[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----N.J., FLA., USA, CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Jan 5 17:54:34 UTC 2007
Rethinking the Death Penalty
New Jersey could take the lead among states in abolishing the death
penalty if it follows the recommendation that a legislative commission
made this week. It is the right thing to do, and not just because capital
punishment is barbaric and a poor deterrent. It has become increasingly
clear as the use of DNA evidence has grown that there is simply too great
a risk of making an irreversible mistake.
While we would have used stronger language, we applaud the 13-member panel
for having the courage to recommend that New Jersey become the 1st state
to abolish the death penalty since states began reinstating it 35 years
ago. The commission included two prosecutors, a police chief, members of
the clergy and a man whose daughter was murdered in 2000. Only one member,
a former state senator who wrote the death penalty law, dissented.
Although it has 9 people on death row, New Jersey has had a moratorium on
executions since 2005 and has not put anyone to death since 1963.
Nevertheless, the panels recommendation that the death penalty be replaced
with life imprisonment without parole is likely to have significant
influence both inside and outside the state. It comes as about 10 of the
38 states with death penalties, including New York, have suspended
executions and as recent developments, like DNA exonerations and a botched
lethal injection in Florida last month, have created a growing unease
With Gov. Jon Corzine opposed to the death penalty, and substantial
numbers of capital punishment opponents in both houses of the Legislature,
there is a reasonable chance the commission's recommendations will become
law. That would make New Jerseys criminal justice system more civilized
and fair. It could also prod other states to abandon their own use of what
Justice Harry Blackmun called the "machinery of death."
(source: Editorial, New York Times)
Catholic officials back N.J. panel's advice to end death penalty
Catholic officials have praised the recommendation by a New Jersey panel
that the state abolish the death penalty in favor of life imprisonment
The New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission, created in 2005, submitted
its findings Jan. 2 to Gov. Jon S. Corzine. In their report commission
members said they did not find compelling evidence in support of capital
punishment and also found that it costs taxpayers more than it does to
incarcerate prisoners for life.
The commission voted 12-1 in opposition of the death penalty and said
capital punishment is "inconsistent with evolving standards of decency,
serves no legitimate penological purpose such as deterrence or retribution
and is not worth the risk of making an irreversible mistake."
Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic
Conference, urged the Legislature to act quickly on the report and pass
laws to implement the panel's recommendation.
The conference, the public policy arm of the state's bishops, also
applauded Corzine's "announced support" of the commission's
recommendation, but Brannigan said more needs to be done. He said
abolishing the death penalty would not "be an end or total solution to the
issue of capital crimes" and urged state leaders to "continue to seek
improvement in our criminal justice system."
New Jersey's bishops have long stated their opposition of the death
penalty. In a 2005 statement they said their opposition was formed by
their belief "that every person has an inalienable right to life."
They also said that since the state "has other means to redress the
injustice caused by crime and to effectively prevent crime by rendering
the one who has committed the offense incapable of doing harm," they would
continue to "consistently and vigorously oppose the use of capital
The state panel that examined the death penalty held six public hearings
and heard from dozens of witnesses including prosecutors, corrections
experts, judges, police, community and religious leaders and citizens. The
vast majority of witnesses called for an end to the death penalty.
Trenton Bishop John M. Smith was the first person to offer testimony
before the panel. During a July 19 public hearing he said the death
penalty is not consistent with evolving standards of decency.
The U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976 after a
three-year suspension. It was reinstated in New Jersey in 1982, but no one
has been executed by the state since 1963. There are 10 men on death row
in the state, which uses lethal injection as the method of execution.
Jennifer A. Ruggiero, director of the Trenton Diocese's Office of Pro-Life
Activities, called the commission's report "a sign of hope for New
"It reveals an increasing recognition that the dignity of the human person
should never be taken away. Perhaps this is a step in the right direction
for building up a culture of life," she added.
Celeste Fitzgerald, program director of New Jerseyans for Alternatives to
the Death Penalty and a parishioner of St. Patrick Parish in Chatham,
described the commission's report as "thorough, credible and transparent"
and credited it with highlighting the needs of victims' families.
"Capital punishment has failed the people of New Jersey on every count,
and the time has finally come for it to exist only in our history books,"
she said, noting that the system is "fatally flawed and should be replaced
with the stronger and more certain punishment of life in prison without
any possibility of parole."
Yvonne Smith Segars, the state's public defender, supported the
commission's recommendation but took issue with the mandate for the
imposition of life without the possibility of parole in cases where the
death penalty would not otherwise have been imposed.
Richard Dowling, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference,
called the report "commendable and a model for Maryland and other states."
Currently Maryland is among several states holding up executions. A Dec.
19 ruling by the Maryland Court of Appeals called for a temporary halt in
executions, saying the state had improperly followed protocols for lethal
(source: Catholic News Service)
Florida conducts its executions with more dignity and dispatch than, say,
the hanging of Saddam Hussein. But even a corrections establishment as
practiced in the lethal arts as ours cannot guarantee deadly efficiency
each and every time.
It took some grotesquely botched electrocutions to finally persuade
Florida lawmakers to switch to lethal injection as the more "humane" way
to end life.
But now a lethal injection execution has gone badly awry as well. And so
the state has temporarily suspended killings until a special commission,
whose members will include local Circuit Court Judge Stan Morris, can
examine the execution procedures.
Presumably, the commission's goal will be to find a more "humane" series
of steps by which to end a capital felon's life. Perhaps a kinder method
of injection, or a gentler mix of lethal drugs.
We have a better idea. Panel members should instead follow the example of
the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission. Made up of prosecutors, a
police officer, representatives of murder victims and others, that
commission has just concluded that the death penalty itself is
"inconsistent with evolving standards of decency."
"Based on our findings, the commission recommends that the death penalty
in New Jersey be abolished and replaced with life imprisonment without the
possibility of parole to be served in a maximum security facility." It
also recommended that "any cost savings resulting from the abolition of
the death penalty be used for benefits and survivors of victims of
The "humane" capital punishment is a well-honed political fiction that is
wearing increasingly more thin with each new badly executed execution.
Even popular opinion polls that used to routinely come down solidly on the
pro-death side are these days tending to be split between those who favor
death and those who opt for life imprisonment.
"We are in a period of national reconsideration of the death penalty,"
Austin D. Sarat, political science professor at Amhurst College, told the
New York Times this week. "I believe what's happening in New Jersey will
have a tremendously galvanizing effect."
Capital punishment, in whatever form, promotes a culture of deadly revenge
that truly does conflict with "evolving standards of decency." How long
will Florida's political leaders insist on defending the indecency of
(source: Gainesville Sun)
No death penalty in Fla. homeless attack
3 teenagers charged with beating a homeless man to death with a baseball
bat as he slept on a park bench won't face the death penalty if convicted,
prosecutors said Friday.
William Ammons and Brian Hooks, both 19, would have been eligible for the
ultimate penalty, but the third defendant was only 17 at the time, so
prosecutors chose not to seek the death penalty against any of them.
"As a matter of proportion, it would have been improper for the death
penalty to be sought," said Brian Cavanagh, the assistant state attorney
prosecuting the case.
The teens could now face up to life in prison if found guilty of
1st-degree murder in the Jan. 12, 2005, killing of Norris Gaynor, 45.
Ammons, Hooks and Thomas Daugherty also are charged with attempted murder
in two other beatings of homeless men in Fort Lauderdale. One was caught
on a surveillance camera and was broadcast around the world, helping
detectives crack the case.
All three teens have pleaded not guilty and are being held without bail.
No trial date has been set.
Hooks' and Ammons' lawyers said the prosecutors' decision not to seek the
death penalty was proper.
"It takes courage. They didn't just do something that would have been
politically expedient," said attorney Sam Halpern, who represents Ammons.
"He's been living under the shadow of a possible death sentence for about
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that people convicted of crimes
committed when they were under 18 cannot face execution.
(source: Associated Press)
Death penalty fades -- even in the South?
In the U.S. we like to think of ourselves as a civilized lot, but visitors
to YouTube earlier this week discovered that the descent into barbarism
can be quick and steep. Barely 24 hours after Saddam Hussein was hung, the
site's page of "most watched videos" was taken over with bootleg footage
of the despot dangling from his death rope. As one disgusted commenter
said, "You Americans are SICK!"
It's true that the U.S. has always been out of step with the world on the
death penalty. Only 74 countries still allow the practice. The most recent
to abandon executions was the Philippines, in 2006, following Mexico and
Liberia in 2005 and Greece, Turkey, Bhutan, Samoa and Senegal in 2004.
(See a full list here.)
That leaves the U.S. as part of a dubious Executioners Club -- along with
noted human rights champions China, Saudi Arabia and Iran -- where 94% of
state executions are carried out.
As the AP notes today, the tide is even turning in the U.S., prompted
mostly by growing evidence that innocent people have been, and will be,
put to death:
The number of death sentences handed out in the United States dropped in
2006 to the lowest level since capital punishment was reinstated 30 years
ago, reflecting what some experts say is a growing fear that the criminal
justice system will make a tragic and irreversible mistake.
Executions fell, too, to the fewest in a decade. "The death penalty is on
the defensive," said Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty
The story notes that only 114 death sentences were handed out in 2006,
down from 128 in 2005, and way down from the 317 given in 1996 during the
anti-crime frenzy. Last year's 53 executions was down from 60 in 2005;
they peaked at 98 in 1999.
But if the death penalty still has a welcome home, it's in the U.S. South.
Lead by Texas and Virginia -- which together have accounted for 477 of the
1,057 U.S. executions carried out since 1976 -- the number of inmates
killed rose in the South, from 37 in 2005 to 40 in 2006. All but 2 of
those killings were meted out in Texas, Virginia, Florida and North
Yet a McClatchy Newspapers story today suggests that even Texas -- home to
what reporter Ken Silverstein once called the "Texas Death Machine" -- is
being forced to reconsider:
Texas, where more inmates were executed last year but fewer people were
actually sentenced to die, is in the spotlight as lawmakers, judges, even
community leaders in Italy are calling for change to the state's ultimate
As Texas continues to lead the nation in executions, the country's highest
court plans to review 3 state death-penalty cases, and elected leaders may
call for reform.
"Texas generally has treated the death penalty as routine," said Cal
Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University."
It's finally dawning on the Texas public officials that ... they're way
behind the national thinking on the use of death penalty."
Interestingly, the story notes that one of the sources of pressure is
international, the result of a seemingly innocuous "sister city" program:
Fort Worth's oldest sister city, Reggio Emilia, Italy, has asked local
leaders at least twice to denounce capital punishment. Fort Worth
officials refused when the issue first came up in 2001, despite the
Italian leaders' threats to sever cultural ties. Reggio Emilia officials
repeated the request during a visit last year.
While Reggio officials were in Texas, they visited death row inmate
Michael Toney, who was convicted for the 1985 Thanksgiving Day bombing in
Lake Worth that killed 3 people.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals last year ruled that newly discovered
evidence was sufficient to warrant further review of Toney's case.
Maybe the residents of Reggio Emilia in Italy don't want Texas to be like
(source: Facing South)
Iraqi death sentence was one thing done right
What a wonderful birthday present for me, waking up to learn that Saddam
Hussein had been executed late in the night (Central USA time).
The Iraqis do at least one thing right: Convict the accused, wait 59 days,
put a rope around his neck and let him drop like a rock.
This is as opposed to the United States, where death-row inmates are
molly-coddled for 20 years (on our dime) then put to sleep like a
terminally ill puppy with no pain or societal embarrassment.
Decades of appeals waste taxpayers' money and the courts' time but, then,
that's the whole point of the process. Not "justice," and certainly not
"due process" - society loses every time. Any appeals of a death sentence
should be fast-tracked through the court system so that, by the end of a
maximum of two years, the appeals process should end. If the prisoner has
lost his or her appeals, then execution should be scheduled - and carried
out - within, say, 60 days.
For those wrongfully convicted of a heinous crime, 2 years after
conviction is more than enough time to gather new evidence and present it
to the higher courts for consideration and overturning of that conviction.
(source: Letter to the Editor, The Daily (La.) Advertiser)
Cooper fights for life in hearing----Lawyers face tough test before 9th
Death row inmate Kevin Cooper has tried for more than 20 years to prove
himself innocent of one of the bloodiest mass murders in San Bernardino
His legal battles have prompted groundbreaking scientific testing, months
of court hearings, and thousands of pages of writs and briefs.
All that, however, will boil down to a mere hour of argument next week, as
Cooper's lawyers and prosecutors meet in a federal courtroom in San
Francisco to again spar over Cooper's guilt.
The debate may well decide whether Cooper dies in the execution chamber of
San Quentin State Prison or finally gets the relief he has so long sought.
"This is damn serious stuff," said David Alexander, one of Cooper's
attorneys. "And it's going to be tough."
A 3-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear
arguments Tuesday on Cooper's claims he was framed for the 1983 murders of
a Chino Hills family and their young houseguest.
The judges have allotted each side only 30 minutes apiece to argue the 10
legal issues most recently raised by Cooper.
Attorneys for both sides said they have no idea which issues the judges
will focus upon, which makes it hard to prepare in a case with more than
20 years of history. They expect the court will steer the arguments with
"We just have to be prepared for everything," Deputy Attorney General
Holly Wilkens said.
Cooper is on death row for the 1983 hatchet and knife murders of a Chino
Hills family and their houseguest. Doug and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old
daughter, Jessica, and 11-year-old houseguest, Christopher Hughes, were
attacked as they slept.
The Ryens' 9-year-old son, Joshua, survived a slashed throat.
Cooper, who had just escaped from the nearby California Institution for
Men state prison, has admitted to hiding in a house next to the Ryens',
but has claimed corrupt and inept police framed him for the killings.
He also claims he has been victimized by dishonest prosecutors, erroneous
legal rulings and bad lawyering.
Cooper was nearly put to death in February 2004, but a full panel of 9th
Circuit judges spared him in the final hours and ordered a review of his
A federal judge in San Diego conducted extensive hearings before again
affirming Cooper's guilt in 2005.
That prompted Cooper to again return to the 9th Circuit Court asking for a
new trial or reduced verdict.
A 3-judge panel of the court has scheduled oral arguments on Cooper's
appeal for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The judges will not attend the hearings, instead opting to appear via
The attorneys will be present.
Cooper's attorneys will argue first, then the government will respond.
It would seem, at least initially, that Cooper's lawyers face an uphill
2 of the 3 judges who will hear the arguments, Pamela Ann Rymer and Ronald
M. Gould, rejected Cooper's claims in October 2002, clearing the way for
him to be executed.
It was only after a vote by a full panel of judges from the 9th Circuit
that the execution was halted and Cooper's appeals resumed.
Cooper's supporters, meanwhile, are planning a news conference and rally
on the courthouse steps to coincide with the arguments.
Prosecutors said they do not expect relatives of the victims to attend the
Attorneys said the judges are unlikely to issue a decision immediately
after the arguments.
And whoever loses will probably appeal to a larger panel of 9th Circuit
judges as well as to the United States Supreme Court.
(source: Daily Bulletin)
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