[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, LA., UTAH, N.Y.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Apr 19 20:02:37 UTC 2007
Supreme Court wrestles with insanity question----Justices focus on
procedural issues as they hear Texas death row case
The U.S. Supreme Court, hearing arguments in a Texas case Wednesday about
how mentally ill a death row inmate must be before it's unconstitutional
to execute him, asked whether procedural hurdles may prevent the justices
from deciding the issue.
The question in the case of Scott Panetti, a 49-year-old convicted in the
1992 slayings of his estranged wife's parents in Fredericksburg, is
whether the court's longtime ban on executing the insane applies to
mentally ill inmates who cannot understand that the punishment is the
result of their crimes.
Panetti, hospitalized 14 times for schizophrenia and psychotic delusions
before he killed Amanda and Joe Alvarado, apparently believes the reason
the state of Texas plans to execute him is that it is working with the
devil to prevent him from preaching the Gospel to his fellow inmates.
Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz argued that the standard for deciding
whether someone is truly insane and therefore ineligible for execution
should be whether he is capable of understanding the link between his
crime and punishment. Panetti is capable of understanding, Cruz said, but
is simply faking the extent of his delusions.
Panetti's lawyer, Gregory Wiercioch of the Texas Defender Service, argued
that the standard should be whether an inmate "rationally understands" he
is to be executed and why. Panetti does not, he said.
But the justices, interrupting Wiercioch almost immediately after he began
his argument, focused many of their questions on whether the insanity
question should even be answered in this case. They asked whether federal
laws limiting death penalty appeals should have prevented Panetti from
challenging his execution in federal court once a Texas court found him
competent to be put to death.
"What do you do with the language in the statute?" asked Justice Antonin
Scalia, a death penalty supporter. "After all, Congress is entitled to
place limits upon our ability to review state court judgments."
The justices seemed divided along liberal-conservative lines. Centrist
Justice Anthony Kennedy is expected to provide the decisive vote if the
decision is closely contested.
On the courthouse steps following the argument, Cruz said Panetti's case
is complicated because everyone agrees he is mentally ill. Where the state
and Panetti's lawyers differ, he said, is that the state believes the
inmate is exaggerating his illness to escape punishment.
But he said it's possible the court won't answer that question or provide
any further guidance on what it believes is the definition of insanity.
It's clear, he said, that the court "is wrestling with procedural issues"
as well as the underlying question on insanity.
A decision in the case is expected by July.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Supreme Court hears Texas death penalty case----Justices to decide whether
inmate is too mentally ill to execute.
In the 4h Texas death penalty case before the Supreme Court this term, the
justices examined the difficult issue Wednesday of mental illness and at
what point that illness should spare a convicted killer from execution.
Scott Louis Panetti murdered his former in-laws in 1992 after a
decades-long struggle with mental illness. On death row since 1995, he
suffers from schizophrenia and paranoid delusions.
Panetti is aware that he committed a crime and that the state seeks to
execute him, 2 key elements that prosecutors say meet constitutional
standards to justify his execution.
Lawyers representing Panetti argued before the Supreme Court Wednesday
that a higher standard is needed, however, and that defendants must have a
"rational" understanding of why they face execution. Because of his
delusions, Panetti is convinced that the state wants to kill him because
he preaches the Gospel.
"The death penalty was never intended to be carried out against a man like
Scott Panetti, who has no comprehension of the real reason he's being
executed," attorney Gregory Wiercioch said. "Even if you tell him, 'Hey,
the real reason is for killing your parents-in-law,' he just incorporates
that into his delusion."
Chief Justice John Roberts asked Wiercioch: "If you have someone who is
competent at the time they're convicted, competent at the time they're
sentenced, and . . . they fall and hit their head and they don't
understand it . . . it's somehow very cruel to go forward with the
execution at that point?"
Roberts replied: "Obviously competence at the trial and sentencing is
important. I just don't understand the concept that it has to continue to
the point of execution."
The court is expected to issue a ruling in the case before the end of its
term in June but may act without setting a new standard for what makes an
inmate competent to be executed. Several procedural issues related to
Panetti's case could send it back to the state.
(source: Austin American-Statesman)
Deputies suspended over tape showing beating
In Beaumont, 2 Jefferson County sheriff's deputies have been suspended
without pay over the beating of an inmate that was caught on videotape.
Sheriff Mitch Woods said Wednesday the case of Rodney George Cole II, 32,
and Johnny Lynn Vickery Jr., 36, has been turned over to the District
District Attorney Tom Maness said both deputies have been charged with
misdemeanor official oppression.
Woods said the beating was unjustified and an ongoing criminal
investigation could result in more charges.
Maness said the beating took place April 5 when the deputies were booking
a Port Arthur man into the county jail on a traffic warrant.
Authorities said the video showed Cole punching the man in the face
multiple times after a verbal confrontation. Vickery is accused of
grabbing the handcuffed man and slamming him into a wall and a metal
"This assault shows to be unprovoked ... and not in defense of any unjust
action attempted by (the inmate)," an affidavit said.
The man was taken to a hospital for treatment.
Cole, a 4-year employee of the jail, declined comment. Vickery, a 5-year
employee, could not be reached for comment.
"Being rude and obnoxious verbally does not justify the use of force,"
(source: Associated Press)
Inmates, Guards Testify In Russeau Punishment Trial
16 prison and jail guards testified Wednesday about alleged violations -
including obscene gestures, name-calling and fighting - committed by
capital murder convict Gregory Lynn Russeau dating to 1989.
Current and former Texas Department of Criminal Justice correctional
officers and Smith County Sheriff jailers detailed the disciplinary
reports they wrote about the violations of rules and regulations they said
Russeau performed while he was incarcerated.
Russeau, 37, has been convicted of capital murder for the robbery and
beating death of James Syvertson, 75, on May 30, 2001. The victim's body
was found on the floor of his auto repair shop on Vine Avenue. Russeau was
found driving the victim's car in Longview.
The Smith County jury in 114th District Judge Cynthia Stevens Kent's court
will decide whether he receives the death penalty or life in prison for
Major Melodye Nelson, who worked for TDCJ for 18 years, said she knew
Russeau when he was in prison and characterized him as an opportunist who
would take advantage of a situation. She said he had "a lot" of
Current and former TDCJ correctional guards Wendy Landrum, Jerry
Underwood, Maggerlean Wright and Glenda Wood testified about Russeau
performing sexual acts on himself in front of them in 1989, 2002, 2003 and
2004. Ms. Underwood, Ms. Wright and Ms. Wood said Russeau looked at them
while he was doing it.
Ms. Underwood said Russeau's facial expression, a look of power, concerned
her the most.
The women said Russeau's actions were disrespectful and aggressive.
Former prison guards Glenn Collins, Charles Collier and Parnell Anding
each said they wrote disciplinary reports about Russeau getting into
fights with other inmates on 4 occasions in 1989, 1990 and 1996. Collins
also said Russeau did not report to work on 5 occasions in 1990.
Former and current prison guards Stephen Shaw, Beth Belobsky and Gregory
Cagle testified about incidents in 1989, 1990 and 1996 when Russeau made
vulgar statements to them, cussed or called them obscene names.
Ms. Belobsky said she was afraid of Russeau, whom she called a very
"aggressive and assaultive" inmate.
Correctional Officer Jomilito Necesito said that on Aug. 23, 1996, Russeau
made a vulgar hand gesture to him.
"If we allow one inmate to disrespect us, then we lose the respect of the
whole population," he said.
SMITH COUNTY JAIL
Retired Smith County jailer Cindy Smith testified that on Aug. 3, 1993,
while at the low risk facility, Russeau called her a bad name. Other
inmates reported Russeau had threatened to beat them up if they didn't
give him their commissary.
Former Smith County jailer Pam Lamore said that on Aug. 7, 1994, Russeau
exposed himself to her twice.
Smith County Sheriff Deputy and former jailer Doris Jackson testified
Russeau said vulgar things to her on Aug. 25, 1994. She said she took the
comments as threatening and aggressive.
Six prison guards and a Smith County jailer testified on Tuesday about
additional incidents when Russeau violated the rules.
The defendant was convicted and sentenced to death in 2002 for capital
murder, but the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in 2005 that Russeau
receive a new punishment trial. The court found his Sixth Amendment right
to confront witnesses against him was violated because the trial court
admitted into evidence jail and prison disciplinary reports containing
statements written by officers, but no one who saw the alleged offenses
Before 2004, records could be admitted under the business record exception
to the hearsay rule. But Crawford v. Washington, a case decided by the
U.S. Supreme Court that year, found it was unconstitutional. The ruling
was retroactively applied to Russeau's case.
Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham and First Assistant DA April
Sikes are prosecuting the case while Clifton Roberson and Brandon Baade
are representing Russeau.
The trial will resume Thursday in Judge Kent's court.
(source: Tyler Morning Telegraph)
Inmates, kin say poor jail care left them fighting for their lives ----
Officials reject claims, say 'good standard' of treatment was provided
They walked into the Dallas County Jail, two men with drug problems.
A feeding tube now keeps Lee Jefferson alive while he lies motionless in a
persistent vegetative state. John Graves doesn't know how long he will
survive the cancer that ravaged his body while he was inside the jail.
John Graves doesn't know how long he will survive the cancer that ravaged
his body while he was inside the jail. The men's families and lawyers say
that they were denied adequate medical care inside the jail and that it
contributed to or caused their dire conditions. Their legal team, which
recently won a $950,000 settlement from the county in a jail neglect case,
is gathering medical and jail records and interviewing witnesses.
Sharon Phillips, Parkland's vice president in charge of jail health, said
the medical treatment the men received in jail was "within a good standard
of care." She said privacy laws prevented her from providing specifics.
Dallas lawyer David Finn, with whom Mr. Graves' family is consulting, said
he has made the U.S. Justice Department aware of the Jefferson and Graves
cases. The department is scrutinizing the jail's medical care, and
officials will make an extensive follow-up visit to the jail next week.
Medical records show that both inmates received some medical attention
inside the jail. Their cases highlight the challenges for jail health-care
workers to properly assess and treat inmates, many of whom enter with, or
later develop, serious medical conditions.
"Many of the individuals that are arrested and brought to the jail have
not been taking very good care of themselves," Ms. Phillips said.
County officials have blamed many of the jail's problems on a former jail
health contractor and insist that Parkland has greatly improved jail
health since taking over those duties last year.
However, Mr. Jefferson didn't receive the medication he needed for his
sickle cell disease until a month after he was booked into the jail in
January, said lawyer Russell Wilson, a member of Mr. Jefferson's legal
team who acquired his jail medical records.
And in the five days leading up to his February hospitalization, the jail
ran out of one of his medications, an antibiotic, according to his jail
medical records, Mr. Wilson said. Mr. Jefferson, 28, stopped breathing at
the hospital. He was left with severe brain damage.
"He walked in that jail with the functions we all have. And he left
deprived of everything but breath," Mr. Wilson said.
A vicious cancer
Mr. Graves, 38, arrived at the jail in November. His family says he has
battled a drug problem that is to blame for his legal troubles. His
mother, Billie Rich, said she had wanted to get him into a state
drug-rehabilitation facility, but the waiting list was too long.
Mr. Graves said that beginning in mid-January, he asked repeatedly to have
the growing lump on the side of his left cheek examined. His jail medical
records show that by March it had grown to a mass of about 2 inches by 3
When he was taken to Parkland on March 4, Mr. Graves said, he was pale and
underweight, having vomited and defecated blood repeatedly. The aggressive
cancer in his neck has since spread to his stomach. There is too much to
remove. He doesn't know how much longer he has to live.
The men were in jail, serving brief sentences one for drug possession,
the other for theft as a result of an underlying drug problem. Judges
ordered them released from custody last month because of their rapidly
Sheriff Lupe Valdez has launched investigations into the cases.
"If we're wrong, we need to fix it," she said.
Mr. Finn said someone must accept responsibility for what happened to Mr.
"You would think that with the Department of Justice breathing down its
neck ... the county would have eliminated this type of fiasco," Mr. Finn
The Dallas County Jail has flunked four state inspections in a row. In
December, the Justice Department released a scathing report documenting
numerous cases in which lack of proper medical care contributed to the
death and injury of inmates.
While Mr. Graves was in serious condition at Parkland late last month, an
ambulance was dispatched to take him to a state hospital in Galveston, 6
hours away. He had been waiting since January to be transferred to the
state's custody to finish out his sentence.
At the time, he had only about 2 months remaining on his 9-month sentence
for stealing an air-conditioning unit from a house under construction.
After an emergency hearing in Judge Lana Myers' 203rd Criminal District
Court, the judge released Mr. Graves because of his condition and put him
County and state officials could not explain why the decision was made to
transfer him to state custody that late while he was seriously ill. The
Sheriff's Department and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice blame
each other for arranging for the transport out of Dallas County.
Mr. Graves said that while in jail, guards ignored his repeated requests
for help and accused him of faking illness to get out of the jail.
At Parkland, he needed several blood transfusions to replace blood he had
vomited as the cancer grew on his cheek and in two places in his stomach,
he said. Chemotherapy has reduced the tumor on his neck. But the cancer
continues to grow inside his stomach. He faces additional treatments of
"I've been healthy as an ox my whole life," he said. "Dying dogs have been
Ms. Phillips said that Mr. Graves saw a doctor multiple times in jail and
that she is "comfortable with the standard of care" he was given.
His records show that Mr. Graves was first seen by a nurse for the lump on
his jaw on Feb. 1. The next day, a doctor examined him and diagnosed the
growth as an inflammation of the salivary gland. The doctor prescribed
antibiotics, ibuprofen and Benadryl, records show.
Blood-test results, available about nine days earlier, showed a low red
blood cell count, according to the records.
On Feb. 28, Mr. Graves complained that the antibiotics had not reduced the
growth on his cheek. The next day, the same doctor noted that the growth
had increased about 25 percent, and she ordered an "urgent" ultrasound.
Records don't indicate whether the ultrasound test was performed. Mr.
Graves said it wasn't.
On March 4, Mr. Graves arrived at the nurse's station by wheelchair, "very
pale" and complaining of weakness, according to his medical records. He
told nurses he had passed out earlier. Records show that he was sent to
Parkland's ER for "further evaluation" and while there was found to have
On March 17, he underwent stomach surgery to stop bleeding, and doctors
said there was too much cancer in his stomach to remove, his family said.
A long struggle
Mr. Jefferson has had to take antibiotics twice daily to fight infection
since his damaged spleen was removed when he was 18, said his mother,
Madelyn Feaster. She said her son has been in and out of hospitals all his
life because of sickle cell disease.
Mr. Jefferson also was taking folic acid, which helps make new red blood
cells to replace dying ones. Red blood cells carry oxygen to the body.
Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder in which a person's red
blood cells, normally flat and round, form into a sickle or crescent-moon
shape and get stuck in blood vessels. Such blockages are known as crises,
which often are followed by extreme pain.
The blockages can stop blood flow to major organs.
Mr. Wilson said Mr. Jefferson's medical records indicate he didn't receive
his medications between Jan. 4 and Feb. 3, or during the days immediately
prior to his transfer to Parkland on Feb. 24.
Ms. Feaster said she and other relatives called the jail multiple times,
beginning on the day of his arrest, to tell staff about the medications
her son needed daily.
She said her son told her by phone that he wasn't getting his medicine and
had gone into crisis four times in jail, where he was serving time for
violating his probation on a cocaine-possession case. The final episode
resulted in his hospitalization.
Mr. Wilson said the jail had a medical record on Mr. Jefferson from when
he was in the jail previously. Staff knew or should have known what
medications he was on, he said.
Mr. Wilson recently won a new trial for Mr. Jefferson on the probation
violation charge he pleaded guilty to three days before his
hospitalization. Mr. Wilson argued in court papers that the lack of proper
medical care affected Mr. Jefferson's decision to plead guilty. After
granting the new trial, the judge ordered Mr. Jefferson back on probation,
court records show.
Satisfied with care
Ms. Phillips said that based on the information Mr. Jefferson provided
medical staff upon his arrival at the jail, she was satisfied with the
"timeliness of care."
"With the information we had that came directly from him, we did perform
absolutely appropriately," she said.
Ms. Feaster must care for her son around the clock in a small apartment
until he can be moved to a nursing home. After initial scares when
paramedics were called, she is becoming more adept at caring for him.
Using a plastic tube connected to a suction machine that she's renting for
$60 a month, she gently cleans her son's mouth of saliva and mucous. Mr.
Jefferson cannot move, except for an odd reflex motion.
"He walked in and came out like this," said Ms. Feaster, who moved to
Dallas from Queens, N.Y., with other family members to care for Mr.
When she saw him for the first time since his arrest, he was on life
support at Parkland. He was released this month. Ms. Feaster says she
wasn't instructed on how to use the equipment. She did something wrong the
other day, and he vomited all over himself.
He lies motionless on a borrowed hospital bed, a tube attached to his
neck. He is breathing on his own, but that's about all he does. His eyes
open occasionally to gaze vacantly. Doctors told the family he has no
awareness of anyone around him.
Still, Ms. Feaster holds out hope that her son can regain some functions.
She said she felt pressured by doctors at the hospital to remove the
"They said, 'He's never going to come around. Let nature take its course,'
" she said. "That's like killing him. I felt that if God wanted him, he
would have taken him."
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Judge: Rising numbers of New Orleans defendants don't have public
defenders to help them
The number of criminal suspects going without public defenders is rising
despite a judge's threat to start letting people out of jail.
Last month, Judge Arthur Hunter ordered 42 defendants freed but delayed
implementation of his order until a hearing could held.
"I'm up to an additional 40 people since March 26 who don't have lawyers,
period," Hunter said Wednesday before that hearing. "It's not inadequate
representation in these cases, it's no representation."
Hunter has been battling what he sees as the Office of Indigent Defenders'
inability to adequately represent the hundreds of poor defendants since
Hurricane Katrina wrecked the New Orleans criminal justice system.
Before the hurricane hit, 3/4 of the defenders' office's budget was
financed by traffic court fines. That revenue dried up after Katrina
devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005. A Justice Department study said the
office needs $7 million to $10 million a year to operate.
Participants in Wednesday's hearing including representatives of the
Orleans Parish District Attorney's, the state bar association, the
indigent defenders officer and state Rep. Danny Martiny, chairman of a
legislative task force on indigent defense.
Martiny said he was ready to file a bill that would set up a statewide
indigent defense board, replacing the state's 41 local boards.
"Right now, there are no unified standards, no accountability. If this
bill passes, that would change," Martiny said.
Last year, Gov. Kathleen Blanco persuaded lawmakers to double state
funding for indigent defense, from $10 million to $20 million annually.
Martiny said he expects the Legislature to approve an additional $7
million for indigent defense this year.
Hunter said about half of the 82 defendants he said had no lawyers were
already out on bail. Those defendants face charges ranging from possession
of marijuana to aggravated rape, the judge said.
The district attorney's office has said it would likely appeal any ruling
by Hunter that unrepresented defendants be released.
During an earlier hearing, the lead trial counsel for the public
defender's office, Stephen Singer, said 12 public defenders were handling
at least 1,371 cases in Orleans Parish's criminal district court as of
Nov. 9, 2006, an average of 114 cases per lawyer.
(source: Associated Press)
Lawmakers review lethal injection----Questions have arisen over
Nationwide challenges to lethal injection as a method of execution have
prompted state lawmakers to review Utah's policies on the death penalty.
"Lethal injection is an effort to find a humane way of executing people,"
Utah Sentencing Commission director Scott Carver said Wednesday.
He briefed the Legislature's Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim
Committee on Utah's history of the death penalty and issues surrounding
lethal injection. A lawmaker requested a study after problems developed
during a Florida man's execution by lethal injection.
Questions have emerged about whether the execution method violates a
constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment, or if the
drug cocktail administered is too painful. "The methods and the process
for lethal injection in Utah have been very efficient and effective,"
Carver said. "We have not had any problems. The substances have worked
extremely well and very quickly."
Utah became the 1st state to execute an inmate after the U.S. Supreme
Court reinstated the death penalty, when Gary Gilmore was put to death in
1977. Death by firing squad was eliminated as an option in 2004. Under
Utah law, the firing squad remains a fallback option should lethal
injection be ruled by the courts to be unconstitutional.
9 men are on Utah's death row. 4 who were convicted before the law was
changed are still eligible to die by firing squad.
"The Utah Department of Corrections has an extremely detailed, written
manual on how to conduct an execution," Carver said. "It was developed
after the Gilmore execution."
That manual may keep Utah out of legal trouble. Some states facing
execution challenges over the method of lethal injection have not
developed such policies, said Scott Reed, the criminal division chief for
the Utah Attorney General's Office.
"If such a challenge comes up, our procedures are sufficient. Our methods
are sufficient," he said.
Legal win for mentally ill inmates ---- State agencies agree to provide
more treatment, reduce time in solitary
Thousands of severely mentally ill inmates in New York's prisons will
receive more treatment as part of a landmark settlement in a federal
lawsuit brought by prisoner advocates.
The agreement is expected to be signed April 27 by a federal judge and the
It was negotiated after 5 years of litigation and 2 weeks of a nonjury
trial before U.S. District Judge Gerard E. Lynch in New York City.
"This greatly expands the mental health services available within the
prison system," said Cliff Zucker, executive director of Disability
Advocates, a not-for-profit group in Albany that was the plaintiff.
About 8,000 of the state's 63,000 inmates have been diagnosed with serious
mental illness. Hundreds are kept in solitary confinement and studies have
shown they are far more likely to commit suicide or injure themselves.
Along with adding staff, resources and new beds for mentally ill inmates,
the settlement bans some seemingly barbaric prison practices, such as:
Stripping naked mentally inmates suffering an acute psychotic episode,
segregating them in a Plexiglas-walled cubicle and leaving them with
nothing but a thin pad on a cement floor.
The use of punitive "restricted diets," a loaf made from bread and
cabbage, for punishment.
It also adds 2 to 4 hours of therapy outside the cell for mentally ill
prisoners currently locked down in 23-hour solitary confinement.
Dan Odell, a spokesman for the state Office of Mental Health, which was a
defendant in the lawsuit along with the state Department of Correctional
Services, expressed satisfaction at the resolution of the case. He said
details have not yet been worked out, but the settlement will require more
mental health professionals and other resources to the prison system.
In the recently adopted state budget, Gov. Eliot Spitzer called for an
additional $60 million over three years for services for mentally ill
inmates. That includes $50 million in capital construction costs, $2
million for Office of Mental Health staffing and $2 million for
Correctional Services staffing this year, growing to $9 million a year in
Construction money will be used to build facilities for 405 mentally ill
prisoners, with 305 transitional intermediate care program beds for those
with mental illnesses and a 100-bed residential mental health unit for
severely mentally ill inmates who otherwise would be placed in solitary
confinement. Also, all new inmates will be carefully screened by
professionals for mental illness for the 1st time.
Spitzer spokeswoman Christine Pritchard said: "Through a considerable
investment in state resources in the budget this year, the Spitzer
administration has committed to providing significant improvements to the
services and housing available for mentally ill inmates."
Sarah Kerr, staff attorney for Prisoners' Rights Project of the Legal Aid
Society in New York City, said: "We believe there's real commitment now in
the leadership of the state agencies that will result in true reform for
mentally ill prisoners."
Kerr, who spent 5 years working on the lawsuit, and attorneys with
Disability Advocates were joined by attorneys with Prisoners' Legal
Services of New York and pro bono lawyers with Davis Polk & Wardwell, a
New York City law firm.
Also Tuesday, advocates lobbied at the Capitol for passage of a law to end
all solitary confinement for mentally ill inmates.
"We're moving full-speed ahead," said Harvey Rosenthal, an organizer of
the event and head of the New York Association for Psychiatric
(source: Albany Times Union)
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