[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----N. MEX., LA., N.C., FLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Feb 13 02:56:29 UTC 2007
House passes death penalty repeal
New Mexico would abolish the death penalty and replace it with a
life-without-parole sentence under a bill the House approved on Monday.
Supporters of the repeal, which passed 41-28, have an uphill struggle. The
measure goes next to the Senate, where similar legislation died 2 years
And Gov. Bill Richardson - who would get the bill if it were to pass the
Senate - never has been in favor of doing away with capital punishment.
"We have our work cut out for us," said Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque,
who has sponsored repeal legislation unsuccessfully several times.
New Mexico is one of 38 states with a death penalty. The method is lethal
injection, which Chasey noted is under challenge in some states.
Supporters of abolishing the death penalty say it is not a deterrent to
murder, is unjustly administered -"There are no rich people on death row,"
Chasey argued - and may result in the execution of innocent people.
Advocates for repeal also contend the $3 million a year they estimate New
Mexico spends on its capital punishment system could better be spent
helping victims' families.
But opponents countered that only one person has been put to death in New
Mexico in the last 47 years. Terry Clark's crime was heinous _ he
kidnapped and murdered 9-year-old Dena Lynn Gore of Artesia in 1986 _ and
he wanted to die, said Rep. Dan Foley, R-Roswell.
"The system in New Mexico works. ... We have been very cautious and very
careful," Foley said.
There are two men on death row in the state, convicted murderers Timothy
Allen of Bloomfield and Robert Fry of Farmington. Their sentences would
not be affected by the proposed repeal.
According to statistics compiled by repeal advocates, there have been 207
death penalty prosecutions in New Mexico since 1979. Of those, 28 death
sentences were imposed. Nineteen of those sentences were overturned; 5
were commuted by then-Gov. Toney Anaya; 1 prisoner died on death row; two
are on death row; and Clark was executed.
In 2005, repeal legislation passed the House and went to the Senate, where
it died by a single vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It marked the
1st time a bill to abolish capital punishment had passed either house of
Richardson, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in
2008, has refused to answer questions this year about his position on
death penalty legislation. He said he is focused on the items on his
Chasey said the governor continued to have "very cordial conversations"
with death penalty opponents.
"I think he's giving it some thought," she said.
The death penalty repeal is HB190.
(source: Associated Press)
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL-----Public Statement
AI Index: AMR 51/026/2007 (Public)
News Service No: 029
12 February 2007
USA: Serious miscarriage of justice in Louisiana must be rectified
Amnesty International is renewing its call to the Louisiana authorities
for a pardon to be granted to Gary Tyler, a 49 year-old African-American
man who has been in prison in Louisiana since the age of 17, and whose
1975 trial was infected with racial prejudice.
Tyler was convicted in 1975 of the murder of Timothy Weber, a white 13
year-old schoolboy who was shot outside Destrehan High School, St Charles
Parish, during racial disturbances. Tyler had been one of many black
students on a bus carrying black students back to their homes which was
being attacked by white people throwing stones and bottles, and from which
the shot had allegedly come. Following the shooting, all male students on
the bus were searched immediately, and the bus was searched twice. No gun
was found. The bus was then taken with the students to the police station,
where following questioning, one female student said she had been sitting
next to Tyler and had seen him fire a gun into the crowd. Following this
testimony, police then found a .45 automatic gun stuffed inside a seat,
through a long, visible tear in the seat. The same seat had previously
been searched, shaken and turned upside down several times, and nothing
had been found. Gary Tyler was detained in the police station where there
is strong evidence that he was savagely beaten. He did not make any
statement implicating himself in any way.
At the time of the incident, racial tensions in the area were running high
as whites attempted to resist racial integration. There were frequent
clashes in which the Klu Klux Klan played a leading role. Gary Tyler was
tried by an all white jury from which members of the black community had
been deliberately excluded. He received seriously deficient legal
representation at his trial from a white lawyer who specialized in civil
cases and who spent only one hour with Tyler during the whole year
previous to his trial. Furthermore, he did not interview witnesses,
present any expert witnesses or conduct tests on physical evidence offered
by the state, and failed to object to gross errors committed by the trial
judge, later found in the appeal court to have made Tyler's trial
fundamentally unfair. Since the trial, evidence has come to light
indicating that Tyler did not shoot the victim, including witnesses who
testified against Tyler at trial and later recanted, saying that they were
coerced by the police to make statements against him, and questionable
forensic evidence which did not clearly and definitely implicate Tyler in
Originally sentenced to death, Tyler's death sentence was overturned in
1977 following a ruling by the US Supreme Court in 1976 which declared the
state's death penalty unconstitutional, and his sentence was commuted to
life imprisonment without parole, probation, or suspension of sentence for
In 2 decisions a federal appeals court ruled that Tyler had been convicted
on the basis of unconstitutional charge which had infected the trial to
the point of rendering it fundamentally unfair. In its first decision, the
court vacated Tyler's conviction and ordered a retrial. However, following
an appeal by the state, the court reversed its previous decision ordering
a new trial, although it did not dispute its finding of
unconstitutionality, and reiterated its view that the trial had been
fundamentally unfair. On at least 3 separate occasions the Louisiana Board
of Pardons recommended to 2 state governors that Gary Tyler's sentence
should be reduced, on one occasion, making him immediately eligible for
parole, but these recommendations were rejected.
If Louisiana's death penalty had not been found unconstitutional, it is
very likely that Gary Tyler would have been executed before now. Amnesty
International is calling on Governor Blanco to rectify this shocking
injustice by granting a pardon to Gary Tyler with immediate effect and by
ordering a full, independent investigation into his case so that anyone
found to have been involved in any cover-up or abuse is brought to
For more information on Gary Tyler's case and full details of Amnesty
Internationals concerns, see: USA: The Case of Gary Tyler, AMR51/89/94.
(source: Amnesty International)
But is it just?----Moratorium or not, state death system needs fixing
In the middle of a national debate over whether lethal injections violate
the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment, N.C. executive,
judicial and legislative branch officials have been groping for answers.
First a Superior Court judge halted three executions because inmates'
lawyers argued lethal injections are unconstitutional. Then a House study
committee recommended refinements in the death penalty system. And the
Council of State, the 10 executive officials elected statewide,
recommended changes in the lethal injection protocol and sent the issue
back to the courts.
Gov. Mike Easley, a death penalty supporter, observed there's a de facto
halt. "Obviously there's clearly a moratorium in place right now," he
said. "How long that will last will depend on how long it takes to
untangle this Gordian knot."
The moratorium exists because of the likelihood of further delays, either
from Superior Court Judge Don Stephens or, if he approves the revised
protocol, from appellate courts if inmates' lawyers appealed such a
This legal wrangling obscures the real debate that ought to be taking
place. It's not whether there should be capital punishment for the worst
murders. The public supports it. But unresolved questions go right to the
heart of how the state administers the death penalty. As the Observer
demonstrated in news stories several years ago about capital punishment,
there are fundamental questions of fairness:
The death penalty is applied differently, depending upon where crimes are
committed. Some prosecutors pursue death sentences more than others, which
means your chances of getting life in prison or lethal injection depend
upon where you commit a murder. Is that just?
A murderer's chances of getting a death sentence may depend on racial
cues -- particularly the race of the victim. The killer of a white person
may be more likely to face death than the killer of a black person. Is
And whether you get the death penalty depends on whether you get a good
lawyer. While the state has cleaned up a number of problems regarding
defense lawyers and required more training, there are still death row
residents who were defended at trial by poorly trained, ill-equipped
lawyers you wouldn't hire to represent you on a traffic ticket. While
these inmates may have good appellate lawyers now, they are at a huge
disadvantage, because lawyers can't bring up all the issues on appeal they
can in a trial. Is that just?
This is why state legislators should use this de facto moratorium to
revisit critical issues that reflect poorly on our system of criminal
justice. It is not enough to excuse its problems by saying all death cases
are messy in some way, and questions of justice for killers don't really
matter when killers had little regard for their victims. If we are going
to kill convicted felons in society's name, we are obliged to get it right
every time. If the system cannot assure that kind of certainty, it cannot
assure justice, either.
(source: Editorial, Charlotte Observer, Feb. 11)
Death penalty issue on the rise----N.C. gubernatorial candidates likely to
Not since 1992 have candidates for governor in North Carolina thought the
death penalty was an issue worth talking about, and even then no one was
debating the merits.
The candidates looking to replace Gov. Mike Easley aren't likely to get a
pass on the issue in 2008.
"The more that this continues to be in the news, the more that candidates
for the governorship are going to have to take stands and be asked about
it," said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest
The legal debate over the fairness of lethal injection and the role
doctors should play when the state puts an inmate to death has effectively
halted capital punishment in North Carolina, and the expected attempts to
resolve the issue could extend into the primary season.
Already, a judge's decision that forced the Council of State into the
debate has led two Democratic hopefuls - Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and State
Treasurer Richard Moore - to stake out their positions on capital
Bob Orr, a Republican candidate for governor, is an ex-Supreme Court
justice who wrote plenty of opinions on death-row appeals, which could
become fodder for his primary opponents. And progressive Democrats could
make support for a moratorium an issue in the party's primary.
The discussion has the potential to be much livelier than in 1992, when
Republican Jim Gardner pointed out that Democrat Jim Hunt, during his
previous tenure as governor, had paroled violent criminals who later wound
up on death row.
But Hunt's tough-on-crime credentials were as strong as any GOP candidate,
particularly since he allowed executions to go forward in 1984 after a
23-year hiatus. He beat Gardner, and won again in 1996. Republicans had
little room to criticize his successor, since Easley's 20-year resume as a
prosecutor and attorney general included both capital cases and opposition
of death-row appeals.
"It's just not an issue that's been brought up," said Thad Beyle, a
political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel
That changed when Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens dumped
the issue in the lap of the Council of State, citing a 1909 law he said
requires the council to approve any change in the method for carrying out
The state had removed a doctor from the process in an attempt to satisfy
the demands of the state medical board, which in January threatened to
sanction any physician who participates in an execution.
"I think it will be quite some time before they ever get this resolved,"
Easley said at the council meeting, where a new protocol - one that
includes a role for a physician - was approved by a vote of 7-3.
It wasn't long before Moore and Perdue, who both voted with the majority,
were engaged in a back and forth over each other's position. Neither has
actually declared their candidacy for governor, although both are raising
money and are widely expected to seek the job.
After the vote, a Moore adviser pointed out that while a state senator,
Perdue said she opposed doing away with the gas chamber because it would
lessen capital punishment's deterrent value. "I think we should make it
painful and torturous," Perdue said in 1995.
Perdue was more measured in her statements last week, saying she believed
there should be a death penalty moratorium until "constitutional issues"
about lethal injection and medical supervision were decided.
Polls generally have shown a majority of North Carolinians support capital
punishment, so any gubernatorial candidate who supports a moratorium runs
the risk of being labeled soft on crime.
(source: Associated Press)
After 2 years, sex offender to stand trial for girl's death
Jury selection began Monday in the trial for John Evander Couey
The 48-year-old sex offender faces the death penalty if convicted
Jessica Lunsford was kidnapped, raped and killed in 2005
The girl's death led to tougher sex offender laws in at least 19 states
Ruth Lunsford often visits the grave of her granddaughter, Jessica, most
recently to tell her that the man accused of kidnapping, raping and
murdering her nearly 2years ago is finally about to stand trial. "I went
to the grave site and said to Jessie, 'It's almost over,"' she said in an
interview. "I know she's looking down on us and saying, 'Good job.' When
this is all over, she's going to be doing cartwheels all over heaven.
She's going to be saying, 'Amen."'
Jury selection began Monday in the trial for John Evander Couey, a
48-year-old convicted sex offender who faces the death penalty for
Jessica's 2005 slaying.
Circuit Judge Richard Howard denied a defense request to further delay the
trial, saying, "The fact of the matter is, this case is going forward." A
few minutes later, he began questioning prospective jurors about their
knowledge of the heavily publicized case.
Publicity had forced the trial to be moved from Citrus County, where the
crime occurred, to Miami.
Choosing a jury was expected to consume much of the week, with the final
panel sequestered. News organizations are barred from showing the faces of
jurors or reporting their names.
Jessica's death had led to tougher sex offender laws in Florida and at
least 18 other states and prompted creation of the 1st-ever coordinated
Justice Department effort to track down noncompliant offenders nationwide,
such as those who fail to register or aren't living where they are
"The impacts of Jessica Lunsford's story have been huge," said Ernie
Allen, president and chief executive officer of the National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Virginia. "In our view,
enormous good has come and thousands of children's lives are going to be
saved because Jessica Lunsford lived."
In that way, Jessica has joined a tragic list of other children -- Adam
Walsh, Jimmy Ryce, Amber Hagerman, Megan Kanka and others -- whose names
are synonymous with important reforms in the criminal justice system.
"We look forward to the day when it doesn't take a tragedy involving a
child to motivate people to action," Allen said.
Jessica, a vivacious and happy 3rd-grader, was abducted one night from her
bedroom in the small town of Homasassa.
Her body was found 3weeks later, on March 19, 2005, buried in garbage bags
behind a mobile home a short distance from her own house. She had her
favorite stuffed dolphin and her hands were bound by speaker wire, but
authorities say it appeared she had tried to poke her fingers through the
bags. She died of asphyxiation.
Couey, who was arrested for previous sex crimes involving children in 1978
and 1991, was living with his half-sister at the trailer near the Lunsford
home. But authorities searching for Jessica didn't know that, because he
had moved there without telling them as required under sex offender
As the search intensified, Couey traveled to Georgia, where he was
arrested on an unrelated Florida warrant. He confessed to Jessica's
abduction and murder to 2 Citrus County sheriff's detectives who traveled
there to interview him, but that taped confession was thrown out by a
judge because Couey wasn't allowed to consult a lawyer as he requested.
That means the jury won't hear what is perhaps the strongest evidence
against Couey. But the jury will be told that Couey described where to
find Jessica's body and that he told jail guards and others about his
alleged role in the crime. Prosecutors have DNA and other evidence placing
Jessica in the Couey mobile home before she died.
Couey's attorney, public defender Dan Lewan, has repeatedly declined to
discuss the case.
(source: Associated Press)
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