[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----CALIF., GA., TENN., S.C., MISS.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Oct 2 20:35:37 UTC 2006
Child murderer on San Quentin's death row dies of apparent heart attack
A 60-year-old child murderer on death row at San Quentin State Prison has
died of an apparent heart attack after being incarcerated for almost 17
years, a lieutenant said today.
Robert Jackson Thompson was taken to Marin General Hospital around 8 a.m.
Saturday, Lt. Eric Messick said. He had earlier complained of chest pains,
and was pronounced dead by an attending physician at the hospital, the
An Orange County jury convicted Thompson of sodomizing and strangling to
death 12-year-old Benjamin Brenneman in a 1981 case in Anaheim. He has
been at San Quentin since December 1983.
The California Supreme Court affirmed Thompson's sentence in 1990, but he
was pursuing appeals in federal court, Messick said.
The boy's mother, Kay Brenneman, was quoted in a 1999 news report as
supportive of capital punishment in an article highlighting a debate over
whether contemporary execution methods were cruel and unusual.
"I've been waiting 17 years,'' she told the Contra Costa Times in remarks
the newspaper published after the lethal injection of Jaturun "Jay''
Siripongs, in which the newspaper said it took 15 minutes for the
convicted murderer to die.
Since the state reinstituted capital punishment in 1978, there have been
13 executions in California, one execution in Missouri in which the
defendant was also convicted of a capital crime in California, and a total
of 34 inmates who died for medical reasons.
"The leading cause of death on death row is natural causes,'' Messick
San Quentin State Prison has 621 inmates on death row.
(source: Bay City News)
Fulton can't find half its jury pool
On any given day at the Fulton County Courthouse, only half the people who
are supposed to report for jury duty show up.
And, except in rare cases, there's no penalty for anyone who ignores a
"The word's out," said defense attorney Jack Martin, who raised the issue
when he represented Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin in a 2002 death penalty trial
for killing a Fulton County deputy. "If you don't show up for jury duty
[in Fulton County], nothing's going to happen."
According to the county's statistics, only 53 % of qualified prospective
jurors summoned to appear last year actually came in.
Court officials say it's too expensive, time-consuming and inefficient to
go after those with no legal excuse for skipping jury duty. Usually, it's
an extreme example that prompts a Fulton judge to dispatch a deputy to
fetch a prospective juror or to order someone jailed for contempt for
ignoring a summons.
"If we were in a small community, we might be able to go out and locate
individuals," said Doris Downs, Chief Judge for Fulton County Superior
Fulton officials say incorrect mailing addresses are the main reason for
the high no-show rate.
Downs said the state's largest court system does not have the staff or
money to "have a team, on a daily basis, to go out and haul in those who
do not appear and [then to] have [contempt] hearings before judges. ... We
do not have the ability to do that."
Downs said Fulton's limited resources were better dedicated to moving
defendants through the already overwhelmed court system.
The national average for no-show jurors is about 40 %, according to
published reports. At least two major metro Atlanta counties have better
success rates than Fulton.
In DeKalb County, about 25 percent of people summoned for jury duty don't
appear after getting their 1st notice, jury services supervisor Diane
Arthur said. That percentage drops to 14 or 15 % once follow-up letters
are sent to those who didn't show up without a legal reason to skip jury
duty, she said.
In Cobb County, only 8 % of jurors without legal reasons to be excused
failed to answer their summonses. Court Administrator Skip Chessire, who
also is president of the National Association of Court Management, credits
the county's aggressive approach when prospective jurors don't respond.
Fulton's solution has been to summon at least twice as many prospective
jurors as are needed, to ensure enough will show up to make an adequate
"The persistent problem is if they need 100 jurors, they will call 200,"
Martin said. "So instead of taking it seriously and sending the sheriff
out to get people, they [court officials] just assume 50 %won't show up.
As long as they get enough bodies, they don't give a damn [if people
ignore jury summonses]."
The problem with juror no-shows, especially those called for grand juries,
will be the subject of a hearing Monday involving the January death
penalty trial of alleged courthouse killer Brian Nichols. His lawyers
cautioned in motions filed months ago that the "no-show" rate was such
that minorities are under represented to the point where the law and the
Constitution - which require that a defendant must be tried by a jury of
his or her peers - are violated.
"The percentage of minorities and young persons who actually appear for
jury service in Fulton County is substantially lower than such persons in
the community," wrote the lawyers for Nichols, who contend "60 % or more"
of the people called to serve on trial or grand juries have been no-shows
on some occasions.
It will be weeks before summonses are mailed to prospective jurors for the
Nichols trial. He faces charges of killing a judge, a court reporter, a
deputy and a federal agent. But lawyers are already crafting the written
questions that will be mailed during the early stages of jury selection in
order to weed out those who do not qualify. For example, anyone with a
felony record is barred from serving, and only U.S. citizens are eligible.
To get 12 jurors and 4 alternates for the Nichols trial, court officials
expect to send summonses to 3,500 registered voters and licensed drivers
in Fulton. That is in addition to the 1,500 called each week in an attempt
to get an eligible pool of 300 for trials.
Fulton is not the only place where prospective jurors routinely fail to
answer summonses. In Miami, as many as 90 % of the people summoned to
court don't show up.
Experts say urban areas like Atlanta, Dallas, New York and Washington have
far higher no-show rates because people are more transient than in smaller
cities and rural counties, where people tend to move less often and are
easier to find when they do.
The National Center for State Courts is in the final stages of a
nationwide research project to measure the severity of the problem.
Robert Boatright - a political science professor at Clark University in
Worcester, Mass., who is participating in the study - wrote in the
yet-to-be released report that people who show up for jury service "may
not be representative of the population" because of no-shows, as well as
the number of people excused from duty. "Some citizens may wish to serve
but find themselves unable to take the time off from work, [unable] to get
to the courthouse, and so on," Boatright wrote in his draft. "And some
citizens may simply do whatever they can to avoid jury service. Few courts
have the resources or the motivation to ensure that all citizens respond
to their jury summonses."
Fulton crafts its jury pool from the list of registered voters and those
who have driver's licenses.
"Since they don't purge the jury list, you have bad addresses,
particularly in the African-American community," Martin said.
"Minority populations, low-income populations are a particular problem
because the poorer you are, the more frequently you move," he said.
Fulton's Court Administrator Judith Cramer said a computer
cross-references addresses for prospective jurors with change-of-address
notices to the U.S. Postal Service, so she is relatively confident the
addresses are accurate.
But in testimony at an earlier hearing in the Nichols case, Jury Clerk
Jennifer Lawson could not say how many of the no-shows were missing at the
downtown courthouse on a given day because they did not receive a notice -
or because they just didn't want to be bothered.
When notices or jury questionnaires are returned as "undeliverable,"
Lawson said, the staff sometimes tries to find alternate addresses. "Phone
books would be checked," Lawson said at a hearing last spring. "Of course,
computer white pages would be checked for a different address."
But not everyone is checked, Lawson said on the witness stand. She
declined to be interviewed for this article.
"It's just a matter of who was available to help out," Lawson testified.
"I and my staff for the most part, in the past, has not had that
responsibility because it really is an added group of chores to what we do
on a day-to-day basis."
She testified that no checks for current addresses had been done by her
office for at least 12 months. "I don't recall doing this the last time,"
If a jury summons goes unanswered and is not returned by the post office,
a second notification or questionnaire is mailed.
Show or no-show, once a person has been summoned, he or she is not called
again for at least 3 years.
On a few occasions, Fulton judges have gotten tough with offenders.
No-shows have been tracked down and required to sit thought entire trials,
without getting any of the benefits of jury service, including the $25 per
When she was trying to seat a jury in the Al Amin case, Judge Stephanie
Manis jailed a Roswell psychotherapist for "reprehensible" arrogance as he
twice disregarded orders to report for jury duty. Manis fined Peter Schemm
$1,000 and ordered him to spend 3 days in jail.
"It's time everybody takes it serious," Martin said. "To throw up your
hands and say 'it doesn't work' is a lie."
ABSENT WITHOUT EXCUSE
Fulton County Court officials believe one reason people don't show for
jury duty is because they never receive the mailed summons. But they say
they don't have the staff or the money to take more aggressive steps
against no-shows. According to the court's statistics, in 2005, an average
of 47 % of the people required to report did not.
Month....Required ....Reported....Failed to report......% to appeal
(source: Atlanta Journal Constitution)
State responds to Holton filing
Arguments that Daryl Holton must have another and perhaps more complete
hearing on whether he's making rational decisions about his pending
execution only appear to present the truth, but are actually misleading
and include invalid inferences.
That's part of the Tennessee Attorney General's response for Ricky Bell,
the warden of Riverbend Maximum Security Institution where Holton's Sept.
19 execution was stopped within 12 hours of the time Bell selected to
follow the state Supreme Court's order that he die for the murders of his
3 sons and stepdaughter nearly 9 years ago next month.
The Federal Defender Service's "complaints about the procedures employed
in this case, Holton's denied 'opportunity for a full [competency]
hearing,' and the need for 'additional expert evidence offered by both
parties' are pure sophistry, because Holton's every word and deed
demonstrate his competence," the Attorney General's office stated Friday.
A 29-page final brief submitted to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals
in Cincinnati concludes that a federal district court's order upholding
Holton's 4 death sentences should be affirmed so that the Tennessee
Supreme Court may set another date to execute Holton.
Jennifer L. Smith, associate deputy attorney general counsel, and
Solicitor General Michael E. Moore signed the document submitted for
Attorney General Paul Summers.
"Holton," they wrote, "has stated unambiguously and directly to this
[federal appeals] court that he does not wish to pursue this appeal."
In a hand-written letter to the 3-judge panel in Cincinnati on Sept. 21,
Holton stated that "at this time" he could not "in good faith" pursue an
appeal filed by Stephen Ferrell, the attorney who approached the appeals
court on Holton's behalf from the Federal Defender Service of Eastern
Holton's letter also makes a reference to his appeal to the U.S. Supreme
Court which, in effect, calls for an examination of whether he received
adequate legal counsel during his murder trial in the Bedford County
Courthouse where a jury found him guilty of four murders and issued 4
death sentences in 1999.
Holton shot his 4 children, ages 4, 6, 10 and 12, in their backs. He
surrendered to police saying he felt they were better off dead than living
with his ex-wife.
In recent months, he has: selected the electric chair over lethal
injection as the manner of execution; written to a court saying he would
not oppose execution; and written to the U.S. Supreme Court to question
his defense team's work.
Legal steps have been taken on his behalf, but he has, for the most part,
not assisted in those efforts. The defense offered for him claims that he
does not know what he's doing and should for that reason be spared the
electric chair. He has resisted such a description and has been seen by
judges as aware of the consequences of what he's doing.
The Attorney General's office says the Federal Defender Service has
presented itself as Holton's attorney, and signed documents for him. The
time for Holton's appeals has expired, the 3 top attorneys said. (source:
Jordan joins somber ranks of those condemned
Tennessee's death row is referred to as "Unit 2" - a term scrubbed up like
the whitewashed walls. Scrubbed up the way that the state's main
penitentiary is referred to as Riverbend Maximum Security Institution.
Really, the row is 4 circular pods of 24 cells apiece.
It's about death. Victims' deaths that have filled the unit with convicted
killers. The death by lethal injection to which juries have sentenced the
inmates to pay for those acts, in a room that is never more than a few
And the moment an inmate steps into the place, as David Lynn Jordan did
Wednesday, the dying begins.
"There's usually not any light at the end of this tunnel," said Mike
Crutcher, Riverbend's assistant warden. "Usually, the most you hope for is
to have a death sentence reversed or reduced (to life without parole)."
There are 102 prisoners facing a death sentence in Tennessee. The 96-pod
unit at Riverbend is virtually full. There are 2 condemned prisoners at
Brushy Mountain Maximum Security Prison, two others in special needs
facilities because of physical conditions, and the 2 women facing the
death penalty are at the Tennessee Prison for Women.
Still, only two men have been wheeled into the death chamber in Tennessee
since the revival of capital punishment nearly three decades ago. The last
man executed was Sedley Alley in June.
The average stay for the current population is 13 years, according to
Tennessee Department of Correction records. One man, Richard Austin, will
mark 29 years in January.
So the business of living still goes on - so to speak - even in a place
where death is the 1st name.
Jordan was escorted to an 8-by-10 cell with a solid door with one small
window. He will spend 23 hours a day in that cell, leaving only for an
hour of exercise and time to shower (unless his is one of the cells
equipped with its own shower).
He will have limited phone conversations and "no-contact" visits with
family and attorneys. He is allowed a television set, books, and legal and
There are what's called "On the Door" educational programs that are
available, such as a course to get a GED certificate.
That is how it goes for the first 18 months in Unit 2. If that time passes
without incident, Jordan will get more privileges, such as additional
opportunities to phone or visit.
Another 12 months incident-free, and he could qualify for "Level A"
status. Family visits would take place in a room where contact is allowed
- but guards are always present.
Jordan also could apply for a job as a janitor, kitchen worker, library
clerk, data entry worker or perhaps supervising some arts and crafts work.
Crutcher estimated that about half the inmates on death row are at Level
"The initial adjustment from freedom to jail has already been made when
these men come here," Crutcher said. "The finality of the trial process
sets in with the realization that it's a death sentence. Still, you work
to have daily routine go smoothly as possible here."
Last month, a scheduled execution was stayed by a federal appeals court 12
hours before it was to take place.
Preparations of the remaining inmates began long before that.
"We have inmate councils in death row just like we do in other parts of
the institution," Crutcher said. "We meet with each one monthly. Obviously
we went over what could have happened then, or what might come up in the
future. It's part of what happens here, and these men know it.
"We work to hopefully maintain a civil lifestyle with no lockdown, and we
tell them not to do anything differently."
But Crutcher added, "Executions here take place at night - when the
facility is basically locked down anyway."
(source: Jackson Sun)
Attorneys for indigent clients seeking a raise----Rates for
state-appointed lawyers haven't been increased in 12 years
Like most attorneys, Charleston lawyer Lynn Bowley has done her share of
court-appointed trial work for clients who cannot afford an attorney.
One time, it nearly put her out of business.
The case was a three-year fight over parental rights. Near the end, the
then solo-practice attorney had to close her office for three weeks while
the case dragged on into trial.
Months later, Bowley was reimbursed by the state at a rate of $60 an hour,
but the state's check didn't come close to covering her preparation costs
and loss of other income.
"It was all I could do to stay afloat," she said.
With the Legislature set to reconvene in January, the South Carolina Bar
is lobbying to increase the pay scales for private-practice lawyers who
are appointed to represent indigent clients.
The state's current rate is $40 an hour for out-of-court work, $60 an hour
at trial, with a ceiling of between $1,000 and $1,740 per case. Those
numbers haven't changed in at least 12 years, prompting some lawyers to
complain that they're required to work for less than break-even.
Leading the call for reform is S.C. Bar President Bradish J. Waring of
Charleston, who, when he was sworn in last May, hinted that the bar might
sue the Legislature to enforce a wage increase.
Besides being unfair to the marketplace, Waring said the current pay scale
is especially hard on rural, small and solo practices that find time
divided by state-appointed work.
"This isn't about lawyer greed." he said, "It's taking bread off the
South Carolina has a public defender system that represents the indigent.
But every year thousands of lawyers are drawn into all sorts of state
cases that they are required to accept as part of their oath and license.
The system has created an "unfunded mandate" that forces lawyers to do
state work, Waring said.
Many lawyers accept this duty as part of the profession but say the
state's current wage structure nowhere near covers their efforts,
especially in cases involving abused or neglected minors. Those cases have
been known to last a decade or more until the child reaches adulthood.
Selling a budget increase for the state Office of Indigent Defense to the
Legislature could be a tall order in an atmosphere where indigent defense
has never been a budget priority, even as states are constitutionally
mandated to provide attorneys for defendants who can't afford them.
Waring said a more equitable package would be to increase the rates to
between $90 and $100 an hour and remove the caps.
South Carolina's rates are slightly below those of neighboring states.
Georgia pays its appointed private lawyers $45 an hour for their
out-of-court work and $65 an hour in-court. Death penalty cases are a flat
$125 an hour.
North Carolina pays a flat rate of $65 an hour for any case that is a
non-capital murder case. Death penalty rates were increased from $85 to
$95 an hour by the Legislature, effective Aug. 1.
Additionally, Waring said he wants to see a system by which lawyers are
appointed to cases more in line with their specialities, so that, for
instance, maritime lawyers are not appointed in child endangerment cases
or some other case far outside their field of expertise.
Bowley said most lawyers accept the fact that they will be appointed to
indigent cases as part of their careers but want fair compensation for
What they get
The South Carolina Bar is seeking an increase in pay for private-practice
lawyers assigned to take cases for indigent clients.
Lawyers are paid $40 an hour for out-of-court work and $60 an hour
The rate hasn't been increased in about 12 years.
(source: Charleston Post and Courier)
Man charged with killing wife, 4 kids
A man was charged Sunday with murdering his wife and her 4 children in a
domestic dispute at their home, authorities said.
Michael Simmons, 41, appeared at a bond hearing via video link from the
Charleston County jail on Sunday and was ordered held without bond on 5
counts of murder.
Officers discovered the bodies, including that of a 6-year-old, on
Saturday after a witness saw the bodies in the home and called police,
according to a police affidavit. Simmons was captured as he tried to drive
from the scene.
The victims had been shot with a handgun sometime between 3 a.m. and 5:45
a.m., the affidavit said. Simmons was not the children's father,
Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten said.
Simmons and Detra Rainey Simmons had been married for more than a year,
authorities and her relatives said.
"This appears to have been a domestic situation that turned deadly," said
Spencer Pryor, a North Charleston police spokesman.
Melba Rainey Thompson said her sister worked at a hospital, was attending
nursing school and was undergoing the 2nd phase of chemotherapy for colon
"Her children were always there for her to comfort her when she went
through the pain," Thompson said.
The coroner had earlier identified the victims as Detra Rainey, 39, and
her children William Rainey, 16, Hakiem Rainey, 13, Malachia Robinson, 8,
and Samenia Robinson, 6. Rainey Simmons had a 5th child, 21-year-old
Christan, who attends Southern University in Louisiana, relatives said.
The family belonged to St. Andrews Episcopal Mission, where the children
attended vacation Bible school and sang in the choir, relatives said.
"Words can't express the impact this has had on our family," relative Gene
Fanning said at the bond hearing. "It's a devastating loss. We want him
held fully accountable for his actions."
Fanning said later that Simmons was disabled and unemployed.
The jail did not have any attorney information for Simmons.
Monique Singleton, who lives across the street in the subdivision of about
2 dozen mobile homes, said that 4 children lived in the home and that her
children occasionally played with them.
"They were nice people; they seemed fine," she said.
(source: Associated Press)
New execution date to be sought for Wilcher
The attorney general's office is expected to go back to the Mississippi
Supreme Court this week to ask for a new execution date for convicted
killer Bobby Glen Wilcher.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined without comment today to hear an appeal
from Wilcher's attorney months after it stopped his execution on July 11.
Wilcher, now 43, was sentenced to death for killing Katie Belle Moore and
Velma Odell Noblin in 1982. After meeting them at a Forest bar, Wilcher
persuaded the women to drive him home and diverted them down a deserted
Their blood-soaked bodies were found sprawled along the muddy banks of the
dirt road. Each woman had been stabbed and slashed more than 20 times,
according to authorities.
Wilcher's case has gone through two trials, two re-sentencing hearings and
Speculation had been that the court might consider Wilcher's appeal to
settle whether constitutional protections against executing the mentally
retarded should be extended to the mentally ill. Wilcher takes medication
for a bipolar disorder, a chemical imbalance which some doctors say causes
people to experience extreme highs on the one pole, and depression on the
Past cases have also shown the justices were interested in when to cut off
a condemned inmate's appeals.
In June, Wilcher told a federal judge he wanted to drop his appeals and
the July 11 execution date was set. Wilcher himself then filed an appeal
with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, saying he had changed his
mind. The 5th Circuit declined to stop the execution.
Attorney General Jim Hood has said as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled
against Wilcher, he would go back to the state high court for a new
Wilcher's attorney, Cliff Johnson of Jackson, said he would then launch a
new round of appeals for Wilcher, who was returned to death row at the
Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman after his execution was
Mississippi's last execution was this past December, when John B. Nixon
Sr. died by lethal injection for the 1985 contract killing of Virginia
Tucker of Brandon.
(source: Associated Press)
More information about the DeathPenalty