[Deathpenalty] death penalty news------COLO., OHIO, USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Apr 9 03:55:36 UTC 2007
Jury spares prison killer's life
A Denver federal jury's decision last week to spare the life of a convict
who killed and gutted a prison cellmate is the latest example of a
national trend: U.S. prosecutors increasingly seeking the death penalty,
with juries usually saying no.
Under President Bush, prosecutors have pushed for death sentences more
often. Yet since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, juries
nationwide have decided on death in 56 of 416 cases where prosecutors
sought it, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, an
anti-death-penalty group in Washington.
Instead, defendants in death-penalty cases usually wind up sentenced to
life in prison without parole.
"Juries and the public in general now have an option of life without
parole, and that causes many jurors to hesitate," said Richard Dieter,
executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.
On Friday, a U.S. District Court jury said it could not agree on whether
William Sablan should be put to death for the 1999 murder of Joey
Estrella, a fellow inmate at the U.S. Penitentiary in Florence.
The same jury had convicted Sab lan of first-degree murder last month.
While most on the panel favored a death sentence, one held out, jurors
"There was no strong-arming or arguing," said juror Brent Zimmerman, 25, a
materials engineer interviewed Friday.
"Personally, I'm frustrated in one way," he said. "On the other hand, the
law is what it is. You have to respect everyone's opinion."
Federal prosecutors had labored to have Sablan put to death, citing the
brutality of Estrella's murder. Jurors learned how Sablan eviscerated his
victim, then sat on Estrella's bloody body taunting guards.
The crime "is the very definition of 'heinous or depraved,"' a legal
hurdle for a death sentence, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brenda Taylor told
But because the panel could not reach a unanimous decision on a sentence,
Sablan will serve life in prison. Judge Wiley Daniel scheduled a formal
sentencing for April 18.
The jurors cited mitigating factors, such as evidence Sablan has severe
mental trouble, that he once saved the life of a drowning swimmer and that
executing him would cause emotional trauma for his 4 children.
The killing occurred when Sablan, 42, was serving a 21-year sentence for a
hostage-taking during a 1999 prison uprising on his former home island of
Saipan in the Pacific.
The case marked the 1st time in Colorado that federal jurors considered
the death penalty since Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was sentenced
to die a decade ago. McVeigh was executed in 2001.
Despite prosecutors' failure to convince jurors to support a death
sentence, U.S. Attorney Troy Eid said that "justice is served" by Sablan
serving life in prison.
"Mr. Sablan is going to spend the rest of his life behind bars," Eid said
outside the courtroom. "He is clearly a menace to society. ... The
absolute obligation now is to make certain he is closely monitored in
Defense attorney Nathan Chambers called it "a difficult case for
everybody," adding that jurors "obviously took their duties very seriously
... and we, of course, are very happy with the verdict of life sentence."
Of the 56 federal cases where jurors voted for the death penalty since
1988, 3 defendants have been executed, 3 had sentences overturned and 50
In 2000, federal death row prisoners numbered only 19, with the increase
reflecting the Bush administration's aggressive push for death sentences.
(source: Denver Post)
Death sentences rare for local juries----Murderers convicted in Franklin
County more likely to get life in prison
Jurors want evidence nailed down before they recommend the death penalty.
They want fingerprints and DNA, just like in the cop shows they see on TV.
Given the option to lock up the bad guy for life, they'll take it,
especially in Franklin County, where they're not as conservative as in
other parts of the state.
Court observers say these are among the reasons the county has not sent
anyone to death row since 2003, when James T. Conway III got 2 death
sentences for killing 2 people, one of them a witness to an earlier crime,
even though men have since been convicted of killing children and, like
Conway, more than one person.
The most recent case is that of Lindsey Bruce, who killed a 5-year-old
girl in 2004 to cover up raping her. Jurors believed that prosecution
theory when they convicted Bruce of aggravated murder last week but
recommended a sentence of life in prison with no parole.
The case was largely circumstantial. There were no witnesses, and her
skull was the only part of her body ever found.
Jurors who spoke anonymously after the trial said two women on the jury
said they could never vote for the death penalty, even though they had
told prosecutors during jury selection that they could.
It's a climate that has the Franklin County prosecutor carefully
considering when to seek a death-penalty indictment and doing so only when
there's little doubt the defendant is guilty, Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said.
"I have had jurors myself who favor the death penalty, but once you bring
it down to signing a verdict form, they don't want to participate," he
said. "My observation, under Ohio law, is that jurors are deprived of
essential information in order to make their determinations, and that is
the lack of victim-impact evidence before they deliberate."
The federal court system allows survivors to testify about how the slaying
of a loved one affected them before jurors decide the sentence, as in the
2005 shooting death of Columbus Police Officer Bryan Hurst. His killer's
case was tried in federal court to give his family more of a voice in the
proceedings, O'Brien said, and the killer got a death sentence.
In the Bruce case, Jane Rimel testified about the slaying of her daughter
Emily but didn't get to make a statement to jurors about how it had
Jurors also want to see more forensic evidence than is often available and
have some doubt about cases that don't have such evidence because DNA has
later exonerated some prisoners, O'Brien said.
Former Common Pleas Judge Dale A. Crawford, now in private practice, has
studied the capital-punishment trends for years and raised the issue of
"Franklin County is more opposed to capital punishment than Hamilton
County and Cuyahoga County because we're more of a white-collar
community," he said. "It's very hard for a prosecutor to convince jurors
in Franklin County to give death."
An Associated Press study of aggravated-murder cases between 1981 and 2002
found that 43 % of death-penalty cases in Hamilton County sent murderers
to death row, compared with 5 % in Franklin County and 8 % in Cuyahoga
Doug Funkhouser, a Columbus criminal-defense lawyer, said juries are
becoming more sophisticated and are searching for more clues about why
someone was killed.
"Jurors are highly educated, and they seem more willing to consider social
and economic backgrounds" of defendants, Funkhouser said.
In the 100 capital cases filed in the past 6 years in Franklin County,
guns were the weapon of choice and robbery was the most prevalent motive.
A prime example of the reluctance of jurors to send someone to their death
is the case of Vernon Spence.
He got a call from an Ohio State University student he knew who wanted to
sell him drugs. Spence and 2 friends immediately set up a plan to rob the
University District dealer.
Three people, all in their 20s, were home when Spence and his buddies
arrived. They tied up the three with stereo wire and Spence shot them
point-blank in the head as his buddies fled in fear. They testified
against him during the 2005 trial, but jurors chose to give him 3 terms of
life with no parole.
Crawford, the judge in the case, had to abide by their verdicts. "Vernon
Spence was the poster child for the death penalty," he said last week.
James Lowe, a senior county prosecutor, agreed, saying of jurors, "If they
aren't going to kill Vernon Spence, they aren't going to kill anyone."
Killers spared death
Here are some examples of aggravated-murder cases in Franklin County,
listed by the year they were tried, in which defendants were sentenced to
George Ware IV met Suzanne Dalton at a Columbus bar in 2002. He robbed
her, shot her and drove her car to Youngstown, where he set it on fire
with her body in the trunk. A jury said Ware should serve life with no
chance of parole.
Edward Hodge convinced 2 friends that he could score dope and thousands
in cash by robbing a man in 2002. When the 3 robbers arrived at the home
of Ricky Palmer, they didn't find any drugs. They tied up Palmer and his
live-in companion, Denise Evans, who was home from work because she was
sick. Forcing them to lie side by side on the kitchen floor they shot
them. Their teenage daughter found the bodies when she arrived home from
school. A jury sent Hodge to prison for life. Eric Franklin, an
accomplice, faced a 3-judge panel and got 33 years to life in prison.
Quan Tatum and Toby Wilcox were seeking drugs from a street dealer in
2003. But when they approached Habu Westbrook with guns drawn, he ran
inside. During the ensuing gunfire, Westbrook was killed and Tatum fired
at his girlfriend. The bullet ripped through her arm and into the head of
Alamar John-William Wright, killing the 1-month-old boy. Tatum and Wilcox
got life prison terms: Tatum in 2004 and Wilcox in 2005.
Timothy Woogerd, who was living out of his car, had a restraining order
against him but that didn't stop him from visiting his ex-wife and
Dec. 8, 2003. The couple had drinks together and watched some football on
TV. Before he left his sleeping family, prosecutors said, Woogerd set fire
to the house, killing his wife and two children, ages 21 months and
12 years. A defense expert said the fire could have been accidental
because there had been a fire in the fireplace. Woogerd is serving 55
years to life.
Jamel Curtis killed 2 businessmen within a week of each other in 2004. A
jury spared his life for the shooting of an immigrant shopkeeper that was
caught on tape, and he was found guilty of reduced charges in the shooting
of a Clintonville gun-store owner during a daytime robbery with 3
(source for both: Columbus Dispatch)
Resistance to death penalty growing----Questions about justice, expense
undermining political support for capital punishment
About once a week, a convicted murderer is put to death in a state
penitentiary, most often in Texas, where all but one of this year's 12
executions have occurred.
But around the U.S., capital punishment is under siege. Since the 1st of
the year, individual states have acted on long-festering questions about
the equity of capital punishment and made bold moves aimed at repealing
the death penalty, slowing the practice or temporarily halting it because
of rising costs.
The Nebraska Legislature last month came within 1 vote of repealing its
death penalty law. The new governor of Maryland called for the outright
repeal of capital punishment. Most of Georgia's 72 capital cases have been
stopped because the state's public defender system has run out of money.
New Jersey lawmakers are drafting a bill to repeal that state's death
penalty. And last month the governor of Virginia, a state whose 96
executions since 1976 are exceeded only by those in Texas, vetoed five
bills that would have expanded the use of capital punishment.
"I do not believe that further expansion of the death penalty is necessary
to protect human life or provide for public safety needs," said Democratic
Gov. Tim Kaine, an opponent of capital punishment.
Skepticism toward and resistance to the death penalty have been building
since the late 1990s, after investigations uncovered a troubling number of
wrongful convictions. That and existing moral objections to capital
punishment prompted some states, led in 2000 by Illinois and then-Gov.
George Ryan, to place a moratorium on executions, which have dropped from
a yearly high of 98 nationwide in 1999 to 53 in 2006.
Recent developments in states have been influenced by pragmatism, with
much of it rooted in concerns over the costs of lengthy appeals, which in
some cases exceed two decades.
6 pending appeals of death penalty cases in Ohio, for instance, where 191
people are on death row, include cases that go back to 1984.
Pointing to multimillion-dollar costs from appeals, Frank Zimring, a
professor at the University of California, Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of
Law, said: "People are starting to talk about cost and notice the
marginality of the death penalty."
$22.4 million in litigation
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley noted that 56 people have been sentenced to
death in his state since 1978, and taxpayers have spent about $22.4
million beyond the cost of imprisonment on appeals litigation.
O'Malley, a Democrat, said in February that if the state were to replace
the death penalty with life without parole, "that $22.4 million could pay
for 500 additional police officers or provide drug treatment for 10,000 of
our addicted neighbors. Unlike the death penalty, these are investments
that save lives and prevent violent crime."
There are about 3,350 convicts on Death Row, and more than 1/3 of
them1,450reside in penal institutions in California (660), Florida (397)
and Texas (393).
The legal system's delivery of death sentences has dramatically slowed.
During the 1990s the nation's courts would customarily issue about 300
death sentences annually.
Those numbers have plummeted in the last seven years, to 128 in 2005 and
102 last year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a
Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that lobbies against capital
Efforts to repeal or otherwise rethink the death penalty do not suggest
that the days of capital punishment in the U.S. are necessarily numbered.
(37 states have the death penalty; 12 do not, and New York's was declared
unconstitutional in 2004.)
While the Montana Senate approved the abolition of the death penalty this
year, a House committee defeated the measure. In New Mexico, the House
approved a repeal, but a Senate committee said no. In Maryland, a
legislative committee rejected O'Malley's plea to replace the death
penalty with life without parole.
Furthermore, public opinion polls consistently indicate majority support
for the death penalty. Fifty-six percent of Wisconsin voters last fall
approved an advisory referendum to reimpose the death penalty in the
state, which recorded its last execution more than 150 years ago.
"I don't think the country is about to get rid of the death penalty," said
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information
Center. "But overall, the trend shows some rethinking and hesitance."
"Because of flaws in the system and economics, everything is now being
given a fresh look," Dieter said.
Support for life imprisonment without the prospect of parole has been
growing, polls indicate, and that, coupled with questions about the
application of capital punishment and concerns about mounting costs, has
undermined political support for the death penalty.
Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland is an ordained minister and former prison
psychologist who worked on Ohio's Death Row. Strickland, a Democrat, has
long been an advocate of the death penalty but now defines himself as a
"supporter with certain reservations."
"I used to think before I worked in prisons that although innocent people
could be convicted that it was very highly unlikely that someone
[innocent] would be on Death Row," said Strickland, who delayed the
scheduled executions of three inmates shortly after taking office in
"There is convincing evidence that individuals have been wrongly
convicted," he said.
One of Strickland's predecessors, Michael DiSalle, in office from 1959 to
1963, personally investigated the cases of inmates on Ohio's death row
while he was governor.
"The possibility of an irrevocable error was so vivid to me that on
several occasions I made last-minute visits to the grim, antiquated Ohio
State Penitentiary, not far from downtown Columbus, across the street from
the casket factory, for a final interview with the condemned man," DiSalle
wrote in his 1965 book "The Power of Life or Death."
Eleven states have placed moratoriums on executions because of questions
about the humanity of the lethal injection process, the most popular form
of execution. Nebraska, which is the only state to mandate the use of the
electric chair, may revisit the death penalty issue later this spring,
with consideration of a bill allowing for life imprisonment without
parole, providing the inmate can be imprisoned without endangering other
"I don't know what's going to happen," said Nebraska state Sen. Ernie
Chambers, a longtime opponent of capital punishment. "But there's a lot
less fear on the part of senators to consider abolishing the death
(source: Chicago Tribune)
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