death penalty news----CALIF., KAN., N.Y., PENN., FLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Mar 19 21:55:51 CST 2006
What Role Should Doctors Play at Executions?
A California judge delayed the execution of convicted murderer Michael
Morales last month after his lawyers argued that their client could wake
up during the procedure and expire inhumanely.
The judge proposed what he thought would be an easy solution - he would
have two anesthesiologists monitor the execution. One would monitor from
inside the chamber where the sodium thiopental is injected into Morales'
vein, and the other would be outside the chamber monitoring his vital
signs. The doctor inside the chamber would observe the executioner and
Morales during the entire procedure and not do the actual injecting. Just
hours before the execution, the two doctors walked out, saying they were
unwilling to administer a second dose of the barbiturate if Morales woke
up unexpectedly, as they were not comfortable taking on the executioner's
role. The execution was scheduled to take place on February 21 at 7:30
p.m. but has now been postponed indefinitely.
The California Medical Association and the American Medical Association
have both condemned the doctors' near-involvement in the execution citing
violation of the physicians' code: "First, do no harm." Dr. Michael
Sexton, president of the CMA, has since stated that the organization
believes "physician involvement in capital punishment at any level is
unethical behavior." Supporting this view, the AMA's code of ethics states
that no doctor should be involved in an execution in any way, including
the prescription of drugs, administration of those drugs, monitoring
inmate vital signs and confirmation of death during execution proceedings.
The CMA and AMA are rightfully trying to hold the profession of medicine
to the highest standard. Doctors are here to protect and preserve life,
not help to end life, I agree. But doctors also function to help ease
suffering when death is imminent and to make the transition to death as
smooth and comfortable as possible. Capital punishment is, unfortunately,
a real thing in this country and, if it is to stay legal, then it makes
sense that it should be done as humanely as possible. In that, we should
all be in agreement.
With Morales reaching the end of his life, having a doctor in the room to
make sure things go smoothly should not be wrong. Neither should
monitoring Morales' vital signs during the procedure. It is a doctor who
knows the human body and its inner workings best and having one there
during Morales' transition seems to be in his best interests. In fact, it
surprises me that there haven't always been doctors present during this
process since such a toxic drug is administered.
I do not in any way mean to say doctors should become the executioners
themselves. Administering the lethal drug would clearly kill the patient
and violate the physician's code. But by playing strictly an observational
role, the doctor may actually be protecting the inmate from potential harm
with the executioner doing the dirty work in all situations - planned or
(source: Synapse - Eric Chak is a 2nd-year medical student) (University of
California, San Francisco)
Proposed amendment to require Senate confirmation of justices shot down
Despite criticism of the Kansas Supreme Court, the idea of requiring
Senate confirmation before justices can join the court was shot down
Thursday by senators, dealing a serious blow to those wanting to overhaul
Senators voted 22-17 on the proposed constitutional amendment - 5 votes
short of the 2/3 majority needed to send it to the House. When introduced
last year, 28 senators signed on as sponsors, but 6 didn't vote for the
"Obviously, some senators had second thoughts. It appears this is an idea
whose time hasn't come," said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, who
championed the measure during Wednesday's debate.
He said there's little likelihood of the Senate revisiting the issue
"There would have to be a significant change of heart among several
members and given the margin of the vote, that's not likely," said
Many legislators have been upset because the court last year mandated
additional funding for public schools, and because it struck down the
death penalty in 2004.
A subsequent order forced lawmakers to spend an additional $143 million
during last summer's special session where legislators, particularly
conservative Republicans, complained the court overstepped its authority.
The Senate confirmation proposal was introduced a month after the court
first ordered the Legislature to meet its constitutional obligation by
spending more money on schools.
Since 1958, justices have been selected by what's known as a merit
selection system. A nominating commission considers applicants and
presents the governor three finalists from which to pick one. Justices
then face a statewide retention vote every 6 years.
The failed proposal would have left that system intact, but added Senate
Kansas is among 23 states where merit selection is used. Of those, six
also require Senate confirmation and two mandate approval by the House and
Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, initially signed onto the
measure. But he voted against it because "it could alter the delicate
balance of power" and the confirmation process "could degenerate in a
partisan fight like we see in the United States Senate."
Sen. Roger Reitz said he made a mistake signing on as a sponsor without
fully understanding the plan.
"I want these bodies separate. The Supreme Court should be left alone to
do its thing and we do our thing," said Reitz, R-Manhattan.
As for distaste over the school finance ruling, Reitz said, "We are the
heavies because we are the ones who were supposed to provide suitable
funding. We didn't do it and the Supreme Court called our hand on it."
Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, called support for the proposal "an
overreaction to our discontent with 2 decisions."
But others saw it differently.
"Judicial activism is in the air and Kansans would like to say something
about it," said Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler.
Sen. Jim Barnett, who failed Wednesday to dump merit selection and replace
it with gubernatorial appointment and Senate confirmation, voiced his
"There is going to be a backlash on this court. In addition, I predict
there will be a backlash on those elected representatives who stand on the
sidelines and allow this court to usurp their authority," said Barnett,
At the start of the 2006 session, several proposals were offered to change
the court, but the confirmation plan was the only one to reach either
chamber for debate.
This year, lawmakers are trying to come up with a way to meet the court
mandate for more money for schools without raising taxes or cutting state
services. The Senate wants to phase in $660 million over 3 years; the
House wants to do the same thing with $500 million.
Confirmation resolution: SCR 1606.
On the Net: Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org
(source: Associated Press)
Impressions: Death penalty opponent was thoughtful
J. Newcomb Nash, a member of the Board of Contributors, Teen Council or
Sounding Board reflects on a meeting with a guest of the Editorial Board
I met David Kaczynski, executive director of New Yorkers Against the Death
Penalty, this week at an Editorial Board meeting. He visited to state his
group's opposition to Gov. Pataki's push to reactivate the death penalty
in New York state.
Other attendees at the meeting included members of the Editorial Board and
newspaper staff, Board of Contributors member Jimmy Haynes and Teen
Council member Nadine Morsch.
"No way I'd miss this meeting, even though I'm missing school!" said
Morsch, before the meeting started, as we shared our enthusiasm for this
topic and guest. Democrat and Chronicle staffers, on the other hand,
exhibited the cool cucumber-ness of years of experience.
Kaczynski was concerned that Pataki's call to renew the death penalty was,
at heart, a political exploitation of tragic situations, including the
recent death of state Trooper Andrew Sperr in the line of duty. Kaczynski
explained the financial, social and emotional costs of the death penalty,
all of which are excessive, even for victims' families.
He said the state Senate had ignored problems with the death penalty -
including the possibility of wrongful conviction and its uneven
application - that the Assembly had addressed.
We talked of politics intermingled with morality. Pataki rode the death
penalty ticket to the gubernatorial mansion. Is he trying to ride police
officer killings to the White House?
We talked about death penalty opinion surveys, how the outcomes depend on
how the questions are phrased and whether the option of life without
parole is included on the survey.
It was toward the end of the meeting, when Haynes raised the question of
the reasonableness of using the death penalty in cases of mental illness,
that I realized that Kaczynski is the brother of Ted Kaczynski, the
"Unabomber." Afterward, I spoke with Kaczynski to share the understanding
and grief that we both have experienced as a result of having an immediate
family member with schizophrenia. He said he finds it helpful to talk
openly about mental illness and to tell people that family members are
beloved, regardless of their illness.
(source: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle)
THE DEFENSE RESTS----Fellow inmate testifies alleged eyewitness Russin
said he lied
2 hours and 12 witnesses were all attorney Demetrius Fannick required to
defend his client, Hugo Selenski, against 2 charges of 1st-degree murder.
By comparison, the prosecution called 38 witnesses over the 1st 6 days of
"I felt it's all I needed," Fannick said of his brief defense. "I don't
think you could look at a criminal case as one side starts and then the
other side starts. I think your defense starts with (the cross examination
of) the 1st Commonwealth witness."
Fannick rested his case Thursday morning. He and Luzerne County Assistant
District Attorney Jim McMonagle will begin closing arguments Monday at 8
a.m. Luzerne County Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. will then give the jury
instructions before sending them to deliberate Selenski's fate. If
convicted on both counts of first-degree murder, jurors must then decide
whether Selenski deserves the death penalty.
As he left the courthouse on Thursday, Selenski was asked if he felt
"I'm pumped," he replied.
Defense witness Joseph Simpson, an inmate at the State Correctional
Institution at Retreat in Newport Township, showed up for court wearing a
blue prison uniform and dark sunglasses. Simpson said the prosecution's
alleged eyewitness to the murders, Patrick Russin, told fellow inmates he
lied to investigators about Selenski's guilt. Simpson also said inmates
gave Russin the nickname "Pat the rat."
"(Russin) said he's pulling the wool over everybody's eyes," Simpson told
the jury. He said Russin told inmates he made up the story about Selenski
killing 2 men so Russin and a "nerd" could escape federal weapons charges.
Simpson also testified that Russin received special treatment at
SCI-Retreat, including having a television in his cell and receiving extra
Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce challenged
Simpson's testimony about special treatment. Russin was in a restrictive
housing unit, but unlike inmates housed in the unit, was on administrative
custody and entitled to different amenities, Sanguedolce said. The
prosecutor told Simpson to read prison policies to reaffirm the point.
Sanguedolce asked Simpson if he told anyone about the statements he says
Russin made in 2004.
"I contacted Mr. Fannick, I went to him," Simpson said pointing to the
back of the courtroom.
Fannick raised his hand to acknowledge Simpson was telling the truth.
Other witnesses called by Fannick on Thursday morning included Ben and
Nancy Hufford, Selenskis neighbors when he lived on Mount Olivet Road in
Both said they do not recall hearing gunshots at the time prosecutors
allege Selenski killed his victims. The Huffords also said they do not
remember seeing a large fire on May 14, 2003, the day Selenski is alleged
to have burned the 2 bodies.
Under cross examination, Ben and Nancy Hufford said it is not unusual to
hear gunshots in their rural, wooded neighborhood. They also said it was
common to see people burning trash and other debris on Selenski's
(source: The Citizens Voice )
EVIDENCE TESTING----DNA bill is a life-and-death race; The Florida
Innocence Initiative, which works to reverse wrongful convictions, pins
its hopes on a bill before the Legislature that would extend DNA evidence
The letters keep coming. Two dozen a week -- sometimes more.
They arrive in sunshine yellow envelopes with flowered borders and a
mother's cursive writing. Manila envelopes arrive with an inmate's
deliberate block-letter printing.
"Please," writes a young female soldier, "help my cousin. He has been
convicted but he is innocent." Letter after letter begs the Florida
Innocence Initiative to help someone the writer believes could be
exonerated by DNA testing of evidence in their case.
"It's fairly sophisticated triage we perform here," Jenny Greenberg,
director of the Tallahassee-based initiative, said as she looked at a box
of 31 letters received during 1 week in February. More than half are still
sealed, waiting for someone to find the time to read and prioritize them.
The clock could soon run out.
There is a July deadline for inmates convicted before 2001 to file a
petition with the court to have DNA evidence in their cases tested. A bill
before the Florida Legislature this month would permanently lift the
deadline, but its passage is less than certain.
"I could sleep again at night instead of worrying about that deadline
hanging over us if it passes," Greenberg said.
She believes she's running a life-and-death race for many who write asking
for help. Since 2003, when the Florida offshoot of the New York-based
national Innocence Project opened, Greenberg has seen 3 men exonerated by
DNA evidence after they spent decades in prison. 2 others in Florida were
exonerated earlier, in 2000 and 2001.
PRIDE IN WINS
Greenberg takes great joy in the victories. Photos of two of the
exonerated men, Al Crotzer, 45, of Tampa and Luis Diaz, 67, of Miami, hang
in Greenberg's office. Legal papers clearing 44-year-old Wilton Dedge's
record of his wrongful rape conviction are tacked to the wall.
But Greenberg recalled one man she couldn't help before he died and others
whose cases the initiative won't get to before the deadline.
"There was a 73-year-old man who I was absolutely certain was absolutely
innocent," Greenberg said. "He died of congestive heart failure after 21
years in prison before we could get the DNA tested. Because resources are
so tight, we don't have the luxury of clearing his name for his family.
We've got people who are alive and still in prison -- some facing the
death penalty -- to worry about."
The legislation would eliminate the July deadline for post-conviction DNA
testing in older cases and allow inmates who entered guilty pleas as part
of plea bargains to petition for a test, something that has been
prohibited in Florida.
Nationally, 7 inmates who pleaded guilty in their cases have been
exonerated by DNA testing. Some say they took the plea because of a
lawyer's warning that it was the only sure way to avoid the death penalty.
Overall, 175 people across the country have been exonerated by DNA
testing, according to the Innocence Project.
The Florida bill's Republican sponsors -- Sen. Alex Villalobos of Miami
and Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale -- say the timing might be
right this year to permanently lift the deadline. The bill is expected to
have an easier journey through the Senate than the House.
And debate is taking place just after the fifth Florida inmate, Crotzer,
was exonerated in January. Crotzer had been convicted in 1982 of raping a
12-year-old girl and her mother.
"I'm cautiously optimistic," Bogdanoff said.
The bill has broad support -- including Gov. Jeb Bush, prosecutors, public
defenders and the Florida Supreme Court. There has been very little public
opposition, but there are detractors behind the scenes, said Bogdanoff and
Some lawmakers, whom they won't name, oppose parts of the bill because
they don't want to appear soft on crime. Detractors also worry that
continued testing would rob victims and their families of closure.
Florida's post-conviction DNA testing law passed in 2001 after the
high-profile exonerations of Frank Lee Smith and Jerry Frank Townsend, 2
Broward County men convicted in unrelated murder cases. Under the law,
anyone convicted of a crime has two years after a sentence becomes final
to ask a judge to review DNA testing of physical evidence.
Those convicted before the law went into effect had until Oct. 1, 2003, to
file their petitions. The Legislature extended that deadline until last
October. Then the Florida Supreme Court intervened and extended it until
July so that lawmakers could take up the matter.
Greenberg and Michelle Fontaine, the initiative's only other full-time
employee, have a backlog of 800 pre-2001 cases that have yet to be
screened. If the deadline passes without action by the Legislature, those
cases that haven't been processed will lose their eligibility to be
considered for testing.
More requests come in each day. The operation gets some help from
volunteer law students who pitch in between studying and writing papers.
More than 1,000 cases have been investigated by the Florida office since
2003, and of those, 53 have been placed with outside lawyers working for
The initiative receives no state money and exists solely on grants and
Greenberg has a hard time fathoming why anyone would want to block the
bill, which doesn't ask for any money to fund her operation.
"Right now our main focus is extending the deadline, and we were afraid if
we asked for funds, it would kill the bill," she said.
"What we need more than anything right now is the time to do our work."
(source: Miami Herald)
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