[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS., PENN., ILL., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Apr 30 10:46:37 CDT 2007
Court Takes Death Penalty Case
The Supreme Court stepped into a Texas death penalty case Monday that
mixes Bush administration claims of executive power with the role of
international law in state court proceedings.
The case accepted by the justices for argument this fall concerns the fate
of Jose Ernesto Medellin, a Mexican national who was sentenced in 1994 to
die for the rapes and killings of 2 teenage girls.
The state wants to go ahead with Medellin's execution, despite a ruling
from the International Court of Justice in The Hague that the convictions
of Medellin and 50 other Mexican-born prisoners violated the 1963 Vienna
Convention because they were denied legal help available to them under the
The pact requires consular access for Americans detained abroad and
foreigners arrested in the United States. Mexico sued the United States in
the international court, alleging the prisoners' rights had been violated.
Unusual for a death penalty case, the administration is siding with
Medellin in asserting that the president's primacy in conducting foreign
policy is being challenged.
President Bush ordered new state court hearings for the defendants based
on the international court ruling. But a Texas appeals court said the
president exceeded his authority by intruding into the affairs of the
The administration noted in its brief to the court that Bush does not
agree with the international tribunal's interpretations of the Vienna
Convention. However, the United States had agreed to the Hague court's
resolution of the dispute and said it would abide by the outcome.
The Mexican government and international law experts have weighed in on
behalf of Medellin.
The justices agreed to consider Medellin's case once before. But they
dismissed the proceeding in 2005, after Bush ordered the state court
reviews. The justices reserved the right to hear the appeal again once the
case had run its full course, as it now has, in state court.
The case is Medellin v. Texas, 06-984.
(source: Associated Press)
Attorney seeks to move murder trial
An attorney representing the man accused of killing a Lubbock woman and
then dumping her body in a landfill plans to ask a judge this morning for
his client's trial to be moved out of Lubbock.
Rosendo Rodriguez is charged with capital murder in connection with the
2005 beating death of Summer Baldwin. He is also a suspect in the
disappearance of Lubbock teen Joanna Rogers, who vanished from her home in
This morning, Rodriguez's attorney Richard Wardroup is expected to ask
140th District Court Judge Jim Bob Darnell to move the trial out of
Darnell issued a gag order to attorneys involved in the case.
Authorities arrested Rodriguez more than a year ago on suspicion of
murdering 29-year-old Baldwin. He was later indicted on a charge of
capital murder and accused of raping the mother of 4 and killing her
Baldwin was 5 weeks pregnant at the time of her death.
A sanitation worker discovered Baldwin's body Sept. 13, 2005, inside a
suitcase at a city-owned landfill, about 15 miles north of Lubbock.
According to police reports, security cameras recorded Rodriguez buying
the suitcase and a pair of latex gloves from the store at 3:30 a.m., the
day before Baldwin's body was discovered.
In October, Rodriguez was expected to plead guilty to Baldwin's death. But
at the hearing, Rodriguez told the judge he didn't understand the
proceeding and withdrew his plea.
At that time, Lubbock County Criminal District Attorney Matt Powell said
he intended to seek the death penalty in Rodriguez's trial.
In a prior court hearing, investigators named Rodriguez as a suspect in
the disappearance of Rogers.
Information on the teen's computer led police to believe the pair had
Last October, another body was found at the same city-owned landfill where
Baldwin was found dead and stuffed into a suitcase in September 2005. The
Lubbock County Medical Examiner's Office used dental records to identify
the 2nd body as Rogers', who was 16 when she disappeared in 2004.
Rodriguez has not been charged in connection with Rogers' disappearance.
He is being held at the Lubbock County Jail in lieu of a $1 million bond.
(source: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal)
Returning to society after prison or jail still a challenge----Ex-convicts
are making slow progress with the help of emerging programs and mentors
Julie Ghant walked out of a Gatesville prison in February with $50, the
ragged used men's clothing she got from prison officials on her back and a
bus ticket to anywhere.
Ghant said she came to Austin in February because she heard that Travis
County offered ex-offenders lots of help.
The 37-year-old mother of six said she had been medicating herself with
drugs and alcohol in Abilene when she landed in prison in 2003 to serve a
4-year sentence for drug possession - her third criminal conviction since
While she was locked up, her husband and mother died within months of each
other; her children were left behind to be raised by relatives.
"I felt like I was the only one left," she said.
She arrived at an East Austin halfway house in February, starting the
journey back into society that an increasing number of Texas inmates make
Thousands of people convicted of drug offenses during crackdowns in the
1990s are finishing their sentences. An estimated 50,000 inmates are
released in Texas each year - more than 4 times the number released 5
years ago. According to a 2005 report by the Washington-based Urban
Institute, about 2,000 come to Travis County, where a host of programs run
by the City of Austin, Travis County and area nonprofit groups try to help
ex-convicts build new lives.
Ghant needed help with basic survival needs before she could worry about
finding work. With the help of mentors, friends and other ex-convicts, she
avoided drugs and alcohol as she applied for the documents that make up a
life - a Social Security card, a driver's license.
She lived with a few other women at a local transitional house, Lydia
House, which she heard about from Texas Reach Out Ministries, she said.
She paid about $250 a month in rent, she said.
And Patricia Hall, a Round Rock evangelist who leads Bible studies in area
prisons, became her mentor. Hall helped Ghant buy clothes, took her to
church and brought her home-cooked meals.
"I need all the help I can get, and I feel really blessed to have it,"
Then Project RIO, a training program for the unemployed run by the Texas
Workforce Commission, led her to Construction Gateway, a 5-week program at
Austin Community College's Riverside campus that trains people in
carpentry, safety standards and installation methods. Ghant complemented
the plumbing skills she had learned in prison with construction skills.
About 50 % of the students in the program are ex-offenders - a portion
that has increased as the program's reputation has grown, said Mike
Midgley, vice president of Workforce Education and Business Development at
She went to class from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day for 5 weeks. She helped
her classmates build a shed for a local school. She learned what builders
and companies look for in a resume.
After class, she went back to the transitional home she shared with other
women. In her free time, she said, she visited Hall or hung out in the
house with the women she lived with, instead of partying, like she used
On a recent Sunday, Hall and Ghant sat with another ex-offender in Hall's
Round Rock apartment after attending church. Ghant sat on the edge of the
couch, nervously playing with her rings. She was not having the best day:
Her 12-year-old daughter, Jasmine, had called from Abilene to ask how long
it would take her mother to "get it together."
Ghant told Hall that Jasmine's question made her feel like she wasn't
doing enough. "Every day is not easy. Sometimes it feels like I'm not
making progress the way I want to," Ghant said. "I pray about it."
"You're already a success because you're trying," Hall said. "Some people
who have never been to prison aren't even where you are right now."
Ghant had been out for almost two months and was close to finishing
classes at Construction Gateway.
In a trailer on ACC's Riverside campus, Ghant had scribbled notes
furiously while Ed Miller, a balding man with piercing brown eyes, taught
her and 8 other former offenders how to get comfortable with their
Get used to "wearing your record like a lizard wears a tail," he said.
He told them to prepare to face prejudice when they begin looking for
He gave them a standard answer to give employers who asked about their
past. "Tell them, 'When I was younger, I made some mistakes. I understand
what I did wrong. I've paid for it; I've changed my life. Now I'm looking
for a chance to get ahead," he said.
Before the program ended, Ghant got a job offer in Dallas. She was giddy
about it, telling Hall that she would be working for a builder.
Taking that job meant she would be closer to her children so she could try
to rebuild her relationship with them.
On graduation day in March, she donned a used cap and gown, gave a short
speech and took her seat among her 10 classmates.
"I'll be starting out in the basement somewhere, somewhere under entry
level," she said. "But I never thought I'd amount to anything. Now I know
it's only going to get better and better."
She was going to be on her own again, without her safety net.
This month, almost two months after she'd left for Dallas, her new cell
phone was disconnected. Hall was worried because she hadn't heard from
"The 1st 6 months are crucial, and she doesn't know anyone up there," Hall
said. "I hope she doesn't get caught up using drugs again."
(source: Austin American-Statesman)
MORATORIUM ---- Execution pause offers means to verify justice on death
It is a stain on the legal systems in the United States and Pennsylvania
that numerous individuals have been sentenced to be executed for crimes
they didn't commit.
Nationwide, the "Innocence Project" has exonerated 200 wrongly convicted
individuals, including some facing execution, through the use of DNA
evidence since its founding in 1992. But because there are many cases in
which DNA evidence isn't available, Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck, the
project's co- founders, can justifiably claim that they have only
uncovered the "tip of the iceberg" of wrongful convictions.
In Pennsylvania, there have been 6 death row exonerations since 1986,
which by itself impugns the notion that justice is being served through
Pennsylvania's application of the death penalty. Collectively, these 6
innocent individuals spent 57 years wrongfully imprisoned.
While we suspect that most individuals sitting on Death Row committed the
crimes of which they were convicted, there nonetheless is a deeply
troubling mass of evidence that poor and minority individuals are
disproportionately prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to death in capital
Poor defendants almost never have the means to hire competent private
defense counsel, or the resources to engage investigators, obtain expert
witnesses or pay for tests. Even the cost of transcripts can be beyond
Three individuals have been executed in Pennsylvania, all of them after
they voluntarily gave up their appeals, since the death penalty was
reinstated in 1978. Another 225 prisoners are awaiting execution in this
state, one of the highest death-row populations in the country.
Gov. Ed Rendell, who signed 3 more death warrants last week, has conceded
that there are flaws in the system. But he has resisted calls for a 2-year
moratorium on executions sought by the American Civil Liberties Union of
Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches and other groups.
Rendell should reconsider his opposition to a moratorium and lead the
effort to review the application and administration of the death penalty
in the commonwealth. We need to find ways to ensure that those accused of
capital crimes are not hampered in their defense by virtue of their race,
lack of finances or other circumstances.
Our legal system at its most basic level is supposed to be all about equal
justice before the law. One cannot look at Pennsylvania's application of
the death penalty, the ultimate punishment, and have any confidence that
equal justice is being meted out. The time to stop this miscarriage of
justice is now.
(source: Editorial, The Patriot-News)
House may mull wrongful convictions
The Illinois House is considering a proposal aimed at identifying problems
that have led to wrongful convictions in serious felonies.
The resolution would create a commission to study 27 cases during the last
2 decades, including rape and murder, in which wrongful convictions were
overturned in Illinois based largely on DNA and where the sentences were
for less than capital punishment. The Senate has already passed the bill.
The study's conclusions would be used to enact reforms with the goal of
reducing the number of convictions based on inaccurate testimony of
jailhouse snitches, misidentification by witnesses and prosecutorial
"We have scores, perhaps, of innocent people rotting in prison today for
crimes they didn't commit," said Rep. Paul Froehlich (R-Schaumburg), the
resolution's sponsor. "To me, that should haunt anybody's conscience that
our system is that flawed."
The recent exoneration of Jerry Miller, 48, who spent 25 years in prison
for a Cook County rape he didn't commit, marked the 200th in the nation
based on DNA evidence.
(source: Chicago Tribune)
Lethal injection, revealed
THOUGH NEARLY all industrial democracies have abolished the death penalty,
it survives in the United States, in part because the states where it is
legal have sought to make it antiseptic. The era of public hangings is
long over, replaced in America by an impersonal, well-guarded process that
minimizes discomfort for the executioners and the public. But this
decades-long effort to make executions seem merely clinical -- culminating
in the rise of lethal injection as the dominant method of execution --
does not mean that prisoners are being put to death in a humane manner.
Indeed, a new analysis of executions in California and North Carolina
suggests the opposite. Published in PLoS Medicine, a peer-reviewed medical
journal from the Public Library of Science, it indicates that the
three-drug combination generally used in lethal injections can result in a
painful process of asphyxiation, during which a prisoner may be conscious.
That possibility is heightened when technicians bungle the procedure. The
study strips away the medical veneer and offers strong evidence that
lethal injection violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual
Real medical procedures are developed over time, through extensive
experimentation and human testing, and are carried out by skilled medical
personnel. But doctors and nurses are prohibited from taking part in
executions by the ethical norms of their professions. Under American
Medical Association policy, a doctor cannot even be the first person to
assess whether a prisoner is dead, because finding a heartbeat would lead
to further injections of lethal agents.
Methods capable of causing near-instantaneous deaths, such as guillotines
and firing squads, have been rejected as stomach-turning. The electric
chair, a method conceived as a quick, mechanical alternative, has proved
repulsive in practice, and the brutality of lethal injection is becoming
ever clearer, too.
The debate over the death penalty in America should not hinge on whether
the final agonies caused by any particular execution method are
unconstitutionally painful. There are many other reasons why the death
penalty should be abolished: It does not deter crime; it is applied
unevenly across jurisdictions and demographic groups; it is irrevocable,
and the dozen-odd death row inmates exonerated by DNA evidence underscore
the danger of executing the innocent.
Some advocates of the death penalty are untroubled by it, no matter how it
might be carried out. But broader support for capital punishment surely
relies on the perception that prisoners go to their deaths painlessly.
This latest study tells states not to kid themselves; taking lives in the
public's name can never be rendered quick or clean.
(source: Editorial, Boston Globe)
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