[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----GA., MONT., MISS., KY.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Feb 24 20:05:30 UTC 2007
Legislature considering overhaul of state's public defender system
With a multimillion-dollar budget problem, mounting costs for a
high-profile death penalty case and general disagreement over how to run
the state's young public defender system, Georgia legislators are
considering a series of overhauls.
Friday, 6 pieces of legislation cleared the Georgia Senate's Judiciary
Committee, setting the stage for a full Senate vote on a variety of
changes. One resolution would set up a study committee of legislators,
attorneys and judges to examine the system and problems it has
There are questions of power and protocol, but money is the issue's root,
and legislators haven't minced words with officials from the Georgia
Public Defender's Standards Council, which oversees the system.
"You can't spend money like a drunken sailor on shore leave, and then cry
to the Legislature," state Sen. Preston Smith, R-Rome, who chairs the
Senate Judiciary Committee, told council staffers during Friday's meeting.
Former Macon Mayor Lee Robinson, the public defender for the Macon area,
said the Legislature needs to keep things in perspective.
"This is a system that's a work in progress," he said. "It's doing
extremely well. It's a model for other states. The General Assembly should
be proud of the system they set up."
The system came online in 2005 in an effort to standardize a hodgepodge of
indigent defense systems across the state. A statewide council was set up
to run the system, and local panels were created to select public
defenders for 43 judicial circuits across the state.
In Macon, for example, the panel picked Robinson.
Chosen public defenders then set up their offices, hiring attorneys to
represent poor people accused of crimes instead of meting those cases out
to private attorneys, as was often the case in the old system. Some
counties opted out of the new system, including Houston County, which
already had a local public defender's office run much the way the
state-overseen systems are now.
But now the standards council needs more than $9 million in state money to
fund its budget and avoid layoffs through the end of the fiscal year.
That's not really new money, because it's already been collected from
various user fees collected by courts across the state. But it wasn't
budgeted by the defender's council, officials have said, because of a
statutory funding glitch that forced the council to budget this year based
on nine months of fee collections as opposed to 12.
Smith and other legislators, though, have repeatedly said that just
because the fee collections are available to fund the system, that doesn't
mean the council is automatically entitled to everything that's collected.
In fact, legislation is moving forward to specifically put that into state
Smith and numerous other legislators also are asking more fundamental
questions about how good of a defense indigent people should get and how
much that defense should cost.
"How deep are we going to dig into the pocket of the taxpayers?" Smith
said. "What is reasonable?"
The trial of Brian Nichols, the accused killer in the 2005 shooting spree
at the Fulton County Courthouse, has weighed heavily in the discussion.
There are numerous witnesses to the shooting, and Nichols has offered to
plead guilty in exchange for avoiding the death penalty - a deal
Yet his defense has cost more than $1.2 million before jury selection,
according to published reports this week.
"I doubt very seriously that O.J. Simpson had it that well," Smith said
To that end, the study committee envisioned by Senate Resolution 246 would
look for "significant reforms ... needed to ensure the economic viability
of indigent defense services," the resolution states.
County officials also have voiced concerns, because local governments pay
a share of public defender costs, too. Robinson said that in his district,
which includes Bibb, Peach and Crawford counties, nearly 75 % of the
budget comes from the counties.
Other measures approved by the committee Friday would:
Transfer the standards council from the judicial branch of government to
the executive branch, a move council officials said Friday they welcome.
The bill, Senate Bill 139, would strike from Georgia code the language
that officials say contributed to this year's funding glitch as well as
make it clear that the fees collected to fund indigent defense don't all
have to be allocated to indigent defense.
Add 4 members to the standards council, for a total of 15, and require
that all 4 be county commissioners. Counties help the state fund public
defender offices, and several legislators said these local governments
need more say in the process.
Give the selection panels that initially appoint circuit public defenders
the ability to petition the standards council to remove them. Senate Bill
140 initially would have given those panels the ability to fire public
defenders outright, but the bill was amended by the committee. Legislators
discussed having public defenders elected by local voters, but that idea
hasn't moved forward as legislation. Senate Bill 140 also would increase
the size of the local panels from 5 members to 7.
(source: Macon Telegraph)
Mont. Senate votes to abolish death penalty
The Democratic-controlled Senate on Friday gave preliminary approval to
abolishing the death penalty in Montana.
After a lengthy debate in which lawmakers quoted Jesus, Thomas Jefferson
and Ted Bundy, the Senate voted 27-21 to approve the measure.
The measure's sponsor, Sen. Dan Harrington, D-Butte, implored his
colleagues to "show true political leadership" and do away with capital
punishment, despite polls that show the majority of Montanans support it.
Proponents of the measure said the death penalty is costly and unfair, and
does not serve as a deterrent.
"I don't think we should be in the killing business," said Sen. Dan
Opponents countered that the death penalty is needed to help victims'
"This is simply closure," said Sen. Greg Barkus, R-Kalispell.
The measure still faces a final Senate vote, before going to the
Efforts to abolish the death penalty have failed in each of the past 3
legislative sessions. There currently are 2 prisoners on death row in
Montana, and the state has executed 3 people since the death penalty was
reinstated in the 1970s. The most recent execution, of convicted murderer
David Dawson, occurred last year.
Opponents argued that the low number of executions proved the penalty was
being used fairly for only the most dangerous criminals.
Sen. Jerry O'Neil, R-Kalispell, noted that one of the current death row
inmates had killed a fellow prisoner with a baseball bat. He said some
people are so dangerous that they can't be held in available prisons and
the death penalty is a better alternative.
"It's obvious ... that we can't give these criminals, these animals, one
scintilla of freedom in prison," he said.
Republicans largely opposed the measure; Democrats largely supported it.
But there were a few members of both parties who switched sides.
One of them, Sen. Roy Brown, R-Billings, said his anti-abortion views led
him to change his mind and vote for abolishing the death penalty.
"Even a guilty life is worth saving," he said.
He emphasized that the possibility of executing an innocent person made
the death penalty untenable.
If Harrington's bill were to become law, Montana would join a number of
states that have recently put a stop to executions.
There currently are 38 states with a death penalty. Of those, 11 have put
executions on hold because of questions about whether lethal injection,
the method used in Montana, is a "cruel and unusual punishment." Those
states are: Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Missouri,
New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota and Tennessee.
A court in New York ruled the punishment unconstitutional, and a former
Illinois governor issued a moratorium on the death penalty 7 years ago.
Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor, said he has no qualms with the state killing
people, but only when it is required during wars or shootouts between
police and criminals. Executing criminals who already are in prison, he
argued, is simply bad policy.
"It is not necessary for the government to kill people for revenge,"
Other supporters of the measure said the death penalty did not offer
closure for victims' families but rather increased their suffering during
the lengthy mandatory appeal process.
Still others said minorities and the poor were disproportionately
sentenced to be executed.
"It's not right. You can't do it fairly, you can't do it with equity, you
can't do it with justice," said Sen. Steve Gallus, D-Butte.
Harrington's bill is Senate bill 306.
(source: Associated Press)
Death penalty won't be sought-----Ex-jailer faces May trial in death of
In Gulfport, U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton says that after an extensive
review, a decision has been reached not to pursue the death penalty in the
prosecution of former Harrison County jailer Ryan Teel.
Lampton said the decision was made by U.S. Attorney Alberto Gonzalez
following a meeting in Washington, according to a story in The Sun Herald
Teel, who remains in jail, faces a May 28 trial for the Feb. 4, 2006,
fatal beating of inmate Jessie Lee Williams Jr. Teel, 30, was in charge of
the booking room the night of the beating. He has been held at an
undisclosed location since his arrest Aug. 28, 2006.
He pleaded not guilty to charges of deprivation of civil rights under
color of law and of falsifying records to obstruct a federal
The decision by Gonzalez came after Teel's attorneys and federal
prosecutors met with a U.S. Justice Department review panel in Washington.
"No reason was given," Lampton told the newspaper. "There's all kinds of
arguments for it, but it was his call. I've tried a number of death cases
and in this case, I think it's the right decision. It's better to start
the case off without the jury or the judge having to deal with the
Now, Teel could face life in prison if convicted on the civil rights
Jim Davis, the lead defense attorney, said Teel is relieved over the
U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge John M. Roper had denied bond for Teel after
his arrest, saying Teel was a possible flight risk and danger to others.
The defense is now asking for a bond review, noting that Teel's detention
was ordered before the death-penalty issue was decided.
The family of the 40-year-old Williams, who had been taken to jail on
misdemeanors, has been informed, said Michael W. Crosby, lead attorney for
3 weeks before Teel's arrest, ex-jailer Regina Rhodes admitted she helped
Rhodes and 4 other former jailers have entered plea agreements, admitting
a conspiracy to deprive hundreds of inmates of their rights. Rhodes awaits
sentencing, as do former jailers Morgan Thompson, Dedri Caldwell, Preston
Wills and William Jeffery Priest.
(source: Clarion Ledger)
Death row inmate wins bid for DNA test in '90 Lexington case
A death row inmate won the right for DNA testing of some evidence stemming
from an old murder, the 2nd time a condemned prisoner in Kentucky has won
such a request.
A Fayette County Circuit judge yesterday granted a request by Thomas Clyde
Bowling, 54, to test a jacket, hat and thermos that were gathered after
the 1990 slayings of a husband and wife in Lexington.
The judge rejected an attempt to take DNA samples from a car used as a
getaway vehicle, saying too many people could have driven or been
passengers in the car, making any test results unreliable.
"Even if touch DNA or mitochondrial DNA could be located 16 years later,
there is no credible proof to establish the age of the DNA," Judge Kim
Bowling is awaiting execution after having been convicted of shooting
Eddie and Tina Earley outside their Lexington dry cleaning store, Earley
Bird Cleaners. The couple's son survived the attack.
Kentucky law allows condemned inmates to request genetic testing of
evidence in cases that predate the use of DNA testing.
Another Death Row inmate, Brian Keith Moore, 49, has been granted a DNA
test on evidence stemming from a 1979 murder.
Bowling's attorney, Assistant Public Advocate David Barron, said the DNA
could point to another suspect who lived in the area and had a grudge
against the Earleys. The thermos will be tested if it can be located and
could prove valuable, Barron said.
The thermos was among the items found in the getaway car, but it wasn't
introduced as evidence at trial and its current location is unknown. But
because someone likely drank from it around the time of the murder, it
could provide evidence that someone else was in the getaway car at the
time of the slayings, Barron said.
"If it's something somebody drinks from, you would think it wouldn't have
sat there for months before the crime," Barron said.
Fayette County Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson called Bowling's
requests part of a "never-ending appeal" and said he might appeal the
Bowling was originally scheduled for execution in November 2004.
Kentucky's law is similar to statutes in 39 other states. It allows death
row inmates to request DNA testing on evidence as long as there haven't
been previous tests and a judge determines that the evidence could have
affected the outcome of the trial. Similar tests have resulted in more
than a dozen people around the country being freed from death row.
At least 2 other death row inmates in Kentucky have filed for DNA testing:
Roger Epperson, convicted of the June 1985 slaying of Tammy Acker in
Letcher County, and Victor D. Taylor, convicted of the September 1984
kidnapping, robbery and murder of 2 high school students in Louisville.
Kentucky has executed 2 inmates since the reinstatement of the death
penalty in 1976.
(source: Associated Press)
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