[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----MD., FLA., MICH.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Feb 25 18:36:38 UTC 2007
Most county legislators back death penalty
Howard may seem like a politically liberal county to some, especially with
a lopsided delegation of 8 Democrats and 3 Republicans, but party
affiliation does not seem to matter on the emotional issue of the repeal
of the death penalty, currently under discussion in Annapolis.
While Gov. Martin O'Malley is for repeal, only 3 of Howard County's 11
state legislators agree, though a 4th is open to the possibility,
according an informal poll of the delegation members.
All 3 state senators and 4 of the 8 delegates -- 3 Republicans and 4
Democrats -- oppose repeal.
The anti-death penalty movement has no friends in District 9, where 3
Republicans represent the western county and Ellicott City.
Prison safety is on state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman's mind. He feels that
eliminating the death penalty could make prisons more dangerous because
inmates sentenced to life without parole would have nothing to lose.
"If those prisoners know there's no possibility of death, they can just go
on a rampage in prison," he said.
Dels. Gail H. Bates and Warren E. Miller said they believe that -- despite
years of appeals and lengthy delays -- the possibility of death is a
"Some say it's not a deterrent, but I believe it is," said Bates, though
she agrees that delays reduce that effect.
"Justice should be fair, but swift," she said
Miller said that in addition to being a deterrent, the death penalty helps
ensure that sentences will not be modified to allow criminals with life
sentences out of jail.
"If you get the death penalty, you know you're going to be in prison for
life," he said.
In District 12, covering west Columbia, a small part of Ellicott City,
Elkridge and southwestern Baltimore County, the views among 4 Democrats
"I support the death penalty. I always have. I think it's a cultural
heritage," said state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer.
2 of his district's 3 delegates take the same stance.
Del. Steven J. DeBoy Sr., a retired Baltimore County police officer, said,
"I've been to too many police funerals and too many victims' funerals. The
Vernon Evans case was just a cold-blooded execution," he said, referring
to a Maryland death row inmate convicted of contract murder in the 1983
Pikesville motel shooting of 2 people.
Del. James E. Malone Jr., a Democrat and a career Baltimore County
firefighter, made a point similar to Kittleman's in explaining his support
for the death penalty.
"The only fear an inmate has is the fear of being put to death," Malone
But Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a former county executive and veteran legislator,
sharply disagreed. She is a co-sponsor of the death penalty repeal bill.
"It's pretty clear it's not working as a deterrent. There are too many
mistakes," she said.
Bobo added: "I've never been able to understand how we can teach people
not to murder by killing them."
State. Sen. James N. Robey, a Democrat and District 13 senator who spent
32 years as a police officer and Howard County police chief, said he
agrees that the death penalty is really not much of a deterrent, but he
feels "some crimes are just so heinous. To me, the death penalty is the
His district's 3 delegates, all Democrats who represent the L-shaped
southeastern county area, do not agree, however.
Dels. Frank S. Turner and Guy Guzzone favor repeal. Del. Shane E.
Pendergrass said she would consider it, depending on the practicalities.
"I have supported the death penalty, but if it were shown to me that it is
cheaper to get rid of it, I would support getting rid of it," Pendergrass
"For me, it's practical. I will wait and see what the case is and make up
my mind on the numbers," she said.
Turner said he has mixed feelings, but would support repeal because the
time and expense of appeals mean the death penalty isn't a deterrent.
The racial disparity in which more African-Americans are sentenced to
death than whites bothers him, he said, but "on the other hand, I think
that in certain cases, involving mass murder, killing children and murder
for hire you should still carry the death penalty"
At the same time, sentences of life without parole would save $4 million
to $5 million per case in appeal costs, he said. "I just don't really
think it's worth the trouble."
Guzzone, a freshman delegate, noted people who are mistakenly convicted in
death penalty cases.
"Until we become foolproof in determining guilt or innocence, I'm inclined
to go that way [repeal]." In addition, Guzzone said, "Unless I'd be
willing to do something myself, I'd not want to ask the state to do it for
(source: Baltimore Sun)
Maryland's decision Life or death?
A life-and-death debate about capital punishment in Maryland has taken
root in Washington County.
2 of the countys state lawmakers serve on the House and Senate committees
considering a bill to repeal the death penalty. Hearings were held
The protection of correctional officers a sizable Western Maryland
constituency is an argument put forth by opponents of a repeal.
Washington County is where a state correctional officer was shot and
killed while on duty last year, allegedly by an inmate.
Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, might have a particularly key
role in helping or hindering the repeal bills process on the Senate side.
Mooney has been described as a swing vote on the 11-member Judicial
Proceedings Committee. 3 members are bill sponsors; some believe 2 others
will join them and vote in favor.
How will Mooney vote? Even he doesnt know yet, he said Friday.
Mooney, who is Catholic, said he doesn't believe in "eye for an eye"
justice. But capital punishment "should be used when it's needed," he
said, and the killing of a correctional officer might be one of those
Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, whose Judiciary Committee has the
repeal bill on the House side, steadfastly supports the death penalty for
heinous crimes including the death of a correctional officer.
Including Maryland and Pennsylvania, 38 states have capital punishment,
according to the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center. Of those
states, 2 have moratoriums in place, while 18 others are considering
abolition or moratoriums, the center's Web site says.
Governor expresses his opinion
Capital punishment opponents in Maryland are pushing to replace executions
with the sentence of life in prison without parole. They argue that the
death penalty has failings: Innocent people have been convicted. It's
unevenly applied by jurisdiction and by race of defendant and victim. It's
This year, they have an ally in Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, who, in
an unusual step, testified at both repeal bill hearings even though the
topic wasnt on his legislative agenda for the session.
It was Ash Wednesday, the 1st day of Lent for Catholics.
Reading from an opinion piece he wrote for that day's Washington Post,
O'Malley, who is Catholic, said the death penalty damages "the concept of
human dignity" and is neither just nor a deterrent. Since 1978, Maryland
has executed 5 people convicted of murder and set one free.
"Are any of us willing to sacrifice a member of our own family wrongly
convicted, sentenced and executed in order to secure the execution of 5
rightly convicted murderers?" his opinion piece says.
Capital punishment doesn't stop people from committing crimes, O'Malley
told the committee, citing higher murder rates in death penalty states.
"It would appear that the death penalty is not a deterrent, but possibly
an accelerant, to murder," his opinion piece says.
He quoted a Maryland Court of Appeals judge's calculation that it costs
$400,000 more to process and imprison a death penalty defendant than a
defendant serving a life sentence.
Based on 56 death penalty cases in 3 decades, Maryland spent an extra $22
million which could have paid for 500 new police officers or drug
treatment for 10,000 addicts, the governor said.
"See, unlike the death penalty, these are investments that actually do
save lives and prevent violent crime," O'Malley said.
OMalley's predecessor, Republican Robert Ehrlich, supported the death
Also testifying Wednesday was Kirk Bloodsworth, a Maryland man sentenced
to death for the rape and killing of a 9-year-old girl, but later
vindicated by DNA testing.
Bloodsworth is one of 123 death-row convicts exonerated in the United
States since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Although Bloodsworth presents his plight as proof that any innocent person
could be convicted and executed, Shank said it shows that DNA testing is a
solid and safe protection.
The corrections issue
Mooney wouldn't say whether any of the testimony influenced his views.
Shank, though, said O'Malley didn't sway him.
He said he tried to ask the governor O'Malley testified, then left
without taking questions "What kind of message are you sending to the men
and women who risk their lives every day as our correctional officers?"
Some repeal opponents have zeroed in on the death penalty as a protection
for state correctional officers. Without it, a convicted murderer serving
life in prison can receive no further punishment for killing again, Shank
"My feeling is if they do anything with the death penalty, there's no
reason to keep (inmates) from killing an officer," said Ray Lushbaugh, a
steward for Teamsters Local 103 and correctional officer at Maryland
Correctional Institution-Hagerstown, one of Washington County's 3 state
Washington County State's Attorney Charles P. Strong Jr. agreed, and cited
the same reason for supporting the death penalty.
"I believe it's fair, reasonable and appropriate in very severe cases,"
such as killing a correctional officer, he said.
Strong's office is prosecuting murder charges against Brandon Morris, a
Roxbury Correctional Institution inmate accused of shooting Officer
Jeffery A. Wroten to death in January 2006 at Washington County Hospital,
where Wroten was guarding him. The trial is scheduled for June.
The prosecution plans to seek the death penalty, although the state's
highest court has put executions on hold because of procedural questions.
The Catholic Church opposes capital punishment "because it's the taking of
human life," said the Rev. George Limmer, a former pastor at St. Mary
Catholic Church in Hagerstown. "We're pro-life from the time of conception
until the time of death."
Shank, a Protestant, said his religious upbringing was different and
taught him that capital punishment "was clearly contemplated in the Old
(source: Letter to the Editor, Herald-Mail)
Review of lethal injection complete----A panel says the state can do
better and will submit suggestions to Gov. Crist this week
A commission that has studied Florida's lethal injection procedures
acknowledged Saturday that what happened to Angel Diaz likely will happen
But the panelists said the Department of Corrections can be better
prepared to handle a similar situation. After a seven-hour meeting
Saturday, they will make recommendations to Gov. Charlie Crist this week.
Diaz, condemned for the 1979 murder of a Miami bar manager, took nearly
twice as long as normal to die during his Dec. 13 execution. An autopsy
showed needles tore through Diaz's veins, spilling lethal chemicals into
his flesh and creating the possibility of suffering prohibited by the
Constitution. He suffered foot-long burns on each arm.
The panel found that execution team members made a series of errors that
strayed from state protocols. But the commission also decided that the
protocols need to offer more detailed instructions on how to identify
problems and cope with them.
"We know for sure that this is going to happen again," said panelist Harry
K. Singletary, a former state corrections secretary. "But what we are
telling the governor is when it happens again, here's what we think the
Department of Corrections should do."
The panel also suggested Crist review whether the state should consider
eliminating one drug in the 3-drug lethal injection cocktail. Some
panelists wondered if the second drug, which causes paralysis, is
necessary. The drug prevents inmates from involuntarily shuddering while
they are dying.
The drug may make it easier for witnesses to watch and perhaps makes the
dying process seem more dignified, but the paralysis also could prevent an
inmate from expressing pain, leaving a false sense that the execution went
Perhaps most significantly, the panel will recommend that an execution
team member check inmates to ensure they are unconscious from the 1st
drug, a powerful sedative. The execution can continue only if the inmate
The team also must assure that the IV in the inmate's arm has not been
Experts told the panel over the last few weeks that needles in Diaz's arms
likely tore through the veins.
Some witnesses reported seeing Diaz grimace or wince during the execution,
though department officials said they didn't see any signs of pain or
distress. Panelists said conflicting testimony did not allow them to
conclude whether he suffered.
Other recommendations made by the panel include:
- That the execution team train and rehearse more with all members
present. Testimony revealed that the executioner did not rehearse with the
rest of the team and hadn't received any training in seven years.
- That 2 Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents witness the
execution, 1 from where the executioners are hidden and 1 from the witness
room. The agents also should take notes.
- That the warden be in charge of the execution. Testimony revealed that
though the warden said he was in charge, he deferred to medical staff and
was not told of steps taken when Diaz's execution started to go wrong.
- That if one vein breaks, the execution team should start on another vein
but return to the beginning of the drug cycle. During the Diaz execution,
the team went to a 2nd vein, but skipped the sedative, leaving Diaz
potentially vulnerable to the suffocating effects of the 2nd drug and an
excruciating burning sensation from the third drug.
- At least 1 member of the execution team should speak the inmate's 1st
language. None of the team members spoke Spanish, Diaz's native language.
While some panelists said the medical staff on the execution team should
thoroughly review which vein to access, a doctor on the panel said that
could call for a physician to violate ethical standards that forbid
involvement in capital punishment.
Even so, panelists heard testimony that needles will punch through veins
perhaps 15 % of the time - even when the procedure is overseen by medical
personnel, as Diaz's execution was.
"This was the product of highly trained medical personnel," said panel
member David Varlotta, a Tampa anesthesiologist. "And I'd submit in this
case you'll never get away from the inherent risks and the inherent
failures of a pseudo-medical procedure."
(source: St. Petersburg Times)
Lethal injection changes proposed
Florida's execution team would closely monitor IV lines for problems and
check to make sure the inmate is unconscious before the fatal drug is
administered, under recommendations likely to be proposed by the state
lethal injection commission.
The commission's recommendations, hashed out at a hearing Saturday, aim to
prevent the problems that plagued the botched execution of Angel Diaz in
December. But commission members cautioned no changes will make executions
"We know for sure that this is going to happen again," said commission
member Harry Singletary, a former director of the Florida Department of
Diaz's Dec. 13 execution took about 20 minutes longer than the typical
execution and required a rare second round of lethal chemicals. Those
problems prompted then-Gov. Jeb Bush to halt all executions and create the
commission to investigate and recommend changes.
The commission has heard testimony over the last three weeks showing that
IV lines went through Diaz's veins and caused the lethal drugs to seep
into his flesh. The testimony portrayed an execution room where there was
confusion about who was in charge and where execution doctors made
decisions that conflicted with state guidelines and common sense.
The commission's recommendations, which will be finalized over the next
few days and issued in a report Thursday, are intended to prevent future
problems by increasing the training of the execution team, stressing the
leadership role of the prison warden and improving the ways in which the
procedure is monitored.
But the commission avoided more drastic steps, such as eliminating the
second drug used in the state's 3-drug cocktail. The drug, which paralyzes
the inmate, could make it less clear whether the inmate is truly
unconscious during the procedure.
The commission also found it couldn't determine whether Diaz felt pain in
the execution. While media accounts suggested Diaz was writhing in pain
and Diaz's attorney gave testimony to the same effect, DOC employees
testified the inmate showed no signs of distress.
Instead, the commission stuck to findings that procedures were violated
and recommended improving training and stressing the chain of command in
hopes of preventing another botched execution.
The warden would be completely in charge of all decisions and in constant
communication with the executioners and execution doctors. Closed-circuit
cameras would be positioned on the inmate's face and points of IV access,
giving the executioner and doctors a better view of possible problems. The
lethal drugs and IV lines would be clearly labeled.
An existing witness from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement would
monitor and document the actions of the executioners and doctors, while a
2nd witness would be added to sit among the public and media to monitor
the inmate's actions.
Perhaps the most significant change would be a more lengthy delay in the
execution after a sedative is administered. In Florida's execution
procedures, inmates are supposed to be given a sedative to render
unconsciousness, followed by a paralytic to freeze the muscles and finally
the lethal drug that stops the inmate's heart.
But in Diaz's execution, problems with the IV prevented the sedative from
going into his veins and raised the possibility he could have felt the
other drugs being administered. Under the recommendations, a member of the
execution team would check to ensure the inmate was unconscious before the
2nd and 3rd drugs are administered.
Commission members cautioned that the nature of executions prevents the
procedure from being conducted as a true medical procedure. And they
conceded medical ethics that restrict physician involvement in executions
also hampered the commission from its work.
Commission member Dr. David Varlotta, a Tampa anesthesiologist, said those
conflicts will continue to haunt executions.
"You'll never get away from the inherent risks and failures of a
pseudo-medical or medicalized procedure," he said.
But commission member Stan Morris, a Gainesville Circuit Court judge, said
the commission's goal was to try to make the procedure as humane as
possible in light of such impediments. "It might not eliminate the
problems. But it might eliminate questions of whether there was something
we could do to avoid the problems," he said.
(source: Gainesville Sun)
Panel: Florida executioners need more training, inmates' consciousness
should be monitored
Death row inmates' consciousness should be monitored throughout executions
and those administering lethal injections need additional training,
according to a panel's preliminary recommendations released.
The 11-member panel was assembled to review Florida's death penalty
procedures after a botched execution in December took twice as long as
normal and required a rare second dose of deadly chemicals. Some witnesses
said convicted killer Angel Nieves Diaz appeared to be in pain, and
then-Governor Jeb Bush suspended all executions.
Nieves Diaz's executioner testified that he had not received training in
seven years, which most panelists acknowledged was not adequate.
But not all members of the commission agreed with the preliminary
Dr. David Varlotta, an anesthesiologist, said executioners require
advanced medical training, but an individual with such qualifications
would be breaching their own profession's ethical code.
"The state doesn't require teachers and lawyers to perform tasks that are
unethical," he said.
But Rodney Doss, director of victim services for the state Attorney
General's Office, countered: "Individuals who served as executioners when
Florida had the electric chair as a means of executions didn't necessarily
have to be electricians."
The panel also recommended placing all accountability with the warden, who
must be identified as the ultimate authority in the execution process.
Panel members will meet again Sunday to construct a first draft, which
will be submitted to members for a vote next week. The panel's report is
due to be sent to Governor Charlie Crist by March 1.
Nieves Diaz, 55, who was from Puerto Rico, was sentenced to death for
killing a Miami topless bar manager 27 years ago. He had proclaimed his
Florida ranks 5th among U.S. states that have held the most executions
since the U.S. government lifted a moratorium in 1976, according to the
Death Penalty Information Center. Since then, Florida has executed 64
people; the top state, Texas, has carried out 383 executions.
In Delaware, a federal judge on Friday granted class action status to all
state inmates facing the death penalty, including them in a suit charging
lethal injection is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual.
The decision puts all executions on hold, but Delaware had not scheduled
one since a May 2006 stay of execution for convicted ax murder Robert
Jackson. That stay now applies to the other 15 inmates facing execution. A
trial is scheduled in September.
Delaware ranks as No. 15 on the DPIC list, with 14 executions since 1976.
38 of the 50 U.S. states have the death penalty.
(source: International Herald Tribune)
THIS WEEK IN MICHIGAN HISTORY: State abolishes capital punishment
On March 1, 1847, Michigan officially became the 1st English-speaking
government in the world to outlaw capital punishment.
According to "Michigan & Capital Punishment" by Eugene G. Wanger,
Michigan's bold -- and often debated -- move inspired nations such as
Canada, Mexico, England, Scandinavia and the majority of Europe to follow
suit in later years.
Former Gov. Lewis Cass, former Sen. William T. Howell, human rights
advocate Sojourner Truth and internationally renowned Michigan judge and
legal scholar Thomas M. Cooley were among the most aggressive proponents
for the abolition of the death penalty in Michigan.
March 1 is observed as International Death Penalty Abolition Day.
(source: Detroit Free Press)
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