[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----ALA., CALIF., LA., USA, ARIZ.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Apr 10 01:58:11 UTC 2007
Ordeal turns victim against death penalty
Few people on either side of the death penalty debate can match George
White's perspective on the subject.
"For me, the taking of another human life is not some abstract concept,"
White said. "All I have to do is shut my eyes and I can see it."
He sees his wife, Char, being shot to death during a robbery in 1985 at a
business White managed in Enterprise, Ala. White himself was shot in the
leg, arm and abdomen. He found out what it was like to harbor a white-hot
desire for retribution.
"From the moment Char was killed and for a long time afterward, I
absolutely supported the death penalty," he said. "I wanted that man
dead." Then, six months after the murder, White was charged with killing
his wife. When the case went to trial more than a year later, the state of
Alabama asked the jury to condemn White to death. He was convicted of
murder and sentenced to life in prison.
After he had served 2 years and 103 days in prison, an appeals court
overturned the verdict and ordered a new trial. Just before his 2nd trial
3 years later, in 1992, White said, he and his lawyer uncovered evidence
that would have proved his innocence but had never been presented at
trial. It included ballistics tests showing that 1 of the shots that
wounded him had to have been fired from at least 5 feet away.
On April 10, 1992, his case was dismissed for good.
For all those years, White carried hatred in his heart against the man who
killed his wife, and nearly as strong feelings against the authorities who
had sought his death. Ultimately he realized his hatred was having no
effect on either the killer or the criminal justice system.
"But it was destroying me," he said. "It was killing me."
There was one more factor. His son and his daughter, 12 and 5 at the time
of the murder, had suffered through the brutal killing of their mother and
then watched as their father went to prison for the crime.
"Their response was to keep on loving me," he said.
His wife's killer has never been identified. White said he would like to
see the killer behind bars, but he has forgiven him and does not want him
executed. As part of working through his new feelings, White helped found
"Journey of Hope ... From Violence to Healing," a group of murder victim
family members who campaign for alternatives to the death penalty.
Since the group came together in 1993, White figures he has given 1,000
talks. He'll give another one today in Billings. Sponsored by the Montana
Abolition Coalition, he'll speak at 7 p.m. in Losekamp Hall at Rocky
White, who now works as a truck driver, spoke by phone Thursday from
Evanston, Wyo., on his way to Salt Lake City.
He said he learned a lot during his ordeal. For one, he believes he
escaped the death penalty only because the jury was all white and didn't
want to kill a man much like them. If he had been black, he said, he might
have been executed before the proof of his innocence was discovered.
White says he likes to tell his audience that he is absolutely certain of
very little, but he knows now that the justice system sometimes convicts
the wrong person. He also knows that life in prison, despite some popular
conceptions, is a grinding punishment.
"In prison, it's not what you have, it's what you don't have. It's called
liberty," he said.
White said the basis of his conviction was his own admission to police
that he'd been having an affair before the murder. He thought perhaps the
ex-husband of the woman he had been seeing might have had something to do
with the shootings, so he volunteered the information to investigators.
"I wouldn't defend it, I couldn't defend it, I wouldn't want to defend
it," White said of the affair. "I was ashamed."
But the police latched onto the admission because it gave them a motive
for the crime. The murder was big news in the little town of Enterprise,
and the police were desperate to close the case, White said. When the
conviction was overturned, he said, the appeals court chided the trial
judge for his "abrogation of judicial responsibility" and called the trial
"a mockery, a sham and a circus."
White said he never dreamed he would be convicted, because even though he
couldn't remember some events of the night of the shooting, "I knew
absolutely what did not happen." He describes the whole period of being
charged and tried and sentenced "my 'Twilight Zone' experience. I think I
know what temporary insanity is. I lived it for a lot of years."
White is convinced that most people support the death penalty only because
they've never thought deeply about the subject. He said he doesn't recall
giving the subject any thought before his wife's death.
As an alternative to capital punishment, White said he would like to see
the worst criminals sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.
They should be employed and paid a fair wage and a portion of their
earnings should pay for their care and upkeep, he said. The rest should be
given to a victims' restitution fund, to the offender's dependent
children, and to public education and counseling services.
"Who better to pay than the offenders?" he said.
(source: Billings Gazette)
Wrongly imprisoned death row inmate to give talk
Whether it's red licorice vines, fishing at the beach or watching his
1-year-old daughter eat a blueberry, the little things matter most now for
46-year-old Nick Yarris, who spent 23 years on death row for a crime he
More than three years after DNA testing freed him from a tiny cell in a
Pennsylvania prison, Yarris is a devoted opponent of capital punishment
and speaks frequently about his nightmare behind bars. He'll be at
Stanford University Tuesday night.
In a couple of months, Yarris will be able to say he's only spent half of
his life in solitary confinement, instead of a majority. "For the last 14
years in prison, I didn't touch another human being," he said in a
The event is organized by Stanford Beyond Bars, a student group focused on
incarceration issues that aims to raise awareness about America's prison
population. Some of the students have pen pals on death row, organizer
Jacquelyn Gauthier said.
Besides listening to Yarris, the audience can catch some glimpses of
"After Innocence," a 2005 Sundance Film Festival winner about a group of
falsely imprisoned men who were later exonerated.
Yarris' sentence started with an attempted murder and kidnapping
conviction for an incident in late December 1981. He was acquitted by a
jury on those charges a year later.
But while behind bars, he was falsely implicated in a murder that had
occurred shortly before his arrest. A neighboring inmate told authorities,
in exchange for a lighter sentence, that Yarris had confessed to the
murder of Linda Mae Craig, who was sexually assaulted and killed after
being abducted from mall in Delaware County, Pa., in mid-December 1981.
Yarris said the detective on the case also convinced two witnesses to lie,
claiming they saw Yarris at the mall in question the day the murder
happened. Their testimony sent him to death row.
"I was a mess," Yarris said. "I was a 20-year-old drug addict (and) car
thief. I deserved to be in prison for my behavior, but the things that
befell me were wrong."
Yarris managed to escape in 1985 while en route to a hearing on destroyed
evidence. He turned himself in in Florida 25 days later.
In 1988, Yarris became the 1st death row inmate to request DNA testing. It
took 15 years, but the final test showed no sign of his DNA among the
evidence collected in Craig's murder and instead pointed to 2 unknown
males whose DNA showed up under Craig's fingernails, in semen taken from
her underwear and in the killer's gloves. After the tests, the 2 witnesses
came forward and admitted they had lied. Yarris was freed from prison in
The event starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Cubberley Auditorium at the School
of Education at Stanford, 85 Lasuen Mall. For more information call,
(source: Palo Alto Daily News)
Local film takes viewers to execution----Kenner man won't say whether it's
Steven Scaffidi won't divulge everything about his new film that tracks a
condemned man's route to the electric chair.
"Execution," which premieres Tuesday night at McAlister Auditorium on the
Tulane University campus, is a 90-minute tale of the ultimate punishment.
Advertised as containing footage of a real electrocution -- recorded years
ago by hidden cameras that 2 filmmakers stashed in a death chamber -- the
movie is meant to be mysterious as to what is real and what is
"I'm not trying to be evasive," Scaffidi, 50, said last week at a Harahan
coffee shop. "Is it real? I think that's what the audience can decide. At
the end of the day, you're going to know what's real and what's
The New Orleans native said he wants the viewer to absorb the depiction of
the death penalty in vivid detail.
"My goal is to take the audience and put them on the front row of an
execution," he said. "This story is a myth. Parts are real and not real."
"Execution" follows 2 filmmakers determined to capture an execution in a
Southern state, and stars a former Mississippi prison warden who presided
over executions, a former chaplain at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at
Angola who counseled convicts during their last breaths, and a man who
spent 16 years on death row, Scaffidi said.
In the film, the 3 men play the roles they served out in real life.
William Neil Moore is the "condemned man" in the script, reliving his
all-too-real experience on Georgia's death row until the state parole
board commuted his sentence to life in 1990, according to the film's press
Spared after relatives of his victim pleaded for clemency, Moore today is
a free man who works as a preacher in Rome, Ga.
"No one is beyond redemption, even people on death row," Moore likes to
say when he speaks across the country on the subject.
Donald Cabana, the former warden at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at
Parchman, appears in the film as "the warden," while the Rev. Joel LaBauve
is "the priest," having earned the role by spending six years at Angola
ministering to doomed convicts.
All three will host a panel discussion after Tuesday's screening.
6 years in the making, "Execution" isn't meant to change anyone's opinion
on the legal ritual, Scaffidi said. "The film is not going to make a
The film is not for anyone under 17 years old, he said, and he shrugs off
any suggestion that "Execution" is an exploitation of the grim topic.
Who is his target audience?
"Anybody who has an opinion about prison life and the death row," he said.
"Is it right? Is it wrong?"
Scaffidi made headlines with his 2006 documentary "Forgotten on the
Bayou," which chronicles Hurricane Katrina survivor Rockey Vaccarella, who
after riding out the storm on his roof, decided to tow his FEMA trailer to
Washington, D.C., to have dinner with President Bush.
"I set the whole thing up," he said of Vaccarella's Oval Office trek, yet
another film from his Ghost Rider Pictures company that he started in
His previous works include "The People's Story," a documentary about
survivors of Hurricane Mitch's wrath in Honduras, which he said was a
finalist for the 2000 Academy Awards, but didn't receive a nomination.
The University of New Orleans graduate has spent almost a lifetime making
movies -- he made his first as a 10-year-old with a Super 8 camera. About
15 years ago, Scaffidi met up with a condemned inmate while working on a
film segment for an HBO special. He couldn't come up with the convict's
name the other day, but he remembers that after spending time with the
inmate, Scaffidi's emotions ranged from revulsion to pity.
"I hated him," Scaffidi said of the murderer. But after following him all
the way to his state-sponsored death, the filmmaker found himself crying
after the man's execution. "I cried and I found that struggle within
myself. Feeling sorry for a killer."
Scaffidi said he has conflicted feelings about the death penalty. "I
flip-flop," he said.
These days, Scaffidi, who grew up in Carrollton and Lakeview before his
family moved to Kenner, is a full-time filmmaker, settled back in Kenner
with a wife and three children, ages 20, 18 and 14, all of whom Scaffidi
plans to take to Tuesday's screening.
But he's still not answering every question about "Execution," including
whether the condemned man is based on a real convict, or where exactly the
"hidden" footage came from.
"One day we will, but not now," he said. "Let the film play."
The premiere of "Execution" is sponsored by the Tulane University Criminal
Law Society. Admission is free. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the film begins
at 7 p.m.
(source: Times Picayune)
DNA tests rescue 200 wrongly convicted
A watershed moment in American justice is expected to arrive without
fanfare this week when the Innocence Project hits its 200th exoneration
That means the 200th innocent person is expected to be released from
prison because re-examination of DNA taken from the original crime proved
that he was wrongly convicted, according to attorney Barry Scheck,
co-founder of the project
"It is a learning moment. We have a technology (DNA) that is a truth
machine that allows us to go back and get justice for the innocent,"
Scheck said. "For the victims, it means another chance to find out who
really committed the crime."
Since the first post-conviction DNA exoneration took place in 1989,
inmates have been proven innocent in 31 states, including 4 men in New
The tally of those freed currently stands at 198, and includes 14 men who
were at one time on death row, according to Innocence Project statistics.
In 43 cases, the real assailant eventually was found.
Nearly 60 % of those exonerated have been African American. One of them is
former soldier Larry Peterson of Pemberton.
In 1989, Peterson was convicted of the rape and murder of Jacqueline
Harrison, a 25-year-old mother of two whose body was found 2 years
earlier, dumped in a soybean field in Pemberton in Burlington County. She
had been raped, tortured and strangled.
Forensic science was still in its infancy then. Hair, skin and body fluids
were taken from the crime but DNA testing was unavailable. Microscopic
study of the hairs did appear to link Peterson to the crime scene.
Informants also testified that he confessed to the crime.
Peterson, then 37, was sentenced to life in prison. In the early 1990s,
while working at the law library at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, he
petitioned the court for access to the DNA samples from the crime. It took
another decade and the legal muscle of the Innocence Project, however,
before he won the motion.
Testing was finally done in 2005. It showed conclusively that the sperm,
hair and skin found at the crime scene were not Peterson's. At least one
of the witnesses recanted. All charges were dropped against him last May.
In July 2006, Peterson testified before the state Death Penalty Study
Commission. He admitted he gets bitter about the 18 years he wrongfully
spent behind bars, but was grateful he lived to see the mistake corrected.
"DNA evidence allowed me to finally walk out of prison a free man," he
told the commission, which in January recommended New Jersey eliminate the
death penalty. "As long as the death penalty exists in New Jersey, the
next innocent person may not."
The Innocence Project is not the only organization advocating on behalf of
prisoners wrongfully convicted, but it is the 1st dedicated to using DNA
to prove the claims, Scheck said.
Started in 1992 as a law clinic by Scheck and another civil rights
attorney teaching at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City,
the Innocence Project now handles about 160 cases per year and has spawned
several other local innocence organizations.
Among the people they have freed are Jerry Frank Townsend, who served more
than 21 years in a Florida prison for 6 murders and a rape.
Mentally retarded with an estimated mental capacity of an 8-year-old,
Townsend confessed to anything the investigators asked. He eventually was
sentenced to seven concurrent life sentences and had been in prison nearly
20 years when the mother of one of the victims convinced police to review
DNA testing not only cleared Townsend, but implicated another man, Eddie
Lee Mosley, who was already in prison on other rape and murder charges.
The DNA tests also exonerated another Florida inmate, Frank Lee Smith, who
was on death row for the rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl. The tests
implicated Mosley in that crime, too.
Smith served 14 years on Florida's death row. He died of cancer in 2000
before he was officially exonerated of the murder.
Scheck stressed the limitations of DNA, however. Biological forensics are
present in only about 10 % of criminal cases, he noted, and in at least 50
percent of cases, the evidence has been lost or destroyed. Other states,
particularly New Jersey, have such massive backlogs on current DNA cases
that old convictions are at the back of the pack.
"The single greatest cause of false convictions is mistaken eyewitness
identification, not bad science," Scheck said. "There is a huge need for
reform and the real significance of the 200 cases is that we are
convincing states that it is the right thing to do."
A majority of states, including New Jersey, now have laws permitting
post-conviction DNA testing. States are standardizing evidence-gathering
procedures, requiring video-taping of interrogations and providing
compensation to exonerated inmates.
Scheck's hope is that the DNA exoneration movement will feed justice
reform on a major scale. Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) agrees.
"We've seen enough innocent people convicted that there is no longer any
reason to take a chance on the death penalty," said Lesniak, who has been
pushing a bill to abolish the death penalty in New Jersey for the past 3
years. "We can't afford to be wrong."
(source: The Star Ledger)
County to Seek Death Penalty Against Burns
County Attorney Andrew Thomas will be seeking the death penalty against
the man accused in the murder of a Gilbert woman.
Jonathan Burns faces murder, kidnapping, sexual assault and weapons
charges in the death of Jackie Hartman.
The 19-year-old nursing student was reported missing in January after
reportedly going on a date with Burns.
Her body was found in the desert nearly 3 weeks later.
alleged aggravating factors related to the homicide. These are (1) the
defendant was previously convicted of serious offenses and allegedly
committed serious offenses in addition to murder, and (2) the alleged
offenses in this case were committed in an especially heinous, cruel or
depraved manner. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that prosecutors must
allege at least one aggravating factor in a murder case in order to seek
the death penalty.
"Following a review of the facts and the law related to this case, I have
concluded that the death penalty is the appropriate punishment for this
defendant," said Mr. Thomas. "I express my deepest condolences to the
parents and loved ones of Ms. Hartman and my staunch commitment to seeking
justice in this case."
Thomas called for the court to follow legal guidelines and move this case
to trial as prescribed by the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure. Rule
8.2(a)(4) states that all death-penalty cases shall be tried within 18
months of the defendant's arraignment.
(source: KTAR News)
Death penalty sought in slaying of nursing student
The Maricopa County Attorneys Office announced Monday it will seek the
death penalty against a Mesa man jailed in connection with the
disappearance and slaying of a 19-year-old nursing student.
The County Attorney alleges in court documents that Johnathan Ian Burns,
25, deserves the death penalty because of his criminal record, and because
the killing of Jackie Hartman was done in an "especially heinous, cruel or
"Following a review of the facts and the law related to this case, I have
concluded that the death penalty is the appropriate punishment for this
defendant," County Attorney Andrew Thomas said in a press release.
Hartman was last seen Jan. 28 on a date with Burns, who told police he
dropped her off and went home. Cell phone records show he was placing
calls at the time of her disappearance in the area where her body was
found Feb. 18.
Police found her blood in Burns' truck and on clothing belonging to her in
a trash bin near Burns' house.
Burns was indicted on charges of 1st-degree murder, kidnapping, sexual
assault and misconduct involving weapons in connection with Hartman's
The County Attorney convenes a group of senior prosecutors who recommend
whether to seek the death penalty against a defendant and Thomas makes the
(source: East Valley Tribune)
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