[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, N.C., USA, N.Y., MISS.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Apr 25 16:59:01 UTC 2007
High Court Throws Out 3 Death Sentences
The Supreme Court threw out death sentences for 3 Texas killers Wednesday
because of problems with instructions given jurors who were deciding
between life in prison and death.
In the case of LaRoyce Lathair Smith, the court set aside the death
penalty for the 2nd time. It also reversed death sentences for Brent Ray
Brewer and Jalil Abdul-Kabir.
The cases all stem from jury instructions that Texas hasn't used since
1991. Under those rules, courts have found that jurors were not allowed to
give sufficient weight to factors that might cause them to impose a life
sentence instead of death.
The three 5-4 rulings had the same lineup of justices, with Stephen
Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter and John Paul
Stevens forming the majority.
"When the jury is not permitted to give meaningful effect or a 'reasoned
moral response' to a defendant's mitigating evidence...the sentencing
process is fatally flawed," Stevens wrote in Abdul-Kabir's case
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and
Clarence Thomas dissented.
Roberts took aim at his colleagues in the majority in dissents he wrote in
the Abdul-Kabir and Brewer cases. The court should have deferred to lower
court rulings against the defendants because there was no clearly
established federal law that judges could have followed to grant relief.
"Whatever the law may be today, the Court's ruling that 'twas always so'
and that state courts were 'objectively unreasonable' not to know it' is
utterly revisionist," Roberts said.
Smith was sentenced to die for the murder of Jennifer Soto, a former
coworker at a Taco Bell who was stabbed and shot in a failed robbery.
In 2004, the justices overturned Smith's sentence because jurors were not
allowed to consider sufficiently the abuse and neglect that Smith had
suffered as a child.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reinstated the death penalty, however,
saying any errors involving the jury instructions were harmless.
Abdul-Kabir, also known as Ted Calvin Cole, was convicted in 1988 of using
a dog leash to strangle Raymond Richardson, 66, during a $20 robbery at
his San Angelo home. Abdul-Kabir's lawyers contend the jury that condemned
him had no way to take into account the mistreatment and abandonment that
contributed to his violent adult behavior.
The same sentencing problems applied to Brewer, convicted of fatally
stabbing 66-year-old Robert Laminack, who was attacked in 1990 outside his
Amarillo flooring business and robbed of $140. Brewer was abused as a
child and suffered from mental illness, factors his jurors weren't allowed
to consider, according to his petition.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld the death penalty for
Brewer and Abdul-Kabir. 47 inmates on Texas' death row were sentenced
under the rules that the state abandoned in 1991.
The cases are Smith v. Texas, 05-11304, Brewer v. Quarterman, 05-11287,
and Abdul-Kabir v. Quarterman, 05-11284.
(source: Associated Press)
Senate OKs 'Jessica's Law' with limits on death penalty
The Texas Senate passed its long-awaited "Jessica's Law" Tuesday to
protect children from sexual predators, but it reserved the death penalty
for those twice convicted of the most heinous child rapes.
The bill also creates a new offense for "continual sexual abuse" of a
child, increases penalties for certain child sex offenses and removes the
statute of limitations for victims of child sex crimes.
"I am confident that this legislation will help protect the safety of our
children and send a clear message to those who would prey on them. Don't
do it," said the bill's author, Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville.
The Senate's bill now returns to the House, where members can concur or
call for a conference committee to work out differences.
The bill is named after 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford of Florida who was
kidnapped, raped and buried alive two years ago, shocking the nation and
prompting more than a dozen states to pass tougher child-predator laws.
"I know that by protecting our children, we protect the future of this
great state," said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
Deuell explained that the bill creates new categories of "super"
aggravated assaults against children under age 14 that involve the use of
a deadly weapon, alcohol or drugs, death threats, bodily injury,
kidnapping or gang rape. The highest penalties are also reserved for
raping a child under age 6.
A first conviction for any of the above would carry a minimum sentence of
25 years. A second conviction would result in life in prison without
parole or death.
Dewhurst, who said he's "almost gotten tired of hearing all this talk
about the death penalty," predicted that most prosecutors will opt for
life without parole instead.
Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, the only dissenter in the 30-1 vote, said
he's concerned about expanding the death penalty in Texas when DNA tests
have exonerated several inmates who served time for crimes they didn't
"All of us have to make tough choices, but at some point we have to know
where to draw the line between what's politically right but morally
wrong," he said.
He also pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that the
death penalty for the rape of a 16-year-old girl was unconstitutional
because death should be reserved for murder.
If the high court rules the same in a Louisiana case involving rape of a
young child, the Senate's bill would automatically revert death penalties
to life without parole, Deuell said.
Like the House version of "Jessica's Law," the Senate created a new
offense called "continuous sexual abuse" of a child under age 14. It
applies to those who sexually abuse a child at least twice over a period
of 30 days or more.
A first offense under both bills carries a minimum 25-year sentence
without parole. A second offense would get life without parole in the
Senate bill, but the House version could also result in the death penalty.
District attorneys say the new offense will make convictions easier to
obtain because children often have trouble remembering the exact dates of
ongoing sexual abuse. Defense lawyers complain, however, that a jury would
not have to unanimously agree on the facts of each alleged offense.
The Senate increased penalties for those forcing a child under age 14 into
prostitution to a first-degree felony, carrying a sentence of 5 to to 99
years. Child pornographers preying on children under 14 would face
stiffer, 2nd-degree felonies, raising the maximum sentence from 10 to 20
Current law states that the statute of limitations runs out on child sex
offenses when the victim turns 28.
Deuell's bill lifts the statute of limitations entirely for sex offenses
committed against children under the age of 17.
(source: Houston Chronicle)
SIGNIFICANT SHIFT SINCE NOVEMBER 2005----Poll shows support for death
penalty slips in N.C. More than 1/3 surveyed say life in prison better
More than 1/3 of N.C. adults now believe life in prison is the most
appropriate punishment for 1st-degree murder as support for the death
penalty wanes, according to a poll released Tuesday.
The poll found that 58 % of adults support the death penalty, but only 48
% said it's always the most appropriate punishment for those convicted of
first-degree murder, according to researchers at Elon University. And 10 %
said the sentence depends on the circumstances.
About 38 % of respondents said they believe life in prison is the most
appropriate sentence for murderers.
Those numbers indicated a significant shift from a November 2005 poll that
showed nearly two-thirds of adults supported the death penalty, and 61 %
said it was always the most appropriate punishment for 1st-degree murder.
Just 27 % preferred life in prison.
Poll director Hunter Bacot said North Carolinians are reviewing their
positions on the death penalty in light of several exonerations and the
botched case against three Duke University lacrosse players. Attorney
General Roy Cooper declared the players innocent earlier this month -- a
year after they were charged.
"There's always been the sentiment that the system is fair for the most
part," Bacot said. "But people are now looking back and wondering if
people are truly getting a fair shake in the courts."
The poll, which surveyed 476 adults from households in North Carolina last
week, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points. It
comes as North Carolina's top officials try to figure out how to break a
legal stalemate that has placed an effective moratorium on the death
The N.C. Medical Board declared in January that any doctor who
participates in an execution violates medical ethics and could face
sanction. The decision triggered a series of legal actions, and a state
judge has placed 5 executions on hold. No other executions have been
Elon pollsters also questioned respondents about their support for
corporal punishment in schools, which is also getting a new review in the
General Assembly. A House committee approved a ban earlier this month.
But nearly 55 % of adults said in the poll they support corporal
punishment in schools.
(source: Charlotte Observer)
Fix death penalty with scalpel, not sledgehammer----Reduce the number of
executions to help achieve certainty
Before July 1984, I had been fairly ambivalent about the death penalty. It
never bothered me that we executed murderers, but nor did I yearn for
executions as the only proper way to dispense justice to killers.
At 26, I had been a grownup for only a few years, still negotiating the
various forks in the road that would lead to my eventual political
stances. But on one summer morning 23 years ago, I became a staunch
supporter of the death penalty, and I have not wavered since.
It was the day I witnessed an execution.
As the news director of a Jacksonville radio station, my name came up on
the rotating list of media witnesses welcomed to the Florida State Prison
for each execution.
Death penalty opponents had long argued for televising executions,
presuming the public would share their revulsion. I thus approached the
event with a certain anxiety; Florida had not joined the ranks of the
states employing the sleepy drabness of lethal injection. This was to be
an inmate's appointment with Old Sparky, the electric chair Florida had
used since 1924.
Just before 7 a.m., the blinds on our witness room window opened, and we
saw a multiple murderer strapped into the chair. Moments later, 2,000
volts of electricity coursed through his body. It is less visually
spectacular than one might think thick straps kept convulsions to a
minimum, and a thick rubber veil hid the face of the condemned.
But it is still a lot for the mind to absorb, and as we were led out to
share details with other media and then ask our own questions of other
attendees, I was still processing the entire sensory experience.
Then I spoke to the victims' family members. From their front row witness
seats, they saw the ultimate justice delivered to the man who had brutally
killed their loved ones.
They said knowing he was dead would help close their emotional wounds. One
told me: "Twenty years from now, as I continue to miss holidays,
birthdays, every day with my father, I don't want to think of him eating
cafeteria meals and reading novels in the exercise yard."
And a death penalty supporter was born.
I know full well that we can deliver a very harsh punishment through the
promise of life without the hope of parole. For some murderers, there may
be a mitigating circumstance that makes that the appropriate sentence.
I also know the death penalty in America is the product of a flawed human
system. As the ranks grow of inmates released through DNA evidence by the
Innocence Project legal clinics, all of us should wonder: Have we ever
executed an innocent person?
I would think we almost certainly have, and as a death penalty supporter,
I believe I have a special responsibility to adhere to a venerable
standard: Better the guilty go free than one innocent man die.
The solution to this is not to scrap the entirety of a capital punishment
system that is overwhelmingly just and popular in Texas and around the
country. The death penalty issues in each state require scalpels, not
While we convict people of various crimes based on a standard of
surpassing reasonable doubt, I am thoroughly satisfied with reserving the
death penalty for those killers who have acted beyond the shadow of a
doubt stories of confession, uncontested witnesses, surveillance video
and the like. I will gladly reduce the number of executions to help
achieve the goal of certainty in the cases when we do deliver the ultimate
I don't know if the death penalty is a deterrent, and I don't care. The
death penalty rests on the strong foundation of its symmetry and
rightness. If that foundation has eroded due to a tiny percentage of cases
of human failing, let those be addressed and corrected. We should not
succumb to the urge to overreact, sacrificing a just practice that affords
both killers and victims the justice they deserve.
(source: Opinion, Mark Davis; Dallas Morning News)
Assembly votes down cop killer death penalty law
In the wake of this most recent shooting of a state trooper, Assembly
Republicans forced a vote on a bill reinstating the death penalty for
criminals convicted of killing a police officer or any other member of law
That bill was voted down by Assembly Democrats, 96 to 47.
Republicans said it's necessary to protect officers, but many Assembly
Democrats are fundamentally opposed to the death penalty.
(source: Capital News 9)
Court to review resentencing of inmate on Miss. death row
A federal appeals court will decide whether a Mississippi death row
inmate's rights were violated when, at his resentencing, he was not
allowed to rebut prosecutors' claim that he killed a teenager while
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in an order issued Monday, said
death row inmate Gerald James Holland raised a possible constitutional
question on what evidence a defendant can present when facing a new
sentencing hearing for a capital crime.
Mississippi prosecutors had argued to the 5th Circuit that, under state
law, once guilt is established in a separate trial, those issues cannot be
redebated during the sentencing phase.
In Mississippi, capital murder cases require 2 jury phases - one on guilt
or innocence and a second to determine a life sentence or death.
Death penalty appeals go directly to the state Supreme Court.
Also, capital murder is defined in Mississippi as murder committed with
another felony - in Holland's case, rape.
Holland argued to the 5th Circuit this was a resentencing with a new jury
that did not deal with issues of guilt and innocence.
Holland said prosecutors put on evidence that he raped and killed
15-year-old Krystal King in the 1980s but that he was not allowed to put
on evidence to the contrary.
Prosecutors said Holland should not be allowed to relitigate the issue of
his guilt at his resentencing.
The 5th Circuit said it was that dual function that raises a
constitutional question in Holland's case.
(source: Associated Press)
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