[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, WASH. DC, USA, VA./OKLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Jan 9 01:50:20 UTC 2007
Central Texas Death Row Inmate 1st of 5 Scheduled To Die This Month
Next week, a Central Texas death row inmate will be the 1st of 5 scheduled
to die in January. Carlos Granados is convicted of stabbing his girlfriend
with a kitchen knife, then stabbing her three-year-old son.
His girlfriend survived the attack. The little boy did not.
It happened in September of 1998.
Georgetown police were called to the home when family members had not
heard from the victims.
Granados is scheduled to die next week on Wednesday. His attorneys have
appealed to Governor Rick Perry for clemency.
(source: KXAN News)
In Texas, child sex bills raising concern
Texas lawmakers who want longer prison terms for sex offenders - and
possibly even the death penalty for repeat child molesters - have run into
unlikely opposition from victims' rights organizations and prosecutors.
Opponents say many of the changes, proposed in bills filed for the
upcoming Legislature, actually could make it harder to get convictions in
jury trials and give sex offenders greater incentive to kill young
Other proposals, including increased electronic monitoring and further
limits on where sex offenders may live, give the perception of safety but
may actually prompt sex offenders to slip below the radar, opponents say.
"Sex offenders, child molesters, they're the topic du jour in criminal
justice this session," said Shannon Edmonds, a former prosecutor and
director of governmental relations for the Texas District and County
Attorneys Association. "But just being tough on crime doesn't necessarily
advance the ball for public safety."
Sex offenders were a hot topic during the 2006 governor's race, with all
four contenders advocating lengthy minimum sentences and saying they were
open to the death sentence for repeat child victimizers.
Advocates say Texas needs an equivalent to the Jessica's Laws embraced in
Florida and several other states. Named for Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old
who was abducted, raped and murdered by a registered sex offender in 2005,
the laws generally carry 25-year mandatory minimum sentences for child-sex
offenders, lifetime electronic monitoring and 2,000-foot safety zones
around parks and schools.
Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst featured the laws and included Jessica's
dad, Mark Lunsford, in his campaign ads.
Supporters of the tougher laws hope they'll be able to quell opponents'
concerns about unintended effects.
"I think we're all sensitive to the concerns, particularly from those
organizations that deal with this on a day-to-day basis," said Robert
Black, Gov. Rick Perry's spokesman. "But from the governor's standpoint
... we need to make sure we have tough sentencing and tough laws in place
to both deter and punish those who prey on our most vulnerable."
More than 30 bills dealing with sex offenders have been filed in advance
of the session. But while Jessica's Laws appear to be politically
palatable in Texas, experts say the opposition from victims' rights groups
and prosecutors is an unusual twist.
"We're definitely not concerned with the intent," said Annette
Burrhus-Clay, executive director of the Texas Association Against Sexual
Assault. "We're concerned with the unintended consequences."
For example, prosecutors and victims' groups fear heightening sentences
will make sex offenders less likely to plead guilty, clogging courts and
forcing child victims to take the stand in extended jury trials. Because
of strict rules on what evidence can be admitted and credibility questions
surrounding child witnesses, sex offender convictions are already
difficult to secure, they say. Longer minimum sentences will only make
juries more hesitant to convict.
A death penalty provision for repeat child molesters opens another can of
worms, Burrhus-Clay said. Ninety percent of child-sex victims know their
offenders, she said; "Imagine the pressure the family would experience if
grandpa could be given the death penalty." Worse, she said, sex offenders
might be inspired to kill their victims to prevent the child from
Advocates for strengthening Texas' sex offender laws disagree that the
threat of the death penalty would make child-sex offenders more violent
than they already are or would keep witnesses or victims from reporting
molesters within the family.
Sex offenders "are going to do what they're going to do, anyway," said
Rep. Debbie Riddle, a Republican who filed a bill to add the death penalty
for repeat child-sex offenders. "If a witness doesn't come forward because
it's a family member, that's just an unconscionable act. We're talking
about our children here."
And they say the point of the legislation isn't necessarily to make
prosecution a cakewalk - it's to prevent sex crimes.
If a child-sex offender knows they'll risk the death penalty, "maybe these
monsters will think twice," said Rich Parsons, Dewhurst's spokesman.
"That will give them an incentive not to commit these crimes in the first
place," he said.
But it's not just sentencing that has victims' rights groups concerned.
The heightened residency restrictions - which have become increasingly
common in Texas cities - and the GPS monitoring provide a false sense of
security, Burrhus-Clay said.
The technology's not foolproof, she said. Neither are the living
restrictions, which won't stop a sex offender from walking into a supposed
child-safe area, she said, and are coming under court challenge across the
Perry and Dewhurst are just as serious about passing a Texas version of
Jessica's Laws as they were during their respective campaigns, their
spokesmen say - and all indications are that support runs deep.
But the Legislature's key criminal justice gurus - Sen. John Whitmire, a
Democrat, and Rep. Jerry Madden, a Republican - say they have deep
concerns on the punishment end, particularly as they try to free up space
for an ever-swelling prison population.
Whitmire, who chairs the Senate's Criminal Justice Committee, said 2,900
Texas inmates would be subject to what he called the "crazy notion" of the
death penalty for repeat child-sex offenders.
Madden, chair of the House Corrections Committee, said "some of what's
being considered could get us into court," and wonders about the fate of a
19-year-old who repeatedly goes back to a 16-year-old girlfriend. He's
filed 2 sex offender-related bills: one to require GPS monitoring for the
highest-level offenders, another to help prosecutors convict child
predators without the exact dates of their offenses.
"We're not soft on sex offenders here," Whitmire said. "You really have to
go cautiously when you're dealing with these statutes."
Victims' groups key Sen. Bob Deuell, one of several legislators to file a
bill including a 25-year minimum sentence and the death penalty for repeat
child-sex offenders, said while the goal is prevention, the concerns
raised by prosecutors and victims' groups need to be addressed before a
law is passed.
"My goal, of course, is that there be no more victims," the Republican
said. "But I'm open-minded, and I don't have any delusions that mine is
the perfect bill. These are the people we really want to do this for, so
we need to hear from them."
Victims' rights groups and prosecutors say they know some type of sex
offender legislation is inevitable and that they're ready to work with
lawmakers to craft something workable.
Edmonds said that could include substituting life without parole for a
death sentence that likely would face many appeals. While several other
states have approved capital punishment for certain child-sex offenses in
the last year, he said, a Louisiana death row case is working its way
through the courts and will likely include a constitutional challenge.
"We won't have an answer for several years," he said. "Prosecutors don't
want to waste a bunch of time on something that may or may not be
TOUGHER STAND ON SEX OFFENSES
More than 30 bills dealing with sex offenders have been filed in advance
of the Legislature, many of them mirroring Jessica's Laws that were passed
in Florida and other states.
THE TOUGHEST PROPOSALS WOULD:
-Require 25-year minimum sentences for first-time child-sex offenders.
-Penalize repeat child-sex offenders with the death penalty.
-Force certain sex offenders to wear electronic tracking devices for life.
-Install sex offender living restrictions of up to 2,000 feet around
parks, schools, bus stops and other child-safe zones.
-Victims' rights groups and prosecutors say increasing minimum sentences
will make it harder to get convictions in jury trials.
-They fear the threat of the death penalty might give sex offenders
greater incentive to kill young victims (the only witnesses).
-Electronic monitoring and residency restrictions aren't foolproof and
might prompt some offenders to evade authorities.
(source: The Dallas Morning News)
Prosecutor shows photos of victims in closing arguments
In the first photographs Jorge Mauricio Torres Herrera looked like any
other 15-year-old boy. He happily posed with relatives. He knelt before an
altar in a church ceremony.
Then the horrific picture flashed onto the screen for jurors to see: A
close-up of the dead boy's bruised face after he and 18 other illegal
immigrants were killed in the nation's deadliest human smuggling attempt.
Such contrasting photos were shown for each victim Monday during
prosecutors' closing arguments of the punishment phase of the trial of
Tyrone Williams, the convicted truck driver facing the death penalty for
his role in the smuggling attempt.
"Is that a picture a mother should have to see?" Assistant U.S. Attorney
Daniel Rodriguez said, with the brutal image of the boy behind him. "Is
that a picture a mother should remember her son by? There is only one
reason a mother should see that. And that's because of the violent acts of
Rodriguez then pointed dramatically toward Williams, who was convicted
last month on 58 counts of conspiracy, harboring and transporting
immigrants in his sweltering trailer during the smuggling attempt in 2003.
Defense attorney Craig Washington pleaded once more for leniency before
the case went to the jury, which on Tuesday will begin deciding whether to
sentence Williams to death or up to life in prison.
"I ask you as if his father were asking. Please save his son, please save
his son," Washington said as Williams' parents and other relatives
Washington reminded jurors that Williams gave water to the more than 70
immigrants crammed into the trailer before he abandoned the truck near
Victoria, about 100 miles southwest of Houston. Williams also admitted
guilt and expressed remorse, which showed that he could be rehabilitated,
"If he's trying to kill the people in the trailer, why is he concerned
about getting them water?" Washington said. "He made a mistake in
judgment, and you found him guilty of that. But he doesn't deserve to
Rodriguez described Williams as a "cold-hearted, callous and depraved
individual" who deserves to die because he alone had the power to free the
immigrants before they died.
"These people didn't deserve to die," Rodriguez said. "He sure as hell
Rodriguez showed the photos of the immigrants one by one, discussing what
they had hoped to accomplish and what they had dreamed of after coming to
the U.S. Then he showed their dead bodies in crime-scene photos.
Rodriguez said the relatives of the victims, who asked that justice be
served though didn't specifically mention the death penalty, deserved a
just sentence for Williams.
"Whether you are here legally or not, the value of a human life in this
country is the same," he said. "We must send a message to him and to
people of his ilk and the world that justice in this country does mean
that - justice for all."
He said Williams could have freed the immigrants at any time or turned on
the trailer's air conditioning unit.
"A flick of the switch would have shown a grain, a drop of compassion," he
Earlier Monday, Williams' wife and children were among the final witnesses
for the defense, urging jurors to spare his life.
"I grew up without a father. I know what it's like. I don't want my kids
to go through that," his wife, Karen Williams, said tearfully.
The truck driver's oldest son, 11-year-old Tyrone Williams III, told
jurors how his father stressed to him the importance of getting an
education, and that he missed him.
"He's a very kind man," he said.
Williams' 8-year-old daughter also briefly testified, saying she wanted
her father to come home.
Craig Washington, Williams' lead attorney, has said his client never
intended for the immigrants to die and blamed the deaths on other members
of the smuggling ring who overstuffed the trailer. The immigrants who died
suffered from dehydration, overheating and suffocation after nearly four
hours inside the container.
Williams, 35, a Jamaican citizen who lived in Schenectady, N.Y., is the
only one of 14 people charged facing the death penalty. In 2005, a jury
convicted Williams on 38 transporting counts, but he avoided a death
sentence because the jury couldn't agree on his role in the smuggling
attempt. The jury deadlocked on the 20 other counts.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the verdict, saying the
jury failed to specify his role in the crime.
(source: Associated Press)
Jury sought in death-penalty case
Jury selection is set to begin today in a rare death penalty trial in the
District for a D.C. man accused of killing 5 persons and firing shots at a
police officer in his role as an enforcer for a large-scale PCP ring.
Larry Gooch, who faces murder, armed robbery, racketeering and other
felony charges, is accused of doing the violent dirty work for the
so-called M Street Crew, including carrying out the Feb. 21, 2003, fatal
shootings of Yolanda Miller and her boyfriend, Calvin Cooper.
Prosecutors say Mr. Gooch killed the pair because he suspected they had
been stealing drugs from other M Street Crew members or cooperating with
Mr. Gooch's case marks the third capital murder trial in the District in 3
decades. Despite a D.C. law barring the death penalty, Mr. Gooch faces
execution if convicted because he is charged with federal crimes.
The case could reignite debate about the death penalty in the District.
Voters rejected capital punishment in a 1992 referendum.
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting member of
Congress, said yesterday that she plans to send a letter today to the U.S.
attorney's office outlining her opposition to the use of the death
"Nobody has anything to say for anybody who commits brutal crimes," said
Mrs. Norton, a Democrat. "But this is a particularly strong
"I think it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to get 12 citizens
of the District of Columbia to order the death penalty ... and that shows
a lack of understanding for the jurisdiction," Mrs. Norton said.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, also opposes the death penalty. "The
District law doesn't permit the death penalty and, in general, Mayor Fenty
supports that law," spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said yesterday.
The U.S. attorney general ultimately must approve a decision on seeking
the death penalty.
Defense attorneys had argued that the case shouldn't be tried in federal
court, but a judge last month denied the motion to throw out the death
Prosecutors say the death penalty is justified in the case of Mr. Gooch,
whom they call the "muscle" behind the M Street Crew's lucrative and
(source: Washington Times)
Case for death doesn't hold up
The arguments in favor of capital punishment fail on factual and moral
bases. The most common arguments are:
Deterrence: Capital punishment does not deter the commission of crimes for
which it is imposed. (It might deter littering, overtime parking, and
probably shoplifting, if it were imposed with certainty and quickly after
the crime. Even for petty, deliberate crimes, however, it is doubtful that
deterrence is served. In old England where hanging was the penalty for
pickpockets, the incidence of pickpocketing was high at the hangings.) The
murder rates in states with no capital punishment have not risen since it
was abolished. Murder is usually not a planned event as to which one would
think: "I'd kill her but for my fear of lethal injection."
The deterrence argument often adds: "Well, at least the criminal whom the
state kills would not do it again." True, but surely society could
establish and enforce life imprisonment without possibility of parole if
we had the will. But why should taxpayers pay to house and feed these bad
people for life?
Costs of life imprisonment: Statistics show that taxpayers pay more per
capital punishment than for life imprisonment. Yet isn't that because we
allow so many appeals (too much due process) before we kill the convicted
person? If we were willing to carry out the judgment immediately, or soon
after, its imposition, the costs of further judicial review would be
slashed. But we are not quite willing to do that because we so often get
it wrong. In Illinois the death penalty was suspended after it was
established that about half of the persons on death row were innocent of
the crime for which they had been convicted. (Not that some "technical,
constitutional" error had occurred, but they didn't do the crime. In
baseball a batting average of .500 is pretty good; not so good an average
for punishing the right person.) The validity of the next argument for
capital punishment --revenge-- also depends upon getting the right person,
otherwise the real culprit is unpunished.
Revenge: This argument was well articulated by the founder of a victims'
advocacy group, who commented on the botched execution of Angel Diaz: "So
what? It took an extra few minutes to die." (South Florida Sun-Sentinel,
6A, Dec. 16, 2006.)
The revenge argument holds up well factually -- there is indeed a
widespread, felt need to see one suffer for inflicting much pain on
others. The argument fails on moral grounds. It appeals to a base instinct
of human nature that society should discourage, not feed.
Bible believers might heed the admonition of Paul: "[A]venge not
yourselves ? for it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the
(source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Taylor Mattis is an attorney in Fort
Execution took us back to a darker time
There's no stopping the footage anymore, whether it's the sex life of a
celebrity or the death of a tyrant.
The voyeurism that passeth all understanding may have climaxed with the
execution of Saddam Hussein at the end of a hangman's rope. Within hours
of his death, video of Saddam's last moments and the death-chamber
celebration that followed was posted on the Web and viewed by untold
thousands, if not millions.
Thursday, it was the No. 1 item on Technorati, the Internet search engine
that indexes more than 55 million blogs.
Just as pornography has become a click away for one's secret pleasures,
death is now at our disposal.
To click or not to click, that is the question.
Who hasn't been tempted? It's right there for any to see: the platform,
the masked executioners, the noose, the trap door. That much we've all
seen on TV without going to the full clip, which was captured on a cell
phone by one of the witnesses.
There's something vaguely familiar about those grainy images. Where have
we seen it before? The footage has the amateurish feel of "The Blair Witch
Project," the horror film that was made scarier somehow by its
pseudo-documentary style. But that's not it.
Where we've seen it before was in the horror movies Islamist terrorists
staged when they butchered hostages such as Nick Berg and Daniel Pearl,
knowing that the world would watch.
The differences are obvious, of course. Berg and Pearl were innocents, and
Saddam was a lawless monster indicted, tried and convicted under a
civilized code of jurisprudence. If anyone deserved ultimate justice for
crimes against humanity, Saddam did.
Nevertheless, watching someone die - especially at the hands of the state
- takes us several steps backward into a darker time when people gathered
in the public square to watch a man swing at the end of a rope.
The history of human barbarity is long - and not at all long ago. For
reasons that bear examination, human beings have not needed much
encouragement to swarm to the gallows. Or, as now, to click.
We seem drawn to death by the same morbid fascination that makes us slow
our cars to view an accident.
Perhaps we're curious to witness death because we know it awaits us all.
We're curious about hanging because we've never seen or heard it before -
the sounds of a trap door dropping or a human neck snapping. Who knew the
knot would be so big? It wasn't like that on "Gunsmoke."
With someone like Saddam, we feel justified in our prurience because he
was a murderer and deserved to be punished. Justice and closure permit us
immunity from the guilt we might otherwise feel from such a forbidden
satisfaction, if not precisely pleasure.
But then what? We've stood by and watched a man die. Not in the heat of
battle or the throes of passion, but passively, dispassionately. That is
to say, with the cool detachment of an executioner.
We are all executioners now.
The case against capital punishment might be better reserved for a more
sympathetic character than Saddam Hussein.
State-administered death is always a greater horror than any other by
virtue of the methodical reasoning that precedes it. French philosopher
Albert Camus wrote that "capital punishment is the most premeditated of
murders, to which no criminal's deed, however calculated, can be compared.
"For there to be an equivalency, the death penalty would have to punish a
criminal who had warned his victim of the date on which he would inflict a
horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him
at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not to be encountered in
One can argue without fear of rebuttal that Saddam, in his way, was a
calculating executioner, and that the Iraqi people were confined at his
mercy for decades.
Acknowledging the similarity is not comforting.
(source: Arizona Daily Star ---- Kathleen Parker)
Sick and in jail? No more Medicare----An obscure federal rule means that
counties must pay once someone lands behind bars -- regardless of guilt or
As soon as the cell door at any county jail across the country closes on a
prisoner receiving federal medical benefits, rule 435.1008 automatically
clicks into place.
The little-known federal regulation -- which bars anyone in jail from
receiving any type of federal medical assistance -- is giving elected
officials around the country million-dollar headaches.
The reason: The roughly 3,000 counties in the United States must pay the
medical costs of these prisoners until federal benefits are restored,
which can take up to three months after their release.
What has local officials most upset is that the benefits are terminated
regardless of a person's guilt or innocence. Even if a person is released
and not charged, or charged and later acquitted, the federal medical
benefits are terminated. The reasoning seems to be that the person
wouldn't be in jail unless he or she had done something wrong.
"It doesn't make a lot of common sense," said Jim McDonough, a Ramsey
County commissioner who recently got that board to pass a resolution
urging the federal government to change the policy.
He estimates that the policy is costing Ramsey County almost $3 million a
The problem is even larger in Hennepin County, where the cost is as much
$7 million a year, said Ron Wiborg of the Hennepin County Community
Extrapolated nationwide, the total costs to counties run into the hundreds
of millions of dollars each year, said Wiborg and officials with the
National Association of Counties (NACo).
"It is absolutely outrageous," Wiborg said.
"This is a huge issue. It affects every county in the nation. ...We have
to eat the entire cost. We can't deny that medical treatment."
Wiborg, a member of the national group's Justice and Public Safety
Steering Committee, said the Hennepin County Board is expected to pass a
resolution this month similar to the one Ramsey County passed in late
The resolutions are part of a national effort by the organization of
counties and the 200 largest counties to get Congress to overturn
453.1008, which refers to the section of the code of federal regulations
that outlines the policy prohibiting medical benefits to any
"We think there is an equity issue," said Colleen Landkamer, the group's
president and a Blue Earth County commissioner. "We think this is
extremely unfair to people. The Constitution says you are innocent until
A matter of interpretation
Officials with the federal and state governments, which jointly administer
and pay for Medicaid benefits, say there is nothing they can do because of
the policy's wording.
The policy, officials with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid
Services (CMS) point out, does not differentiate between guilt, innocence
or reason for incarceration.
It says benefits are not available for "individuals who are inmates of
public institutions," which includes jails, mental hospitals and other
"Conviction isn't the key; the key is incarceration," said Mary Kahn, a
spokeswoman for CMS. "There's no practical difference. You're in jail.
You're the state's responsibility. They're housing you, feeding you,
taking care of you."
Kahn and Kathleen Henry of the state Department of Human Services, point
out that people whose benefits have been terminated are still eligible to
have them restored as soon as they get out of jail. And medical coverage
can often be made retroactive to the date of application.
The problem, Hennepin County's Wiborg and others say, is that it can take
months for an application to be processed and approved.
Also, many of those affected have mental health issues and often cannot be
counted on to reapply in a timely manner, Association of Counties
officials say. Until the feds pick up coverage, counties must bear the
costs, which only increases the financial burden on local jurisdictions,
Henry said Minnesota is trying to address this gap by allowing inmates to
apply for reinstatement of benefits up to 45 days before release.
A delicate operation?
Wiborg said no one from the nation's counties is arguing that prisoners
should get these benefits after they have been convicted.
What concerns the local officials, he said, is the blanket nature of the
ban and the fact that it often hurts the very people for whom programs
such as Medicaid are designed to help.
"This is a basic civil rights issue," he said. "Who suffers the most
because of this? The poor and minorities."
Wiborg said the provision has been around for decades. It has been around
so long that no one -- even the people empowered to enforce it -- is
really sure how it came about, people on both sides of the issue say.
His best guess, he said, is that it was initiated during the 1960s or
1970s when members of Congress discovered that some prison inmates,
including some on death row, were getting federal SSI payments.
"They found this problem," Wiborg said, "and instead of taking a scalpel
to it they took a meat cleaver to it and chopped away everything."
(source: Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Evidence America is losing faith in death penalty
America's attachment to the death penalty is well-rooted but there are
significant signs that US courts, politicians and public opinion may be
turning against capital punishment.
On Friday, the US Supreme Court agreed to set a new standard for when a
death row prisoner is too mentally ill to be executed without violating
the constitution. On Monday, the justices will consider whether to force
attorneys representing death row prisoners to take extraordinary measures
to persuade juries to spare their lives. And next week the court will hear
three cases that could have a significant impact on the imposition of the
death penalty in Texas the heartland of capital punishment where nearly
half of last year's executions took place.
The Supreme Court's scrutiny of the practice comes against a background of
growing public unease about the way prisoners are executed in many states,
and the possibility that some might be innocent. A nationwide Gallup poll
last year showed a big drop in public support for the death penalty. It
showed Americans divided over the best punishment for murder death or a
life sentence without parole after many years in which capital punishment
was strongly preferred.
Executions last year fell to their lowest level in a decade and, in the
past few weeks, several states have temporarily halted the practice. Jeb
Bush, the outgoing Florida governor, suspended the death penalty in that
state after a botched execution underlined widespread fears about the
cruelty of lethal injection, the most common execution procedure.
Shortly afterwards, a federal court ruled that California's lethal
injection procedures violated the rules against cruel and unusual
punishment in the US constitution though the judge in that case left open
the possibility that California could comply with the constitution by
changing its procedures.
Last week, a legislative commission in New Jersey recommended that the
state abolish the death penalty, after it found "no compelling evidence"
that capital punishment served a legitimate purpose, and increasing
evidence that it "is inconsistent with evolving standards of decency".
Death penalty opponents say there are several reasons for this trend,
including publicity about DNA testing that has exonerated some prisoners
and recent Supreme Court decisions that improve legal representation for
In recent years, America's top court has been chipping away at the edifice
of the death penalty. It has declared unconstitutional the execution of
mentally impaired defendants and those who committed murder before the age
On Monday the court will consider the duty of defence attorneys to find
mitigating evidence that could persuade a jury to spare a capital
The case before them involves a death row prisoner who refused to let his
lawyer present testimony from his mother and ex-wife to mitigate his
sentence. Now he is claiming that his lawyer did not do his job because he
did not advise him of other ways that he could improve his case without
the testimony of his relatives. The justices must decide how much to
require of defence attorneys in such circumstances: must they ferret out
mitigating evidence, even when the defendant appears not to want them to
And later this term, the court must decide how severe a defendant's mental
illness must be to spare him a death sentence. They agreed on Friday to
rule whether the execution of a schizophrenic death row prisoner in Texas
would breach his constitutional rights given that he seems unable to
appreciate why he has been sentenced to death.
(source: The Financial Times)
New Jersey Could Kill the Death Penalty Patrick Mulvaney
The Nation -- From the lethal injection disaster in Florida to the hanging
of Saddam Hussein in US-occupied Iraq, the death penalty's public image in
America suffered a series of setbacks in the closing weeks of 2006. None
of those setbacks, however, bolstered the national abolition movement as
substantially as the recommendation by a New Jersey legislative panel,
made public Tuesday, that the Garden State should eliminate capital
punishment. 12of the 13 members of the bipartisan panel, officially known
as the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission, concurred in the
abolition recommendation. Moreover, the twelve-member majority offered a
thoughtful nod to the exorbitant cost of capital punishment, suggesting
that New Jersey should direct any financial savings resulting from
abolition toward benefits and services for victims' family members. Given
that the panel's lone dissenter sponsored the state's existing death
penalty statute decades ago, the recommendations are likely to carry
significant weight in Trenton. Governor Jon Corzine, a longtime opponent
of the death penalty, expressed support for the recommendations
immediately, and State Senate President Richard Codey told Newark's
Star-Ledger that passage of an abolition bill is now "more than likely."
New Jersey, which reinstated the death penalty in 1982 but has not carried
out a single execution since, appears set to reverse a national trend
dating back to 1972. That year--in response to the US Supreme Court's June
ruling in Furman v. Georgia, which invalidated all existing death penalty
statutes throughout the nation--states began crafting new, refined
statutes, effectively launching the modern era of capital punishment. When
the Court approved the return of the death penalty in 1976, the
three-Justice plurality noted that 35 states had passed new capital
punishment statutes in the four years following Furman, thereby
demonstrating "society's endorsement of the death penalty."
Since then, the Court has relied heavily on the states' statutes when
determining whether a particular punishment violates the nation's
"evolving standards of decency," and thus the Eighth Amendment's ban on
cruel and unusual punishment. The result has been a gradual narrowing of
the pool of death-eligible offenders. In cases ranging from 1977 to 2005,
the Court has applied state-counting analysis in abolishing the death
penalty for offenders convicted of raping adult women, insane offenders,
mentally retarded offenders and juvenile offenders. In the two most recent
cases of this kind, thirty states had banned the death penalty for the
category of offenders in question before the Court intervened.
The "evolving standards of decency" rationale in those death penalty
contexts suggests that the road to total abolition runs through the state
legislatures across the nation. Today, twelve states prohibit the death
penalty, but none of them ever established a capital punishment system
after Furman. As such, New Jersey would not only be lucky thirteen in the
overall count but also the 1st state to abolish the death penalty after
having established it in the modern era. Assuming no reinstatement efforts
succeed in abolitionist states in the years ahead, abolition in New Jersey
would mark the beginning of a national shift away from the high-water mark
of 38 death-penalty states that has existed for more than a decade.
"If New Jersey's law is passed, it would be a huge step toward getting rid
of the death penalty in the United States," says Richard Dieter, executive
director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a DC-based research
group. This is because New Jersey, aside from changing the state count on
its own, has the potential to catalyze developments beyond its borders. As
Dieter says, noting capital punishment's stalled status in New York and
controversial standing elsewhere, New Jersey is "not alone in its
re-evaluation of the death penalty."
Trenton, at least for the moment, has become the center of gravity in the
long-term debate over the constitutionality of capital punishment. This is
not to imply that the lethal injection battles and other application-based
disputes are unimportant in the fight for total abolition, but simply that
they influence the core issue in ambiguous ways. Tuesday's news from New
Jersey, by contrast, represents a direct hit: A death-penalty state, for
the first time since Furman, is preparing to come full circle. Indeed, the
news from New Jersey forecasts the reversal of the one trend that matters
most in the fight for total abolition.
(source: Opinion, The Nation)
Death penalty's flaws kill any hint of justice
A couple of days before Saddam Hussein's hanging, I was in a discussion
about whether his execution should be delayed for the sake of justice.
After a couple of minutes of debate, I said impulsively, "Hang him."
It was one of those what-came-up-came-out moments, and my words gave me
and a few others pause.
I've always been against the death penalty. I applauded ex-Gov. George
Ryan when he signed the executive order 7 years ago this month that placed
a moratorium on executions in Illinois. I've long believed that a
civilized society couldn't mete out capital punishment and still define
itself as civilized.
So, after my comment, I began to wonder if in recent years or months I'd
just become jaded in regard to crime fighting. Had the stories of people
who cut babies out of the wombs of pregnant women finally done a number on
me? What about the stories of parents who drowned their own children; or
evil dictators who exterminated thousands of their countrymen?
The human capacity to kill, maim, destroy in new and ever-haunting ways
has proved boundless. And, after a while, even the most certain
death-penalty opponent may begin to wonder whether the foulest of
perpetrators deserve to occupy space on the planet.
That sentiment is not out of the ordinary for a human being. But the state
has to be different. The state argues that it's a neutral arbiter that can
make such a weighty decision.
But that can never be the case.
Capital punishment has to be carried out by human beings. And human beings
are flawed creatures with limitations. Who among us is capable of fairly
carrying out an execution that would do a democracy justice?
The Tribune has written extensively about our flawed system with its
wrongful convictions: the police and prosecutorial misconduct, the coerced
confessions, hidden evidence, junk science and forensic experts who
theorize wrongly. It's a system that defies reform on many fronts, even
with videotaped confessions and DNA testing.
The death penalty has neither shown itself an effective tool in deterring
crime nor salve for the loved ones of victims. Perhaps on some level, the
death penalty feels good for a brief moment. But I can't imagine it's
sustainable. We know that grief is a complicated beast and no one thing
makes the pain, hatred or anger recede.
We witnessed the channeling of hatred that accompanied Hussein's final
moments in the gallows. We saw the people taunting him. It was argued that
his execution would avenge the deaths of his many victims. But will it? It
hasn't quelled the violence in Iraq. In fact, it may exacerbate it.
I am no apologist for Hussein. But watching the gruesome and grainy
cell-phone images of him being put to death reminds us of just how
barbaric capital punishment is. Perhaps that's why in this country,
executions are often carried out under cover of darkness, often deep in
the bowels of a prison where most of us can experience them in an almost
benign, hermetic way.
Still, carrying out a murder is no less dreadful when it is justified by
state sanction. The 8th Amendment of the Constitution is not the only
reason several states have placed the death penalty on hold as they
examine whether lethal injections make for cruel and unusual punishment.
Most of our consciences remain unsettled when we empower the execution.
Even before Illinois' moratorium, the death penalty was used sparingly.
(New Jersey, which is considering abolishing its death penalty, hasn't
executed anyone in more than 40 years.)
"In Illinois, when the vast majority of heinous cases are being handled
with life sentences, you have to wonder if those death-penalty cases are
purely symbolic," said Jane Bohman, executive director of the Illinois
Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
The death penalty is revenge masquerading as justice. Hussein's execution
reminds us of that. As a society, we are not made whole by administering
it or adjusting our methods over the centuries, whether firing squad,
electrocution, lethal injection or lynching.
No matter how many times we have performed this heinous act, it has never
altered our sense of right and wrong. And no democracy, fledgling or
otherwise, has ever been able to kill anyone in a manner befitting the
true spirit of justice.
(source: Commentary, Dawn Trice, Chicago Tribune)
It's Time to Abolish 'Invisible' State Appellate Court Rulings
Our government, to the greatest extent practicable, should conduct its
business in the open. That principle is central to the proper operation of
a democracy. Yet in many state court systems, one particular class of
public documents -- non-precedential appellate court rulings -- remain all
but inaccessible to the general public, locked away in court filing
cabinets but unavailable over the Internet, on Lexis or on Westlaw.
The time has come for state appellate courts to abolish their practice of
hiding from public view the vast bulk of their rulings. In the
not-too-distant past, some federal appellate courts were likewise guilty
of this reprehensible practice of hiding from public view their
non-precedential rulings. But then, the United States Congress passed into
law the E-Government Act of 2002.
That law required all federal appellate courts to make available over the
Internet not only their precedential opinions, but also their
non-precedential ones. As a result, anyone with online access can now
browse all federal appellate court rulings that issue each day.
Unfortunately, at the state court level, progress toward making
non-precedential appellate court rulings more readily available has varied
from slow to non-existent. Just last month, reporter Howard Fischer had an
article in The Arizona Daily Star that noted a state ruling on the issue
of whether lawmakers were "constitutionally required to provide more cash
to certain public schools. To the public affected, however, the decision
was essentially invisible because the 3 judges issued it as a 'memorandum
That article goes on to report: "That designation means the legal
reasoning and conclusions reached cannot be cited as precedent in future
cases. It also means the rulings are not available to the public on the
court's Web site. The only way to find out that the judges ruled at all is
to go to the court's office and manually go through those files. And there
are a lot of them. About nine out of every 10 appellate-court rulings are
designated as memo decisions."
A similar situation exists in my home state, where the Superior Court of
Pennsylvania -- the state's principal intermediate appellate court --
posts online its precedential rulings but makes available only to counsel
for the parties its non-precedential rulings. And, as in Arizona, the bulk
of the Pennsylvania Superior Court's rulings are non-precedential, which
means the vast majority of that court's work escapes public scrutiny.
Efforts at attempting to persuade these state appellate courts that they
should make their non-precedential rulings more readily available to the
public are not succeeding. And the reason why these efforts are not
succeeding should be familiar to those who have followed with interest the
similar battle that occurred in the federal court system.
Judges are creatures of habit, and appellate courts' longstanding practice
in general is to issue non-precedential opinions only to the parties and
the trial court judge. Non-precedential rulings don't receive the time and
attention that for-publication rulings get, and judges are often reluctant
to facilitate access to work that is not their best. In addition, judges
may be concerned that providing easy access to non-precedential rulings
will encourage lawyers and litigants to cite to such decisions, in
violation of state court rules that may discourage or prohibit doing so.
On the other side of the ledger is the massive loss to the public of the
wealth of knowledge contained in the public records that non-precedential
state appellate court rulings represent. This absence of information is
particularly troubling in states like Arizona and Pennsylvania that hold
elections on whether to retain appellate judges.
As I have previously written in a column criticizing the Pennsylvania
Superior Court's refusal to make its non-precedential rulings more readily
accessible: "The electorate should be able to base its decision whether to
retain an appellate judge not only on the judge's published rulings but
also on the judge's non-precedential decisions. Under analogous
circumstances, when the U.S. Senate considers whether to confirm a U.S.
District Judge to a post on a U.S. Court of Appeals, the Senate Judiciary
Committee requests not only the federal district judge's published
opinions, but his or her unpublished opinions as well. Pennsylvania's
electorate should demand access to that same type of information." It took
federal legislation to require all federal appellate courts to provide
easy online access to their non-precedential rulings. Those of us who live
or practice in jurisdictions where the state appellate courts refuse to
provide easy access to non-precedential rulings should consider supporting
state legislative remedies. If the U.S. Congress can force federal
appellate courts to provide online access to all court rulings, whether
precedential or not, surely state legislatures can force state appellate
courts to do the same.
In 2006, the battle for the ability to cite federal appellate courts'
non-precedential rulings ended in victory. In 2007, the battle for easy
access to non-precedential state appellate court rulings should be renewed
with vigor -- and if reason prevails, that battle, too, will end in
(source: commentary, Law.com----Howard J. Bashman operates his own
appellate litigation boutique in Willow Grove, Pa., a suburb of
Legal battles have lethal injection on trial
On the evening of Nov. 6, 2001, convicted murderer Terry Clark became the
1st New Mexico inmate put to death in 41 years. The execution itself
wasn't the only thing notable about that evening in the Santa Fe death
The executioner who carried out the death sentence was an unidentified
contractor who learned how to administer a deadly chemical cocktail as a
member of the lethal injection team in Texas, which operates the nation's
busiest death house. Texas "was right next-door, and they were obviously
experienced," New Mexico spokeswoman Tia Bland says, adding that the
unidentified executioner was paid $6,300.
"We contacted other states," says Bland, whose state has not executed
anyone since Clark, "but Texas was the only one willing to accept the
The outsourced execution, and others like it, has drawn attention to
Texas' growing reputation as the nation's source for behind-the-scenes
guidance and experience in carrying out lethal injections at a time when
that method of execution is increasingly under fire.
As lawsuits from California to Florida have challenged the
constitutionality of lethal injections, more than a dozen states and the
federal government have sought Texas' advice in carrying out such
The lawsuits have alleged, among other things, that unqualified execution
teams sometimes have botched the procedure and made it a cruel and unusual
punishment that should be considered illegal under the Eighth Amendment.
Problems with the recent execution of Angel Diaz in Florida triggered a
temporary suspension of the death penalty in that state while authorities
review injection procedures and questions about how much inmates suffer
when they are executed by injection. An autopsy revealed that Diaz's
execution took 34 minutes - more than twice as long as a typical execution
- because needles carrying the lethal drugs had not been inserted properly
into Diaz's veins.
Meanwhile, a federal judge in California recently extended a moratorium on
lethal execution there after citing a "lack of professionalism" in
execution protocols. Last year, challenges to lethal injection were
brought in Maryland, Oklahoma, Missouri, Virginia and Georgia. Last month,
Maryland's state Court of Appeals suspended executions in that state,
ruling that part of the guidelines for carrying out lethal injections were
not approved correctly under state law.
Together, the lawsuits represent the most significant challenges to date
of the method of execution used by nearly all of the 38 states that have
the death penalty.
Lethal injections typically involve a mixture of 3 drugs administered in
the following order:
- Sodium thiopental, which renders the inmate unconscious;
- A muscle relaxant such as pancuronium bromide to stop all muscle
movement except that of the heart;
- Potassium chloride, which stops the heart.
The precise mixture of chemicals and the protocols for how to inject the
drugs vary slightly among the states, but when officials in a state begin
developing or revising their guidelines for carrying out executions, they
often start with a trip to Texas. Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated
the death penalty in 1976, Texas has executed 379 killers - nearly 36% of
all the inmates executed in the USA since then, and almost 4 times the
number executed by Virginia, which ranks second in executions.
The trips by officials from other states and the federal government who
visit Texas generally are not publicized. Texas Department of Criminal
Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons says that such trips usually are
planned around a scheduled execution in Texas, so that the visiting
officials can shadow the entire procedure.
Seats also are reserved for visiting officials in the "chemical room,"
where an anonymous executioner starts the flow of the lethal drugs to the
prisoner through intravenous lines.
"Where else would you go to learn that?" asks Larry Fitzgerald, a former
Texas prisons spokesman who witnessed 219 executions in 8 years with the
Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
The sheer number of executions in Texas was one reason federal prison
authorities went to Huntsville in 2001 as they prepared to execute
Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. On June 11, 2001, McVeigh - who was
convicted in the 1995 attack on a federal building that killed 168 people
and wounded hundreds more - became the first federal prisoner put to death
in 38 years.
Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Harley Lappin, who then managed the
U.S. government's death row operation in Terre Haute, Ind., was an
observer on Feb. 8, 2001, when Texas inmate Adolph Hernandez was executed
for killing a 69-year-old woman in 1988. (Lappin recently was named to a
Florida commission reviewing lethal injection procedures in the aftermath
of Diaz's execution.)
Fitzgerald says prison authorities from more than a dozen states,
including Alabama, New York and California, have made similar excursions
to Texas to observe executions and develop their own protocols not only
for dispensing a lethal dose of chemicals, but also for controlling crowds
outside the execution facility and dealing with media.
Fitzgerald also says that states sometimes have arranged to have members
of Texas' execution team carry out death sentences in those states. "On
occasion, they have been content with our guys to do the execution," he
Texas' Department of Criminal Justice has declined to disclose any
potentially identifying information about members of the execution team,
except to indicate that they are non-physicians with specific medical
training to start IV lines and dispense the lethal chemicals. The
department also will not reveal how the team members are selected or
describe the terms of their contracts with the state of Texas.
Lyons says the department does not monitor execution team members'
involvement in out-of-state executions. She says she does not know how
frequently Texas teams are hired by other states.
In Connecticut, the attorney for convicted serial killer Michael Ross says
he believes the state sought the assistance of Texas executioners when his
client was put to death by lethal injection on May 13, 2005. "It was my
understanding that our Department of Corrections had obtained guidance and
assistance from Texas," attorney T.R. Paulding says.
Connecticut's Department of Corrections has declined to say whether Texas
authorities were involved in Ross' execution.
Michael Radelet, chairman of the Sociology Department at the University of
Colorado, calls the practice of contract executions "bizarre."
"I suspect that those states look to Texas simply because they do not want
to undergo the training costs to qualify their own" executioners, Radelet
says. "Then again, given the stigma surrounding the executioner profession
for the past several hundred years, perhaps this is simply another sign
that more and more people are realizing that this is not a good profession
to be in."
He notes that although Texas is recognized as the authority in carrying
out the death penalty, there have been complications in several of the
In a review published by the Death Penalty Information Center, a group
based in Washington, D.C., that opposes the death penalty, Radelet cited
37 instances - including 10 from Texas - in which there were problems
during an execution. The problems included execution team members having
difficulty finding veins in an inmate's arm in order to inject the drugs
and a 1988 case in which a catheter popped out of a condemned man's vein,
causing the execution process to be restarted.
Jonathan Groner, associate professor of surgery at Ohio State University's
College of Medicine and Public Health, says it would not be uncommon for
state officials to gather "the family recipes" from jurisdictions where
executions are most common.
"The problem is that the process is so secretive," Groner says, referring
in part to the backgrounds and oversight of executioners. Because
physician ethics prohibit doctors from overseeing executions, Groner calls
the lethal injection process a "medical charade."
"Lethal injection involves medical technology," he says, "but does not
include medical expertise."
(source: USA Today)
Twin failures of justice----In his 1st nonfiction book, Grisham explores a
case much like Earl Washington's
John Grisham's best-seller "The Innocent Man" is the true story of an
Oklahoma man sent to death row for a rape and murder he did not commit.
Ron Williamson was nearly executed because of fabricated evidence, overly
zealous prosecution and less than zealous court-appointed representation.
Even after DNA testing failed to implicate Williamson and incriminated a
violent convict, authorities insisted that Williamson could still be
guilty and dragged out their investigation before charging the real
It is a sobering account of the fallibility of the justice system and the
refusal of authorities to admit or apologize for error and wrongdoing. But
Grisham need not have traveled halfway across the country to write it.
Much the same happened to Earl Washington Jr. in Culpeper, not far from
Grisham's Charlottesville-area home.
"You have wrongful convictions in every state. You have them all the
time," said Grisham, recently reached by telephone. Regrettably, he said,
many like Washington do not get an apology, much less compensation.
"Everybody just wants them to go away," he said.
Police had cause to suspect Washington and Williamson.
Williamson was twice acquitted of prior rape charges. Washington hit an
elderly woman with a chair. Each man had substance abuse problems. But
years later DNA testing -- unavailable when they were convicted -- cleared
them and pointed to the real killers.
And afterward, Washington and Williamson would not go away.
Washington was rebuffed in efforts to obtain an apology or compensation
for 9 years spent on death row. In 2004, he filed a civil-rights suit
The suit was fought in Charlottesville in April and May. It led to a $2.25
million award after the federal jury ruled that a state police
investigator fabricated evidence against Washington that led to the
wrongful death sentence.
Williamson, like Washington, was wrongly sentenced to death in Ada, Okla.,
in part because of an improperly obtained confession.
Grisham wrote in his book: "Had [prosecutor] Bill Peterson, the Ada
police, and the state of Oklahoma apologized for the injustice and closed
the books on Ron Williamson . . . the authorities would have taken the
honorable course and ended a sad story."
"Instead, they got themselves sued."
Williamson and Dennis Fritz, a co-defendant wrongly convicted and
sentenced to life in prison for the same rape and murder, filed a federal
civil-rights suit against authorities that was settled for a reported $5
Washington's civil-rights victory is under appeal, so it is unknown
whether he will ever collect a cent.
Grisham said he didn't know about Washington's "eerily similar" case until
Washington's suit was argued in Charlottesville last spring. At the time,
he said, "I was buried at the farm, in my office and I didn't even come up
for air for 2 months trying to finish the book."
Grisham had met Barry C. Scheck, a co-founder of the Innocence Project,
and spent time at the project's New York offices researching the
Williamson book. Scheck had helped with Williamson and Fritz's suit.
The Innocence Project's co-founder, Peter J. Neufeld, was the lead lawyer
in Washington's suit. Grisham said he considered dropping by the
Charlottesville trial to introduce himself to Neufeld.
But, he said, "I also caught myself thinking I cannot get distracted with
anything else at this point because the research . . . had just snowballed
on me and I was trying to figure out how to write and research at the same
"I sort of deliberately kept my distance from the Washington case, but I
would read the newspaper reports every day in our local paper here and
there were a lot of similarities, a lot of similarities."
Grisham, 51, learned of Williamson's story when he read his obituary in
The New York Times in December 2004. Williamson died of cirrhosis of the
liver at age 51.
His story prompted Grisham, a popular author of novels about the American
legal system, to write his 1st nonfiction book.
Grisham, an opponent of capital punishment, believes that "the average
person . . . is unaware of the number of wrongful convictions in this
country. And, most people don't realize how badly the capital punishment
system is broken."
"The Innocent Man" is now near the top of The New York Times' best-seller
list. According to Random House, there are 2.8 million copies in print,
and film rights have been purchased by George Clooney's production
A book about the Washington case, "An Expendable Man," by Margaret Edds
was published in 2003. Edds, an editorial writer with The Virginian-Pilot
in Norfolk, helped advance Washington's cause with her newspaper work.
Washington's case prompted a number of reforms in Virginia's
criminal-justice system, including giving prison inmates the right to seek
DNA testing to help them argue their innocence.
But Washington has not been compensated for the nine years he wrongly
spent on death row. In 2003, legislation that would have paid him $1
million did not make it out of the General Assembly.
Instead, last year Virginia taxpayers were billed $1 million for legal
fees for the unsuccessful defense against Washington's civil-rights suit
Though other wrongfully convicted men have been compensated by the
Virginia legislature, Washington also was serving time for the unrelated
assault of an elderly woman, and he might have been in a regular prison if
he weren't on death row.
Nevertheless, the Charlottesville jury decided his 9 years on death row
should be worth $2.25 million.
Washington, like Williamson, never received an apology.
Grisham said that lawmakers often are reluctant to admit there has been
any official wrongdoing.
"It's human nature to be reluctant to admit a mistake," Grisham said.
"And, these cases have such high profiles that the admission of wrongdoing
by the authorities would take more courage than they are able to find."
"The poor guys get screwed again. It's bad enough to convict them and
throw them in jail for 15 years and then, when they finally get out,
nobody wants to talk to them.
"It's heartbreaking," he said.
(source: Richmond Times Dispatch)
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