[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----N.J., ALA., COLO., CALIF., IND.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Feb 21 03:48:28 UTC 2007
Trenton doled out punishments at whipping post
Today the state is on the verge of pulling back on the death penalty.
Convicted murders on death row could escape their dates with the needle of
Before the current system of lethal injection, death sentences were doled
out at the gallows.
For lesser crimes, there has always been a city lock-up, a county jail or
the state prison system.
In years past there have been debtors prisons, and in Trenton there was
also the sentence of being publicly flogged at the whipping post.
A petty crime was all it took to win a date with the whipping post -
shoplifting, simple assault, and even public drunkenness could be enough
to get sentenced to be stripped bare and whipped.
For more than 75 years, the people of Trenton were well-acquainted with
the whipping post.
In 1839, a newly arrived citizen of Trenton got an opportunity to witness
a public flogging. The event would have a profound effect on his life, and
provide far-reaching effects on daily life in Trenton.
It was a typical autumn day in October of that year, Franklin Mills, who
had moved into Trenton less a year before, was invited by a friend to
witness the punishment handed out by a local magistrate to a man for petty
After the sentence was passed, the shackled man was immediately marched
out of the new City Hall at the corner of State and Broad streets. With
his startled family in tow, the convicted man made his way up Broad Street
to Academy Street, where his sentence was to be carried out.
"The sentences for petit larceny in the late 1830s were lashes on the bare
back to any number not exceeding 39, and sometimes accompanied by the
words well laid on," Mills explained in an interview years later.
The man was tied to the whipping post -- then standing in front of the old
town hall that stood on the site of the current Trenton Public Library on
Academy Street -- and the sentence carried out.
"Sometimes the unfortunates were followed by sobbing wives and children.
Although the officers would drive them away from the scene, they would be
heard some distance off shrieking at the sound of every blow," Mills
recalled years after the incident had faded from the memories of many in
Trenton. "Many times the prisoners would weep as they laid off their
clothing at the command of the officers. Others would grin and bear it."
"It was always a shocking sight and witnessed seldom by any of the
principal men of the city," Mills lamented. "I remember 1 special
occasion, 2 men had been sentenced to be tied up and each were to receive
There standing in the area of the whipping posts as spectators were
several prominent Trentonians: Samuel McClurg, William Boswell, William S.
Barnes, Alexander H. Armour and Mills.
When the beatings were finished, the 5 men remained to talk about what
they had just witnessed.
"We remained to talk of the inhumanity of the proceeding and of the
iniquitous law which authorized it," Mills recalled with a hint of anger
building. "Some vowed they would never witness such an exhibition again.
Others suggested that the post should be taken down.
"The idea of criminal prosecution and the probability that our own backs
might be thus bared and lacerated in the presence of hundreds was also
"But the outrage upon civilization then and there enacted seemed to be so
great and the disgrace so deep and so insulting to every sentiment of
humanity that [we] then and there resolved that this monument of the
cruelty of a past age should be taken down, come what may.
"We knew our act was revolutionary and might involve serious consequences
to us personally but we resolved to stand by each other in any event and
for the sake of humanity take the consequences.
"The necessary tools were procured, the whipping post was taken up and
quietly laid by the side of the post hole, and, as everybody knows, it has
never had a resurrection."
A few nights later, in late autumn darkness, the five men met at the
whipping post with various tools, picks and shovels. The men quickly went
to work and ripped the offending post out of the ground.
Daring the city fathers to replace the dreaded post, the men threw the
post on the ground next to the hole in the ground that once supported it.
The action caused a stir around town. Although several people called for
the whipping post to be returned, no one in city government was willing to
call for its resurrection. The controversy quickly died out and the
whipping post was never used again in Trenton.
(source: Charles Webster, The Trentonian)
Court rejects Martini's final bid to avoid execution
Without comment, the Supreme Court of the United States today refused to
hear death-row inmate John Martini's final appeal.
John Martini in 2001. The ruling, however, will have no immediate effect.
A moratorium on executions remains in place until March 3, and even when
it expires, the state will be unable to perform a lethal injection because
it has no valid procedures for carrying one out.
The old regulations were struck down by a state appeals court in February
2004. They have yet to be rewritten and there is no active attempt to do
so. Writing new ones could take 6 months to a year.
In January, a special state commission recommended abolishing the death
penalty in favor of life imprisonment without parole. It was quickly
endorsed by Gov. Jon Corzine, who opposes capital punishment.
Martini was condemned in 1991 for kidnapping and murdering Fair Lawn
businessman Irving Flax after collecting $25,000 ransom. While on death
row he was convicted of three other murders.
Deliverance by DNA----Americans have a complex relationship with the death
penalty, which is rooted in their national identity and yet which is
becoming increasingly difficult to support. In this final instalment of a
3-part series, Mary Vallis considers the changing attitude toward capital
- - -
In a cavernous church hall where an ex-prisoner is talking about the nine
years he spent in prison for a crime he did not commit, only a handful of
seniors have gathered to hear his cautionary tale.
That does not faze Kirk Noble Bloodsworth, the first death row inmate in
the United States to be exonerated by DNA evidence. Twice convicted for
the rape and murder of 9-year-old Dawn Venice Hamilton in Maryland, he is
simply grateful to tell his true story to anyone who will listen. He tells
it in bookstores, in school gyms, in the hallways of state legislatures.
On this night, he can blame the poor turnout on the snowy weather and the
local newspaper printing an incorrect time for his talk, but no matter
--Mr. Bloodsworth has a crowd, albeit a small one, and that is enough.
In a lilting voice, he describes the cockroaches that swarmed on the
ceiling of his cell and dropped on him as he slept one floor below the gas
He talks about his friend on death row, Blue, who shoved a pencil in each
of his eyes in the hopes it would kill him, but only made him blind.
Then he tells the sparse crowd about the semen stain on Dawn's underwear
that led to his exoneration in 1993.
And he tells them about the day, a decade later, that prosecutors finally
revealed the real killer.
In a bizarre coincidence, the man was someone Mr. Bloodsworth came to know
inside the prison -- a prisoner serving time for another rape. They lifted
weights together; Mr. Bloodsworth delivered books to the man's cell.
"Being that it's true, it's a story that should be scary to everyone in
this country," he says in an interview before his talk, in the draughty
offices of New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. "If it can
happen to me, it can happen to anybody."
Mr. Bloodsworth is the embodiment of one argument in the debate against
capital punishment: His story illustrates that not every man awaiting
execution is guilty. It is one of the most persuasive arguments
abolitionists employ --if an innocent convict is executed, there is no way
of turning back.
The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University in Chicago
claims 38 executions in the United States have been carried out in spite
of "compelling evidence of innocence or serious doubt about guilt." Of
those, 23 were in Texas, the state that overwhelmingly conducts the most
According to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, at
least 123 people in 25 states have been released from death row, and with
advances in DNA technology and forensic evidence, the number of convicts
who are being exonerated is growing.
The list includes former inmates such as Mr. Bloodsworth, Earl Washington
Jr. in Virginia and Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee in Florida. Mr.
Washington, who is mildly retarded, spent 17 years in prison before DNA
testing proved he was not guilty of the rape and murder for which he was
convicted. DNA samples taken from a blanket and the victim matched the DNA
of another man serving time for rape.
Mr. Pitts and Mr. Lee spent 12 years in prison on Florida's death row for
killing two service station attendants. They were pardoned in 1975 after
another man's confession to the murders was admitted to court; it had been
suppressed for years.
"What DNA shows us is that there are inherent flaws in all convictions,"
says Mike Radelet, a sociologist and expert in wrongful convictions and
the death penalty at the University of Colorado. "As long as we have the
death penalty, some innocent people will be executed."
Public opinion on the death penalty is shifting< as a result. In both New
Jersey and in Maryland, Mr. Bloodsworth's home state, the argument has
convinced legislators to introduce bills that would end the death penalty.
Both states may replace executions with sentences of life without parole;
both governors have pledged their support.
While life sentences leave the door open for evidence that may clear
someone who has been wrongfully convicted, Mr. Bloodsworth also argues it
is a harsher punishment than death.
"We have to live with the crimes of other people," he recently told his
church audience in Mantua, "And so should they."
During his talks, Mr. Bloodsworth casts himself as a regular Joe -- a
former Marine and blue-collar man with a passion for crabbing along
Maryland's Eastern Shore. He does not use the statistics favoured by many
anti-death penalty activists (such as how much money the state would save
by doing away with death row), preferring instead to stick to telling his
own story in the down-to-earth turns of phrase he favours.
"In my opinion, I think they should do away with the system ... But if we
don't, we have to really make sure that the right people are being tried
and convicted," Mr. Bloodsworth says. "Nobody wants to kill an innocent
person. That's the real meat of this meal.
Mr. Bloodsworth convinced his lawyer to track down the evidence and pay
thousands of dollars to a private laboratory for testing. Even so, the
prosecutor's office waited years before running the results of its own
tests through a national database that identified the little girl's
Much like the recent deaths of Cecilia Zhang or Holly Jones in Canada, the
murder of little Dawn rocked Maryland back in 1984. The girl was found
face-down in a forest near the apartment building in Rosedale, Md., where
she had been visiting her father.
She was naked from the waist down. Her white cotton underpants were found
dangling from a tree nearby. A stick had been shoved into her vagina. Her
skull had been crushed.
2 young boys who had been fishing in a nearby pond had seen Dawn wander
into the woods with a man, but they gave investigators varying
descriptions of the suspect. They were preoccupied -- they had just reeled
in a turtle.
As tips rolled in, the officers working the case did not investigate a
suggestion that the composite sketch of the suspect resembled a man who
was wanted for two child rapes in Baltimore. They instead honed in on
other leads, one of which came from an anonymous caller who named Kirk
Bloodsworth, who lived just a few miles from the murder scene.
Mr. Bloodsworth's wife had reported him missing. He told several people he
had done a very bad thing. (The very bad thing, Mr. Bloodsworth would
later tell a jury, was failing to buy his wife a taco salad.)
At his 1st trial, witness after witness pointed at Mr. Bloodsworth and
identified him as Dawn's killer. In spite of 10 alibi witnesses called in
his defence, Mr. Bloodsworth was eventually convicted of sexual assault,
rape and 1st-degree premeditated murder. A judge sentenced him to death.
He was 24 years old. Every step of the way Mr. Bloodsworth maintained his
innocence. He spent two years on death row before his second trial, when a
jury again found him guilty. This time, a judge sentenced him to life
without parole. Mr. Bloodsworth wrote letters proclaiming his innocence
almost every day he spent in prison -- eight years, 11 months and 19 days
in total. He mailed the letters to anyone he thought would listen --
everyone from then-president Ronald Reagan to Willie Nelson. He signed
each one A.I.M. -- "An Innocent Man." He was also a voracious reader. He
eventually read Joseph Wambaugh's The Blooding, a non-fiction account of
how "genetic fingerprinting" was first used to solve the slayings of two
teenagers in England. He realized the emerging field DNA analysis could
clear his name as well.
But even after the tests he demanded led to his release in 1993, Mr.
Bloodsworth was not free. Many people assumed he was still guilty and had
been released on a technicality. Someone wrote "child killer" in the dirt
on his truck. And while he got a US$300,000 settlement for his
incarceration, the money quickly ran out: Mr. Bloodsworth used some of it
to pay back his father for legal bills he had paid over the years and
spent the rest on "fair-weather friends," he says. He wound up living in
It was not until 2003 that Mr. Bloodsworth was finally vindicated. The
same prosecutor that helped send him to death row called one day with news
and wanted to meet in person.
Wary, Mr. Bloodsworth agreed to meet her at a Burger King. The prosecutor
told him the DNA had been run through a national database. The sample came
up with a match: Kimberly Shay Ruffner, a man who had been serving a
45-year sentence for burglary, rape and assault with intent to murder in
the same prison as Mr. Bloodsworth. In the many years they were together,
Ruffner never mentioned the incident to Mr. Bloodsworth. He later pleaded
guilty to Dawn's murder.
Mr. Bloodsworth is now a program officer with the Washington- based
Justice Project, a group that helps those who may have been wrongly
convicted. The Justice Project does not take a position on the death
penalty, but Mr. Bloodsworth makes no secret of the fact he personally
He helped convince U.S. lawmakers to pass a package of criminal justice
reforms in 2004 that give prisoners better access to experienced lawyers
for capital cases, as well as funding for DNA testing that could prove
One of his backers was U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat -- the same
U.S. legislator who recently berated U.S. Attorney-General Alberto
Gonzales on television for this country's treatment of Maher Arar.
Back in the church in New Jersey, Mr. Bloodsworth wipes away tears after
explaining that he missed his mother's funeral while he was in prison. He
was allowed to view her body for a few moments while wearing handcuffs and
"One more thing," he tells the small crowd, "Never forget me."
Those advocating to change the United States' death penalty laws certainly
never will. It is stories like the one Mr. Bloodsworth tells in this
church hall, and in many others across the country, that could eventually
help swing the mood of a nation.
Kirk Bloodsworth along with National Post writer Mary Vallis and death
penalty expert Richard Dieter will respond to reader questions and
comments online at nationalpost.com on Wednesday.
(source: National Post, Canada) )
ALABAMA----no death sentence for female
Thomas avoids death senteence
Jessica Thomas might serve years in prison, but she will not be put to
death for her role in the killing of 84-year-old Ellis Hinton.
A jury on Monday found Thomas guilty of felony murder, rather than capital
Tuscaloosa County Circuit Judge Scott Donaldson will sentence her in
April. She faces 10 years to life in prison but will be eligible for
Jurors returned no verdicts on the lesser charges of kidnapping, robbery
"We won!" Thomas mouthed to family members who were in the courtroom to
hear the verdict.
Her mother and cousin were overjoyed with the verdict and thanked jurors
as they exited the courthouse.
"The jury did their job, she won't spend the rest of her life in prison.
They gave her a 2nd chance," her cousin Shamekia Gray said. "She got
caught up with the wrong people."
"I am very happy," said her mother Melvenia Pickett. "She's my youngest."
Hinton's family members declined to comment.
Thomas, 23, was accused of killing Hinton, a neighbor who sometimes paid
her to clean his house. Thomas, her friend Shelia Allen, 26, and her
cousin Michael Pearson Jr., 21, robbed Hinton at his home on Jan. 22,
2004. Pearson attacked Hinton while Thomas and Allen searched his house.
They pushed his body in the Black Warrior River later that night. A
medical examiner testified that there was no conclusive evidence that
Hinton died from drowning, which suggested that he had died at his home.
Prosecutors contended that Hinton was not dead when he was dumped in the
river, suggesting that Thomas participated directly in the killing.
Allen testified, and jurors heard Thomas say in a videotaped interview
that neither of them touched Thomas at the house. Pearson pleaded guilty
in October and will serve life in prison with no possibility of parole.
Allen pleaded guilty to felony murder and burglary in May and is serving
life in prison with the possibility of parole.
"I think the jury considered the evidence very carefully," said Assistant
District Attorney Roger Hepburn. "I thought and had hoped that we had
enough for a capital murder verdict.
"I hope Mr. Hintons family gets some closure out of this," he said.
Jurors completed five hours of deliberations at 11:45 a.m. Monday. They
deliberated for about two hours Friday afternoon after the weeklong trial.
"We are elated with the outcome," said attorney Michael Cornwell, who
represented Thomas and was assisted by attorney Joanne Jannik.
"We recognize, and certainly Jessica does, the tragedy of Mr. Hinton
losing his life," he said. The verdict in no way diminishes that. There
was not sufficient evidence to show she intended for Mr. Hinton to be
(source: Tuscaloosa News)
Death-penalty repeal unlikely to pass, sponsor admits
Rep. Paul Weissmann says hes pessimistic about his chances of abolishing
Colorados death penalty.
"That likely wont pass," the Louisville Democrat told Longmont-area
residents during a town hall meeting Saturday that featured area
Weissmanns House Bill 1094 would repeal the death penalty as a sentencing
option for Class 1 felony crimes such as first-degree murder.
The estimated $770,000 a year that state agencies could save by not
handling death-penalth cases would instead be spent on a new Colorado
Bureau of Investigation cold case unit to assist local law enforcement
agencies investigating homicides that have gone unsolved for more than a
Part of the saved money would also be channeled into the CBIs forensics
unit and chemistry lab.
House Judiciary Committee members endorsed Weissmann's bill on a 7-4 vote
on Feb. 7, and it now awaits an uncertain fate in the House Appropriations
Even if the House Appropriations panel OKd the bill, the measure would
have to pass further legislative tests in the House and Senate before it
could be forwarded to Gov. Bill Ritter, a former Denver district attorney.
Colorado has executed only one convicted murderer over the past 40 years,
Weissmann said Saturday. He added that there now are about 1,200 unsolved
murders that happened during that same period of time.
"To me, it's a pretty decent trade-off," Weissmann said of shifting the
state money spent on prosecuting, defending and hearing and handling the
appeals involved in murder cases.
However, Weissmann said he already has begun his homework for another
criminal-justice issue he plans to tackle in next years legislative
session: reforming Colorados prison sentencing laws.
Several decades of lawmaking may have contributed to Colorado's current
and projected prison-space shortages by creating new felony crimes,
stiffening penalties for existing crimes and mandating longer terms for
people convicted of those crimes, Weissmann and other critics of the
sentencing system have suggested.
Longmont Democratic Sen. Brandon Shaffer, the host of Saturday's meeting,
said it costs about $806 million to build a new prison, money he said
"would go a long way" if it could be spent on public schools, higher
education or health care.
But "with the growth in our prison population, we're going to have to do
it," said Shaffer, whos chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Meanwhile, Shaffer said, lawmakers and the Ritter administration are
looking into ways to reduce another source of prison-space pressure:
Nearly 1/2 the inmates released from prison are re-incarcerated within 3
years after committing new crimes or violating parole.
Shaffer said Colorado Department of Corrections director Ari Zavaras has
estimated that for every 1 percentage point reduction in that recidivism
rate, the state could save about $5 million in annual prison operating
Ritter is seeking more than $8 million from the state's upcoming 2007-08
budget to spend on various mental-health, substance-abuse, job-placement,
community-corrections and transitional-housing services in what his budget
office calls a "Recidivism Reduction and Offender Diversion Package."
(source: Longmont Daily Times-Call)
Bakersfield prepares for trial of community leader in family's
deaths----Vice principal is accused of gruesome slayings of his wife, 3
children and mother-in-law, then staging an elaborate alibi with brother's
Students at Fremont Elementary School knew Vincent Brothers as the tall
vice principal who would sometimes join them on the basketball court. In
this oil-rich city, he commanded respect as a mentor and Christian family
Or so it seemed.
His estranged wife, Joanie Harper, their 3 young children and his
mother-in-law were found shot and stabbed to death in their home July 8,
2003, in what Bakersfield police called the most gruesome crime they had
Brothers, the sole suspect in the vicious slayings, was arrested nine
months later and charged with 5 counts of 1st-degree murder. Opening
statements are scheduled Wednesday in the former school administrator's
trial in Kern County Superior Court; he faces a possible death penalty.
Brothers, 44, has pleaded not guilty and says he was out of town when the
bodies were found. But prosecutors say he staged a last-minute visit to
his brother's home in Ohio to create an elaborate, far-fetched alibi.
"Brothers' former stature in the community makes this exceptional," said
Joseph Hoffmann, a death penalty expert at Indiana University School of
Law, Bloomington. "That's a significant hurdle for the prosecution to
Fresh out of Cal State Bakersfield, Brothers started as a substitute
teacher in the city's schools in 1987. He quickly rose through the ranks
to become vice principal of the grammar school by 1995. He planted roots
in the city and was a regular at Sunday church services.
But Brothers appears to have had tumultuous relationships with women.
Harper was his 3rd wife the 1st 2 marriages having ended in divorce. In
1990, the year his 1st marriage ended, Brothers was convicted of spousal
abuse, according to police. The 2nd marriage lasted a few months and was
described in court filings as "turbulent."
Brothers and Harper married in January 2000, divorced and remarried. Their
3 children, Marques, Lyndsey and Marshall, were 4, 2 and 6 weeks old at
the time of the killings. The 5th victim was Harper's 70-year-old mother,
Defense attorneys have suggested in recent court filings that others were
responsible for the killings, but they did not elaborate.
According to Deputy Dist. Atty. Lisa Green, Brothers flew to Columbus,
Ohio, then rented a car and drove back to Bakersfield to kill his family.
The car's odometer showed he had driven 5,400 miles about the time of the
slayings. police said.
A criminal complaint also alleges that Brothers' brother, Melvin, used his
credit card and forged Vincent Brothers' signature in Ohio on the day of
the killings to help cover up the crime.
Jury selection has dragged on for weeks, mainly due to the intense
publicity surrounding the case, while a gag order has prevented attorneys
from discussing the case with the media. The 2 sides have filed nearly 150
motions, according to court clerks, and the trial could last months.
The list of potential witnesses filling 10 single-spaced pages includes
many prominent Bakersfield residents, such as school administrators,
preachers and fire officials.
Defense attorney Michael Gardina emphasized that point in a motion filed
in late December seeking to move the trial to Los Angeles. "The death of
the Harper family was a Kern County experience," he wrote. "There is no
chance of a fair trial here."
Judge Michael Bush denied that request and a previous one from Gardina
seeking a 6-month delay.
For nearly 3 years, Brothers' home has been the Kern County Jail, and he's
made numerous court appearances as lawyers fought over how and where the
trial would be heard.
On a recent afternoon, he sat inside the dimly lighted courtroom, wearing
a suit and glasses. He bit his lip a few times as Green sought to
discredit a witness who defense attorneys said could prove police forced
Melvin Brothers to make false declarations.
If Brothers is convicted, the scene is likely to repeat itself. Death
penalty cases are automatically reviewed by the California Supreme Court
in a process that can take decades.
(source: Bakersfield Californian)
Report urges Indiana to halt executions, calling them "random"
Indiana should temporarily halt executions until it improves its fairness
and accuracy in meting out the death penalty to convicted murderers, a
group urged Tuesday in a report that calls the state's executions
The report by a team that's part of a death penalty project run by the
American Bar Association found Indiana's application of the death penalty
highly inconsistent. It warns that people convicted of committing murders
under similar circumstances often get very different sentences, with some
facing execution and others decades or life behind bars.
"The seemingly random process of charging decisions, plea agreements, and
jury recommendations is just part of a death penalty system that has aptly
been called Indiana's `other lottery,'" the report states.
The assessment team that reviewed Indiana's death penalty system found
that the state is in full compliance with only 10 of the 79 protocols the
ABA drafted in 2001 to ensure that capital punishment is applied fairly to
That seven-member group, which included former Gov. Joe Kernan, issued 12
recommendations in its report aimed at ensuring that capital punishment is
imposed in a fair or consistent manner targeting only the "very worst
offenders who have committed the very worst of offenses."
Those recommendations include banning the execution of offenders with
severe mental illness, requiring law enforcement to record video or audio
of all interrogations, and that the state adopt tougher attorney
qualifications and monitoring procedures for attorneys in capital cases.
Among other things, the team found that there are racial disparities in
the state's capital sentencing system, with blacks being targeted for
execution more often than whites.
The report also found that the state lacks an independent statewide
authority to appoint defense attorneys in capital cases.
"The assessment team has concluded that Indiana's death penalty system is
broken," said Steve Hamlin, the ABA project director.
Jane Jankowski, press secretary for Gov. Mitch Daniels, said the governor
has received the material from the ABA's Indiana assessment team "and he
intends to review it."
Indiana State Prison Superintendent Ed Buss said 21 people are on the
state's death row at the Michigan City prison. Since the U.S. Supreme
Court reinstated the death penalty, Indiana has executed 17 convicted
murderers, he said.
Kernan, who as governor commuted the death sentences of two condemned
inmates to life in prison, said he supports a moratorium on executions
until all levels of state government review the report and implement some
of its key findings.
He said that in Indiana similar cases involving murders sometimes result
in widely different sentences, and that such sentences - including the
decision to seek the death penalty - are often dictated by local
"We want to make sure that our system is fair and that there are
guidelines in terms of how sentences are put out and that the death
penalty is reserved for those that we would consider the worst of the
worst," Kernan said.
The team's report found that while hundreds of Hoosiers are murdered each
year "under a variety of heinous circumstances," only a few of those cases
result in a prosecutor seeking the death penalty, and that few of those
eventually result in an execution.
Its recommendations include requiring law enforcement officials preserve
all biological evidence, such as blood, in a defendant's case for as long
as that person is incarcerated.
Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council,
said biological material is currently saved only if it's entered as
evidence in a murder trial, and that evidence is typically discarded if it
is inconclusive or data could not be extracted from it.
Landis said it makes sense to save biological evidence for decades because
advances in science promise to someday unlock information from that
"DNA has proven that innocent people can get convicted. With the advances
in molecular biology and chemistry, who's to say we won't have
breakthroughs in the next 20 years?" he said.
On The Net: American Bar Association report on fairness and the death
(source: Associated Press)
Reformers urge state to freeze executions----Death penalty isn't evenly
applied, says a report by politicians, Indiana law experts
Gary Burris, Zachariah Melcher, Arthur P. Baird II, Darryl Jeter, Roger L.
Long, Jerry E. Russell and John A. Redman all committed vicious murders in
Only Burris was executed for his crime.
That disparity illustrates how inconsistently the state applies the death
penalty, according to a panel that today will call on Indiana to suspend
capital punishment and institute more safeguards for fairness and
The 7-member group is part of a national campaign by the American Bar
Association project that began in 1997 to block executions nationally
until similar issues are addressed in the 38 states where the death
penalty is an option.
Indiana is the 5th state targeted by the campaign, whose recommendations
have not yet been followed. Last year, similar panels in Alabama and
Georgia urged moratoriums, but executions were not halted. The Florida and
Arizona teams urged reforms but couldn't agree on the moratorium issue. A
handful of states have instituted moratoriums -- Illinois, in 2000 by
then-Gov. George Ryan; New York, in 2004 by that state's highest court;
and New Jersey, in 2006 by the state Legislature, according to the Death
Penalty Information Center.
Some other states have stopped executing prisoners because of concerns
over the effectiveness of their lethal injection procedures.
Indiana has 24 inmates on death row. Under a moratorium, executions would
be halted, but courts still could sentence offenders to death.
A spokeswoman said Gov. Mitch Daniels declined to comment on the report.
The panel, called the Indiana Death Penalty Assessment Team, includes
former Gov. Joe Kernan and state Sen. John Broden, both Democrats; defense
attorneys; a former prosecutor; and a law professor. The group called for
a dozen changes. They would ask Indiana to:
Require law enforcement agencies to record video or audio of all
Adopt stiffer qualifications for defense attorneys and bar them from
handling more than two death penalty cases at once.
Create an independent statewide authority to assign attorneys to death
penalty defendants. Attorneys now are appointed by judges or public
During Indiana Supreme Court sentencing appeals, consider whether the
death penalty is being used consistently and for the worst offenders.
Address the findings of at least 2 studies showing that harsher sentences
are given to murderers when their victims are white.
Ban the execution of offenders with severe mental illnesses.
Sonia Leerkamp, Hamilton County's prosecutor, said problems with Indiana's
system aren't severe enough to merit a moratorium.
"Our system has so many safeguards that it really is one of the best
around," said Leerkamp, a Republican who is starting her fourth term.
"That's not to say that it's not problematical," with the extra scrutiny
given to such cases causing long delays before execution.
The report noted some of Indiana's strengths. The state provides 2
attorneys for death penalty defendants, pays for expert witnesses and has
a detailed clemency process before each execution. Joel Schumm, the
chairman of Indiana's panel, said problems highlighted in the report span
all phases of a case and can snowball if not corrected. He is an associate
professor at the Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis.
Moratorium on death penalty?
A new report calling for a moratorium on the death penalty in Indiana will
be released today during a news conference in the Statehouse.
The report was compiled by the American Bar Association's Death Penalty
Moratorium Implementation Project with help from a 7-member team of
5 murder cases
The report highlights 5 crimes involving 7 offenders that resulted in just
one being executed -- showing Indiana's inconsistent use of the death
Gary Burris: Killed an Indianapolis cab driver in 1980, leaving the body
nude and bound. An accomplice testified against Burris, and he was
sentenced to death. Burris was executed in 1997.
Zachariah Melcher: Killed his wife, who was eight months pregnant, and
the couple's 11-month-old son in April 2005 in Jeffersonville. Prosecutors
sought the death penalty, but Melcher pleaded guilty in exchange for life
in prison without parole after the victims' family consented.
Arthur P. Baird II: Strangled his pregnant wife, then killed his parents
using a butcher knife in 1985 in Montgomery County. He was sentenced to
death but later was found to be psychotic. In 2005, with family members'
and jurors' support, Gov. Mitch Daniels commuted the sentence to life in
prison without parole.
Darryl Jeter: Killed an Indiana State Police trooper in 2003 alongside a
Northwest Indiana highway. Prosecutors pressed for the death penalty, but
a jury recommended life without parole.
Roger L. Long, Jerry E. Russell and John A. Redman: Kidnapped a
44-year-old mentally disabled Linton woman in 1995, kept her in an attic
for 2 weeks and sexually assaulted her before killing her. Prosecutors
never sought the death penalty, and each was sentenced to life in prison
Indiana assessment team
Joel Schumm: chairman, associate professor at Indiana University School
James J. Bell: attorney with Bingham McHale and a 2-term chairman of the
criminal justice section of the Indiana State Bar Association.
State Sen. John Broden, D-South Bend: member of the Indiana Senate
committees on Corrections and Criminal and Civil Procedures.
Robert Gevers II: attorney, former Allen County prosecutor.
Marce Gonzales: attorney in Merrillville, concentrating in criminal
defense, appeals and defense of lawyer discipline cases.
Former Gov. Joe Kernan
Paula Sites: attorney and assistant executive director of the Indiana
Public Defender Council.
[sources: American Bar Association, Associated Press]
(source: Indianapolis Star)
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