death penalty news----CALIF., S. DAK., GA., OHIO, N.Y., FLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Mar 19 21:47:27 CST 2006
Price of death penalty has many questioning the punishment
Convicted murderers Michael Morales and Ricky Ortega have both spent more
than 2 decades behind bars. But the cost of delivering justice to the 2
men responsible for the brutal death of Tokay High School student Terri
Winchell in 1981 likely differs by millions of dollars.
Sentenced to life in prison without parole, Ortega has cost California
taxpayers some $800,000 in prison costs alone since 1983.
State and federal taxpayers have paid some $250 million to unsuccessfully
carry out the death sentence handed down to Morales over 2 decades ago,
based on the average costs of 11 executions over 27 years, as reported by
the Los Angeles Times.
Moral arguments aside, the increasingly high cost of capital punishment in
California has many questioning the worth of having the state carry out
However, some say the burden death sentences put on taxpayers is simply
part of a fractured justice system, which is hemorrhaging money.
Hard time, heavy costs
Housing an inmate in California's corrections system costs an average of
$34,150 per year, though the figure is higher for death row and
life-without-parole inmates, who require additional security, according to
the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The prolonged and often complicated appeals process in capital cases makes
a death sentence far more costly than keeping murderers behind bars until
Stakes are higher in capital cases, which account for only 1 percent of
homicide cases, and with that comes a higher, albeit costlier degree of
review, said Floyd Feeney, a professor at the University of California,
Davis, School of Law.
Investigation and prosecution of capital cases typically goes beyond the
parameters of other criminal cases, Feeney said.
Though hard figures are not available, capital cases tried in San Joaquin
County probably do not cost much more than a case that ends in life
without parole, said Chuck Schultz, the deputy district attorney who heads
the county's homicide prosecution unit.
Death penalty appeals process at a glance
25 years ago, 17-year-old Terri Lynn Winchell was raped and murdered in a
case that not only brought most of Tokay High School to her funeral, but
garnered enough publicity that her killers' trials were moved to Southern
One suspect, Ricky Ortega, was sentenced to life in prison with parole.
The other, Michael Morales, was sentenced to death. Since his 1983
conviction, the case has wound its way through appellate courts. He is
scheduled to be executed Feb. 21, but the appeal process continues.
After a defendant is convicted and sentenced to death, the appeals process
begins. All death penalty cases are automatically appealed and all
defendants are assigned an attorney, though that process alone can take
more than 5 years.
The automatic appeal, called the "direct appeal," is heard by the
California Supreme Court, which looks at the whole trial record and then
usually affirms the death sentence. The defendant can then ask the U.S.
Supreme Court to review the case, which can take a year.
In the meantime, the defendant can file a "state habeus corpus" appeal,
which addresses things not included in the trial record, such as
inefficient legal counsel during trial. This often requires another
attorney to be appointed.
The California Supreme Court can then ask a lower court to review the
case, or can deny it. Defendants often file more than one habeus corpus
petitions, and each one can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Once state courts strike down all appeals, the defendant can file a
"federal habeus corpus" petition, alleging civil rights violations.
Sometimes another attorney is appointed to handle this part of the case.
The federal appeal is heard by one of four district courts in California,
and those sometimes result in more court hearings. If a new issue is
raised that wasn't heard in state court, the federal courts can postpone
the case until the California Supreme Court rules on that issue.
Once the district court rules, which takes years because there is no
deadline, the case can be appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
A 3-justice panel hears the appeal, and then it is sometimes again heard
by an 11-justice panel.
That procedure can also take years, and it may also be appealed to the
U.S. Supreme Court.
If the U.S. Supreme Court denies the appeal, an execution date is
scheduled. The defendant may then ask the governor to grant clemency.
In the weeks leading up to the execution, the defendant often asks state
and federal courts for permission to file another habeus corpus appeal.
[Source: California Attorney General's Office]
Defendants in capital cases are also allowed 2 attorneys, adding greater
The trials of both Morales and Ortega were more expensive than other cases
tried locally because they were held in Ventura County, incurring added
transportation and hotel costs for witnesses and prosecutors, Schultz
In addition to a murder charge, the district attorney must add a further
layer of proof in the form of a special circumstance to qualify the case
for capital punishment. Many prosecutors' offices decide on special
circumstances through a special internal process, which draws further on
resources, Feeney said.
And if a special circumstance is applied to a capital case, that, too,
must go through consideration by a jury.
In non-capital cases, an appeal heads to a district court of appeal. But
appeals in California's capital cases go directly to the California
Because of that court's caseload, it can take 2 to 3 years before the
appeal is heard, Feeney said. That can make the process more expensive, he
"Part of the issue is that the California Supreme Court can only hear so
many cases a year. It doesn't work to make the Supreme Court just the
death penalty court. There are various bottlenecks in this," Feeney said.
Another factor adding to the cost of death penalty appeals is that defense
attorneys must exhaust all options.
"Defense lawyers see it is as their job to raise every issue they can
because the effects of the death penalty are what they are," Feeney said.
Appointed attorneys representing condemned inmates before the California
Supreme Court are compensated at $125 an hour, plus specified expenses, or
with a fixed fee that ranges from $135,000 to more than $314,000,
depending on case complexity. Investigation expenses for habeus corpus
work are reimbursable for up to $25,000 without prior court approval.
Millions in taxpayer dollars are devoted to the death penalty process each
The California Attorney General's capital case unit, which prosecutes most
death penalty cases on appeal, has an annual budget of $11 million; the
California Supreme Court's court-appointed counsel program is funded to
the tune of $14.3 million; the Office of the State Public Defender has a
budget of $11.3 million for capital cases; and the Habeus Corpus Resource
Center has a budget of $11 million. Federal court costs are $12 million a
year, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.
The chemical cocktail used to execute inmates via lethal injection costs
about $200, according to the CDCR.
How much is too much?
Some say the current cost of capital punishment appeals is more than it
needs to be.
Too much time and money is spent on litigating issues beyond guilt or
innocence, said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the California
Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which pushes for victims' rights.
Much of the litigation in capital cases is devoted to the penalty phase,
such as whether evidence was properly disclosed in earlier trial phases
and if attorneys and jurors were competent, Scheidegger said.
For instance, he noted, recent litigation in Morales' case had little to
do with if he killed Terri Winchell, but whether a condemned inmate feels
pain during lethal injection.
"All these issues should be reviewed, but once is enough," he said. "There
is no need for 3 or 4 or 5 different courts to go over those (issues) if
they have nothing to do with the accuracy of the verdict. We should change
the system so we can afford it."
Taxpayer dollars would be better spent on police, mental health and child
abuse prevention than on executions, according to Lance Lindsey, executive
director of Death Penalty Focus, a San Francisco-based nonprofit against
Only about 1 % of homicides in the state are tried as capital cases, and
those cases cost taxpayers two to three times more than non-capital cases,
"To spend so many millions of dollars on a such a small number of capital
trials really doesn't make much sense," he said.
Between 1978 and 2006, 13 of the 814 prisoners with death sentences were
executed in California while 50 died by other means, including 33 natural
deaths, according to the CDCR.
Given that more people have died of natural causes on California's death
row than have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated, costs
associated with the death penalty are unjustified, said Janis Gay, a board
member with anti-death penalty Murder Victims' Families for
"If you have life in prison, the same thing is going to happen. So why
spend millions of dollars?" she asked.
Costs of the death penalty and the justice it is intended to bring are two
separate things, said Deputy District Attorney Schultz.
Capital punishment by the numbers
$7.4 billion: 2006-06 budget for the California Corrections Department.
$250 million: Average cost of 11 executions in 27 years.
$114 million: Costs of death penalty to taxpayers.
$34,150: Average annual cost of housing an inmate in state prison.
9,000: Average number of pages of court transcripts in capital cases.
645: Inmates on death row.
$200: Cost of lethal injection chemicals.
49: Average age at time of execution.
33: Death Row inmates who died of natural causes.
17.5: Average time spent on Death Row.
13: Inmates executed in California since 1978.
"Expense isn't something we think about if we're going to seek death for
somebody," he said. "It's something we never have and never will
The watchdog group California Taxpayers Association has not considered the
financial aspects of the death penalty, President Larry McCarthy said.
But the group does support studies showing that sentencing the small
percentage of repeat, violent offenders to life in prison, namely through
the state's Three Strikes law, greatly reduces social and criminal justice
"It really is cost-effective to try to identify that percentage and deal
with that," he said.
Society's definition of justice will change over time, McCarthy said, and
with that comes fluctuations in the cost of that justice.
"We continue to try to, as a society, figure out how to handle these
problems, and it is a huge challenge," McCarthy said. "Cost becomes a
(source: Lodi News-Sentinel)
Politics, law, public safety part of death-penalty debate
Gov. Mike Rounds, a Catholic who just signed a bill banning most abortions
in South Dakota, might soon have to decide whether to allow the state to
kill death-row inmate Elijah Page.
That decision, and the public discussion certain to surround it, could
have life-and-death consequences for three other men sitting on South
Dakota's death row.
It could more clearly define Rounds' political persona on moral issues as
he seeks another term as governor and considers a possible run for the
U.S. Senate in the future.
And it could spark a larger public debate on the wisdom and morality of
the death penalty, which maintains general public acceptance in South
Dakota even though it hasn't been used here since 1947.
If that imperfect storm of politics, morality and the law rumbles across
Rounds' political horizon, Page will be at the eye of the gale. A
25-year-old from Athens, Texas, Page suffered a horribly abusive childhood
and grew into a fractured young man with the proven capacity to torture
and kill and now, perhaps, to shape history.
Page pleaded guilty to the March 2000 murder of 19-year-old Chester Allen
Poage in a creek bed near Spearfish and now seeks an end to both his legal
appeals and his own isolated life in prison. As the courts deal with
Page's well-publicized death wish, Rounds ponders the possibility that he
could be asked by anti-death-penalty activists, including some Catholic
clergy, to block the execution.
Already, a defense lawyer for death-row inmate Briley Piper of Anchorage,
Alaska - another confessed killer in the Poage case - is calling upon
Rounds to show that his beliefs mean more than opposing abortion. Rapid
City lawyer Patrick Duffy, who serves as a parish council president at a
local Catholic church, wants Rounds to commute the death sentence.
"Gov. Rounds doesn't have to wait for the legal system to do anything,"
Duffy said. "He could wake up Monday morning and decide he is not the kind
of governor who's going to kill a pair of 20-year-olds. He could commute
their sentences Monday morning, if he wanted to."
It isn't clear whether Rounds would want to, even though his Catholic
teachings could push him in that direction. It would be a landmark
executive decision likely to enrage the family and friends of Poage and
other victims of the death-row killers.
It would be a risky political move as well, something quite out of
character for a cautious Republican governor who has studied the Catholic
directives on the death penalty and found room for state executions.
"I think the church's formal position on the death sentence is that we
should do everything we can to eliminate the need for the death sentence,
and we should preserve life whenever possible," Rounds said in an
"I do not believe there is anything that says the death sentence is not
As a state senator, Rounds voted for a bill to prohibit the execution of
mentally impaired killers. And as governor in 2004, he signed legislation
into law eliminating the death penalty for killers who were 16 or 17 years
old at the time of their crimes.
In 2003, Rounds said clearly that he favored limited use of the death
penalty: "Until such time as society can ensure that these people, who
have proven their capabilities to kill and maim and rape others, won't try
to kill guards, hospital staff, other inmates and so forth, I will
continue to support the death penalty."
South Dakota might some day reach a point where the death penalty isn't
needed, the governor said. "But today, I doubt that's the case."
Although generally in line with language in the Catholic catechism, which
allows executions if they are the "only possible way of effectively
defending human lives," Round varies from key words of guidance from Pope
John Paul II. John Paul said that cases in the modern world where
state-sanctioned executions were absolutely necessary are "very rare, if
not practically nonexistent."
That message drives the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops in a more
aggressive move against the death penalty. It began last year and will
focus church opposition to capital punishment during this season of Lent,
which leads to traditional Good Friday observances of the execution of
Bishop Blase Cupich of the Catholic Diocese of Rapid City said Friday that
any discussion of the death penalty must begin with the overriding need to
protect citizens from violent offenders.
"If, in fact, there is an individual who is a violent offender and is a
threat to the population, it would be possible to protect society by
putting that individual to death," Cupich said. "Now, this is where an
enormous 'however' comes in. The however that John Paul II brought to the
discussion is that in modern society today, states have the ability to
protect their citizens without putting an individual to death."
Cupich said he has not been convinced that there is a need to execute
death-row inmates in order to protect society, including the prison staff.
"I need to see some hard evidence that there is a need to take the life of
people on death row. I haven't seen it yet," he said. "We are the only
developed country in the world who has the death penalty."
Duffy said his visits to Piper at the South Dakota penitentiary leave
little doubt that the state and even prison staff is safe. Piper lives
isolated in a cell with a sealed-glass door, and gets out for only 30
minutes of supervised exercise daily. He moves in a slow shuffle wearing
connected ankle-and-wrist chains, surrounded by 3 guards.
"It's hard for me to imagine how a man in those circumstances could
possibly hurt anybody," Duffy said.
Piper and Page both pleaded guilty in Poage's death. A third person
charged in the killing, Darrell Hoadley, went to trial and was convicted
by a jury and sentenced to life in prison. Duffy said that disparity in
sentencing was intrinsically unjust.
"Hoadley denies responsibility, and the jury spares his life," Duffy said.
"Page and Piper accepted responsibility, begged for forgiveness, and they
are now on death row. And there's no difference between the 3."
In Duffy's view, the death penalty survives in South Dakota on political
expediency and a mentality of retribution rather than the need to protect
the public from imprisoned killers.
"I think in this state, when push comes to shove, the politics of
releasing someone from death row are too risky for a governor like Mike
Rounds," Duffy said. "In short, it makes political sense for the
establishment to kill these boys."
But Bill Peterson, former Republican leader of the South Dakota House of
Representatives, argues that the death penalty is about more than politics
or revenge. Peterson, an insurance-company executive in Sioux Falls, said
that in extreme cases, the death penalty fits the crime.
Based on what he has heard about the torture and killing of Poage,
Peterson believes death is an appropriate punishment for Page and Piper.
"I think there are some crimes so horrible and so beyond what a civilized
society can accept that the only proper response is to give the ultimate
penalty, and that is the death penalty," Peterson said. "I don't believe
it should be used broadly or frequently, but I believe some crimes are so
heinous that the only response from the standpoint of justice is to take
the life of the perpetrator."
Peterson has personal history on the subject. His cousin, Mary Jeanette
Stensland, was shot and killed during a bank robbery in Fairview in
southeast South Dakota in 1989. Stensland was a farm wife who happened to
stop at the bank to deposit money into a church account when the robbery
occurred. She was shot by robber James Elmer Smith.
"It was a split-second thing, the luck of the draw. Mary Jeannette just
walked in, looked at them and smiled, and he shot her," Peterson said. "It
is a horrible thing when you lose a family member."
Smith was sentenced to life in prison and an accomplice got 30 years.
Peterson hoped Smith would get the death sentence but accepted the
judicial system's ruling.
"There is a difference between justice and retribution. If I'd had my way,
there would have been retribution," Peterson said. "The system is about
assuring there is justice under our laws. The system worked in this case.
As the cousin of the victim, I didn't like the outcome. But I have to
Rounds said he must also respect the system, which currently allows for
the death penalty in the most extreme of crimes. But the governor also
knows that opponents of that philosophy, including a growing voice in his
own church, are calling for change.
Some of them might call on him sooner rather than later. Without
indicating how he will respond, Rounds said he is ready to face the issue
if and when it comes.
"We know that one of the job responsibilities or duties in the office of
the governor is responding to requests for pardons at multiple levels and
the requests for pardons and dispensation and commutations in death
sentences," he said. "Today is not the time in which we should lay out
specifics for a particular case. They still have a long way to go in
(source: Rapid City Journal)
Legislature 2006: Bill makes death sentences easier
The murderer of a mother and her 2-year-old baby in Gwinnett County
received a life sentence instead of the death penalty last year because 2
of 12 jurors refused to vote for capital punishment.
Now that sentence, which infuriated other jurors and much of the public,
has sparked legislation that would make it easier to send killers to death
row. House Bill 1552 --- sponsored by state Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem)
--- would remove a long-standing requirement that death sentences be
imposed by a unanimous jury. If a simply majority of jurors felt a
defendant should get death, the judge could impose a capital sentence.
The bill comes only weeks after an American Bar Association report
recommended the opposite: that Georgia stop all death sentences and
executions and set up a commission to analyze alleged problems with how
the state sends people to death row. The Bar Association's study group,
made up of Georgia legal experts, claimed in its report that the
commission needed a comprehensive evaluation of the death penalty and
moratorium because it cannot ensure fairness in capital trials and
Fleming said he is sponsoring the bill in response to the 2005 trial of
Wesley Harris. After carjacking a mother and her 2-year-old daughter,
Harris shot them at point-blank range, stuffed them in the trunk and set
their car on fire.
Fleming said his bill will prevent a few jurors from "sabotaging" a death
penalty case. "This would make it a little easier in very heinous cases,"
Anne Emanuel, associate dean of Georgia State University's law school and
chair of the ABA study, called Fleming's bill "unfortunate."
"The decision on whether to impose capital punishment is at least as
weighty as the guilt-innocence verdict," she said. "Both ought to require
Fleming said he does not expect his legislation to pass this year. "This
just starts the discussion," he said.
At the same time, at least a portion of legislation proposed by a state
senator who opposes the death penalty has passed out of the Senate
Judiciary Committee. The resolution calls for a special legislative
commission to examine alleged problems with the death penalty.
Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), who served on the Bar Association panel and
authored Senate Resolution 1030, said the report shows Georgia's death
penalty system needs to be studied. "If we have the death penalty," Fort
said, "the right person ought to be sent to death row."
(source: Associated Press, Mar. 9)
Execution presents no simple solution
A state senator says too many child sexual abusers are being let loose to
abuse children again, so his solution is to execute them.
No one would deny that men or women who abuse children sexually have
committed terrible crimes and deserve prison, but executions will not
solve society's problems with child abusers nor are they appropriate
Tuesday, the Senate approved SB 1747, authored by Sen. Jay Paul Gumm,
D-Durant, that gives juries in Oklahoma the option of sentencing repeat
child molesters, beginning with 2nd-time offenders, to life without parole
or the death penalty.
Gumm contends we must protect children from people who will never be
First, from what we hear from prison inmates, the state does very little
to rehabilitate sex offenders. It's true that sex offenders frequently
repeat their crime, but rehabilitation doesn't appear to have been a
priority in the state, so Gumm's claim they can't be rehabilitated is not
a sound reason for execution.
Gumm and the others in the Senate who voted with him simply feel that
execution is appropriate punishment for child sexual offenses.
They certainly can argue that justice is best served in a death sentence.
That has been argued before for years for many crimes.
But the other side of the argument is that we are taking a dangerous step
toward a society that devalues life. Yes, murderers, rapists and child
molesters do not value life - we know that.
It's not them we're worried about. It's ourselves. When our response to
every crime and problem is only greater punishment and executions, we are
admitting that we can't or won't deal with those crimes or problems.
Executions remove a few offenders, but they have little, if any, effect in
deterring crime, and they fall far short of solving the root of the
Gumm says we are sending a message to child molesters we will not tolerate
What we shouldn't be tolerating is an archaic belief that the
executioner's axe is the only avenue to winning over evil.
(source: Muskogee Daily Phoenix)
Majority in New York Opposes Capital Punishment
Many adults in the Empire State believe the death penalty should not be
used to deal with specific crimes, according to a poll by Blum and Weprin
Associates published in Newsday. 53 % of respondents believe people
convicted of murder should be sentenced to life imprisonment with
absolutely no possibility of parole, while 38 % favour execution.
Since 1976, 1,012 people have been put to death in the United States,
including eight during 2006. More than 1/3 of all executions have taken
place in the state of Texas. 14 states and the District of Columbia do not
engage in capital punishment, and a moratorium on executions has been
issued in Illinois.
[MY NOTE----12 states do not have the death penalty]
New York reinstated capital punishment in 1995. In June 2004, the New York
State Court of Appeals ruled that the states death penalty is illegal. The
Empire State has not executed a single person since 1963.
New York will elect a new governor on Nov. 7. Democratic state attorney
general Eliot Spitzer has been the consistent frontrunner in voting
intention polls. Spitzer supports the death penalty, but his running mate
- state senator David Paterson - is opposed for "spiritual reasons."
If you could choose between the following 2 approaches, which do you think
is the better penalty for murder?
The death penalty -- 38%
Life imprisonment with absolutely no possibility of parole -- 53%
Not sure / Refused -- 9%
(Source: Blum and Weprin Associates / Newsday - Methodology: Telephone
interviews with 1,457 New York adults, conducted from Feb. 26 to Mar. 5,
2006. Margin of error is 3.5 %.)
(source: Angus Reid Global Scan)
Death penalty law will standPlan to establish unanimous jury decisions
An effort to bring Florida in line with other states that use the death
penalty by requiring unanimous jury recommendations before someone is
sentenced to death has stalled in the state Legislature.
Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Wilton Manors, had introduced legislation that would
require a death sentence to be rendered by a unanimous verdict. But Seiler
withdrew the bill after he found that members of the House Justice Council
would not support it.
In fact, the chairman of the Justice Council, Rep. Bruce Kyle, R-Fort
Myers, recently introduced a resolution proclaiming that the Florida House
of Representatives stood behind current Florida law, which allows juries
to recommend death sentences with a majority vote.
"After having spoken to members of both the Senate and the House, and
talking to a number of people on the House Justice Council, I found that
there was no chance we were going to do that this year," Seiler said about
Trial judges have final sentencing authority in Florida's death penalty
procedure, but must give "great weight" to a jury's sentencing
Seiler introduced the legislation after one of the most conservative
members of the Florida Supreme Court wrote in an opinion that the
Legislature should reconsider the way Florida handles jury sentencing in
death-penalty cases. Prosecutors argued against the legislation during the
workshop held by the Justice Council. Seiler said those who support
current law argued that the change might allow convicted murderers like
Joseph P. Smith to avoid the death penalty.
A Sarasota jury in November found Smith guilty of the rape and murder of
11-year-old Carlie Brucia and recommended that he be sentenced to death by
a 10-2 vote.
Now that the Legislature isn't reconsidering the sentencing procedure,
Seiler hopes the Florida Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court doesn't
make a death penalty decision in the next year that causes lawmakers to
Seiler said he supports the death penalty.
"I think that if you are truly going to be a proponent you have to make
sure you use it wisely and judiciously and in a Constitutional fashion,"
he said. Larry Spalding, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties
Union, said the Florida Supreme Court sent a clear signal to lawmakers
that it wanted the Legislature to take up the matter instead of the court.
"There are a couple of U.S. Supreme Court opinions that suggest unanimous
juries are required in certain circumstances," Spalding said. "I'm just
disappointed. (The Legislature is) proceeding at (its) own peril. Other
legislatures that were in the same position changed this law."
Kyle's resolution argues that one juror should not be able to override the
"reasoned judgment" of 11 other jurors, and says the U.S. Supreme Court
has never ruled in a majority opinion that juries must give a unanimous
recommendation for the death penalty.
The resolution states that some of Florida's most "notorious and heinous
murderers, including Theodore Bundy and Aileen Wuornos," were sentenced to
death by less-than-unanimous juries, "and these death sentences were just
and appropriate despite the lack of unanimity."
(source: Bradenton Herald)
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