed or sentenced to life in
Prosecutors want to delay Martin's appearance until the middle of the week
and have her testify only if she agrees to answer questions about her
conduct and not invoke the 5th Amendment against self-incrimination.
"We see no reason" to have Martin take the stand "simply to have [her]
invoke her rights," prosecutor Robert A. Spencer said in court papers.
In the middle of the dispute is Judge Leonie M. Brinkema.
Clearly irked by the revelations about Martin early last week, Brinkema
has made no secret of her view that the lawyer with the Transportation
Security Administration may end up with criminal or civil sanctions for
attempting to coach several witnesses.
But Brinkema also is trying to keep together a jury that has been left in
the dark over the developments in the case - the only one to be tried in
the U.S. that stems from the 2001 attacks.
Moussaoui pleaded guilty last year to plotting with the hijackers. The
government contends he should be put to death because he failed to alert
the FBI to the plot, which resulted in the deaths of almost 3,000 people.
"I'm fully aware of how important it is for this matter to become
resolved," the judge told the prosecution and defense teams in a
teleconference session late Friday. "I'm fully aware of the huge resources
that have been expended on this case, the fact that we summoned 850
jurors, that we have an excellent jury of 17, and I agree that it would be
unfortunate if this case could not go forward .. "
One week into the trial, Brinkema abruptly stopped it Monday when word
surfaced that Martin had attempted to influence witnesses from the
transportation agency and the Federal Aviation Administration. Martin
briefly appeared in court on Tuesday but declined to testify and was
excused until she could find legal representation.
Her newly hired lawyer, Roscoe C. Howard Jr., has since said she was eager
to testify but needed some time to prepare.
"She is entitled to a fair opportunity to prepare and present her side and
a fair judgment of her intentions, her conduct and the conduct of others,"
Brinkema first banned from the trial all testimony and evidence about
aviation security because of Martin's action. But the judge scaled back
her ruling Friday, allowing prosecutors to present 1 or 2 witnesses on the
issue who were not "tainted" by Martin.
For prosecutors, that decision drew new breath into their case for the
death penalty for Moussaoui.
They had told jurors they would prove that, had the French citizen
cooperated with the FBI upon his arrest on an immigration violation in
August 2001, the government would have tightened airport security across
the country. Those measures, prosecutors said, could have prevented
hijackers from making it onto the airplanes used in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Defense lawyer Edward B. MacMahon Jr. said in court papers that he wanted
Martin on the stand after he finished cross-examining FBI Special Agent
Harry Samit on Monday morning, which is where the trial left off when it
He said she should be the next witness before the prosecution brought in
any "untainted" witnesses on aviation security because her testimony would
provide "critical information" about the nature of the witness-tampering
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Death penalty foes say their message is more urgent this year
A group says it's time to put urgency into its message of opposition to
capital punishment because the state's first execution since 1947 has been
A judge has set the last week of August for the execution of Elijah Page,
convicted of the torture slaying of Chester Poage of Spearfish in 2000.
Hearings and other legal matters could postpone the execution.
Members of the Interfaith Task Force Against the Death Penalty say the
execution date has given death penalty foes a new sense of urgency and
passion in their fight. They say they hope the news of Page's scheduled
execution will prompt a dialogue about the death penalty.
"We're no longer talking about something that's 10 years down the road,"
said group member Karl Kroger.
"The real deal is going to take place, and now is the time for us to step
out and get the message out: We don't want our government to kill people."
People don't think about capital punishment very much unless there's an
active case to consider, said Scott Moeller, another member of the group.
Group member Mark Sanderson of Sioux Falls said the number of people
involved in the anti-death penalty effort tends to change with current
"The news of this, and being in the front pages of the paper, brings this
topic to the forefront," he said. "Maybe this trauma will really hit home
for people. We the people of South Dakota are actually killing one of our
The group's 9th-annual vigil at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in
Sioux Falls is set for Good Friday, April 14. More than 100 people
attended last year.
The group also said it might use the state's new abortion ban to try to
persuade the governor and legislators to eliminate the death penalty.
Religious denominations are divided on capital punishment. Catholic,
Methodist and Presbyterian churches generally oppose it, Southern Baptists
generally support it, and other denominations vary.
Both sides can find Bible verses to back their arguments, said the Rev.
Charles Cimpl, pastor at St. Michael Catholic Church in Sioux Falls.
"Human life is sacred from conception to natural death," he said. "Anytime
we intentionally go against that, we're breaking the dignity of human
life." Jesse Moore, pastor at Ridgecrest and Sonrise Southern Baptist
churches, said he differs with most in his denomination on the issue.
"I looked at the idea of the sanctity of human life, which is where I draw
my opposition to abortion," Moore said. "If I'm going to value the life of
an unborn child in the womb, I have to give the same value to a life
that's outside the womb."
Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center in
Washington, said debate over the death penalty tends to increase when a
state prepares for an execution.
"When the death penalty becomes real, it focuses people on the issue,"
The 1st execution in a long time typically involves someone like Page who
asks to waive their appeals, he said.
"There's still debate, but it doesn't frame the issue as strongly as
someone who's saying the statute is unfair or begging for his life,"
(source: Associated Press)
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