[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----N.C., N.Y., WASH., MONT.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Jan 13 19:36:47 UTC 2007
NORTH CAROLINA----impending executions
3 executions slated in 3 weeks----It's a coincidence, state officials say
North Carolina's plan to execute three death-row inmates on successive
Fridays, starting Jan. 26, is a coincidence, correction officials say.
But death penalty opponents only hope some good for their cause comes of
it. They said that they'll keep pushing during the coming legislative
session for a death penalty moratorium and that the scheduling of three
executions so close together might focus attention on the issue.
"That is the only good thing that could come out of this," said Jeremy
Collins, campaign coordinator for the N.C. Coalition for a Moratorium on
the death penalty.
The group plans to hold several news conferences as it tries to persuade
Gov. Mike Easley to halt the executions by arguing that lethal injection
is inhumane and raising questions about the men's mental capacities at the
time of the crimes, Collins said.
The state executed 4 people last year, close to its average for the past 5
Executions in North Carolina are scheduled after the state Attorney
General's Office notifies prison officials that appeals in the case have
been exhausted; appeals for the 3 inmates in question all ended about the
The 1st execution this year is scheduled Jan. 26 for Marcus Reymond
Robinson, 33, who was convicted in the June 1991 murder and robbery of
Erik Tornblom. His attorneys plan to appeal to Easley for clemency
Spokeswoman Renee Hoffman acknowledged that the governor has received a
request from Robinson's attorneys about a moratorium on the death penalty.
James Edward Thomas, 51, is scheduled to be executed Feb. 2 for the 1987
killing of Teresa Ann West. James Adolph Campbell, 45, is scheduled to be
put to death Feb. 9. Campbell was sentenced to death for killing Katherine
Price in 1993.
The state last scheduled 3 executions in a row in late 2005, when Steven
McHone and Elias Syriani were killed in successive weeks. The 3rd was
Keith Acree, a spokesman for the state Department of Correction, said he
recalled other inmates being executed in successive weeks. "If you go back
to the 1940s, you can find multiple executions on the same day, sometimes
3 a day," Acree said.
There have been 43 executions in North Carolina since the state reinstated
the death penalty in 1984, and 167 inmates are on death row.
Ken Rose, a staff attorney with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in
Durham, also questioned the timing of the executions and said the Attorney
General's Office has control over when to notify prison officials.
"It just makes it a rush process and a process without deliberation," Rose
said. "It's very difficult if not impossible to fairly consider these
executions when they're in a batch together."
For some people, the executions can't come soon enough.
"The system has run its course, and it's time to carry out the sentence of
the court," said Dick Adams, a longtime victims' rights advocate whose son
was killed in 1982. The man convicted of the crime had 9 1/2 years for his
case to be reviewed before his execution.
Adams said that prolonged legal wrangling harms the relatives of murder
victims and that he's grateful he no longer has to worry about that.
"I don't have to wonder when I go to bed tonight what sort of trick the
system will play on me next," he said.
(source: The News & Observer)
Parents seek to overturn death penalty to honor daughter's wish
If there was ever a man for whom it would be hard to muster compassion, it
is Gregory McKnight. McKnight was 15 when he committed his first murder,
served 6 years in prison, and soon after his release killed twice more.
His last victim was Emily Murray, a 20-year-old college student who had
the misfortune of working with McKnight at a pizza shop. McKnight
kidnapped and robbed Murray, shot her and left her body rolled in a carpet
in an abandoned trailer.
The murder took place in Ohio in 2000, but the case is back in the
headlines because of the remarkable fortitude of Emily Murray's parents,
who plan to ask Ohio's new governor to repeal McKnight's death sentence.
To act on the request, Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who was sworn in on
Monday, would have to get the approval of the state's parole board.
Thomas and Cynthia Murray of Cold Spring told staff writer Michael Risinit
that they wanted to honor the convictions of their daughter, a philosophy
student at Kenyon College who hoped to become an Episcopal priest. She was
vehemently opposed to the death penalty. The Murrays intend to ask that
the sentence be changed to life without parole, an option that was not
available at McKnight's sentencing.
Thomas Murray, president of the Hastings Center, an ethics research
institute in Garrison, is a nationally known bioethicist. He was appointed
to the National Bioethics Advisory Commission by President Bill Clinton,
and has written about human cloning and other medical issues. You might
expect him to object to the death penalty. He said, however, that his own
feelings about capital punishment had nothing to do with the appeal.
"If anyone deserves the death penalty, this guy does," Murray told the
Columbus Dispatch, an Ohio paper. The appeal has everything to do with the
Murrays' devotion to their daughter's beliefs.
This is not the 1st time that McKnight's fate has made national news. The
case first gained attention when a judge in the poor Ohio county where the
crime took place ruled that prosecutors could not seek the death penalty
because the county couldn't afford its share of the defense costs. The
judge later reversed himself and, after McKnight's conviction in 2002, a
jury recommended the death penalty, which has been legal in Ohio since
McKnight's story is emblematic of the growing ambivalence over capital
punishment. Even when it is on the books, there are practical reasons
against using it, like the cost of long, drawn-out proceedings. Even when
we believe the world would be better off without a killer, more and more
of us are troubled by killing in return. The number of executed prisoners
in the U.S. has been shrinking, even in the death-penalty-friendly South.
During New York's brief flirtation with the death penalty - it was
reinstated in 1995 and the statute was overturned in 2004 - no one was put
to death. With a growing body of DNA evidence suggesting that the innocent
too are sometimes convicted, it likely will take more than a pro-death
penalty governor, Eliot Spitzer, to put lukewarm New York back in the
business of capital punishment.
In that, perhaps, Emily Murray could have found comfort.
(source: The Journal News)
Jury rejects death penalty in Brooklyn murder
A Brooklyn federal jury spared the life of a convicted killer Friday after
being unable to give Martin Aguilar the death penalty for a brutal murder
he committed 6 years ago.
By failing to unanimously vote for capital punishment, the anonymous panel
of three men and nine women effectively left Aguilar with life in prison
Aguilar, 33, smiled and blew a kiss to his mother, Elizabeth Fernandez,
after the verdict was announced. Fernandez, whose testimony about her own
troubled life growing up and with Aguilar's father played a role in the
jury's decision, sat down and quietly sobbed as her son was taken from the
Before leaving, Aguilar shook the hands of defense attorneys Lou Freeman
and Carl Herman.
"If you really get to know him, you really do see the good in him,"
Freeman said later to reporters about Aguilar.
Judge Raymond Dearie set Jan. 29 for the sentencing of Aguilar, who was
convicted last month in the 2000 contract slaying of Jose Fernandez, who
is not related to Aguilar. Trial evidence showed that Fernandez was killed
at the instigation of his wife, Quincy Martinez, because she wanted him
out of the way while she had an affair with another man. Trial evidence
also showed that her boyfriend was involved in the commission of the
Since the federal death penalty statue was instituted in the 1980s,
Brooklyn and Manhattan federal court jurors have rejected executions.
There have been only three federal executions nationwide, records show.
The New York State death penalty law was knocked down by the courts in
After the verdict, 3 jurors told reporters that the final decision was 10
to 2 for life in prison. Some jury members said they were affected by the
abusive home life Aguilar's mother had growing up.
"He had a crazy father, who pushed him [to commit crimes]," said one man,
a juror from Levittown.
"As far as us taking a life, we don't have the right," said one woman, a
juror from Brooklyn. She added that she initially thought she could
consider the death penalty but finally believed it was the wrong thing.
"Putting Martin to death wouldn't prove anything," she said.
The Levittown juror said the panel also believed that the prison system
could control Aguilar despite evidence submitted by the government that he
had committed crimes in custody. Jurors also thought that Martinez was
just as responsible for the murder, but noted she didn't face the death
Outside the courtroom the family of the dead man accepted the verdict
"Life in prison is suffering," said the victim's brother Marco Fernandez,
35. "Whatever we got is what we got."
WASHINGTON (state) :
Justices to review death penalty case----Once again, the 9th Circuit
Appeals Court's sentence overturning will be reconsidered.
The Supreme Court agreed Friday to reconsider another death penalty
decision from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, this one overturning
the death sentence for a man who abducted a young Seattle woman then raped
and tortured her for 2 days before killing her.
It will be the fourth case before the justices this term in which the San
Francisco-based 9th Circuit had reversed a murder conviction or a death
In all four, state prosecutors appealed to the high court, arguing the
judges of the appeals court had overstepped their authority and wrongly
second-guessed a state court's decision.
In November, the high court reversed the 9th Circuit and restored a death
sentence for a Central Valley man who robbed and fatally clubbed a young
woman in 1982. In December, the justices unanimously restored the murder
conviction for a man who shot and killed the fianc of his estranged wife
in San Jose. The 9th Circuit had overturned the conviction because the
parents and a brother of the murder victim were seen wearing a small photo
of him in the courtroom.
The third case, heard Tuesday, concerned an Arizona murderer whose death
sentence was overturned by the 9th Circuit on the grounds that his lawyer
failed to present "mitigating evidence" on his behalf, even though the
defendant, Jeffrey Landrigan, told the judge during the sentencing hearing
that he did not want mitigating evidence presented on his behalf.
The new case, from Seattle, focuses on a potential juror who was excluded
because of his views on the death penalty.
The facts of the case were described as "sickening" by the dissenting
judges on the 9th Circuit.
On May 23, 1991, Holly Washa, 21, was leaving her job at a hotel near the
Seattle-Tacoma Airport when Cal Brown stopped her to say her tire was
flat. He jumped in her car and put a knife to her throat. He forced her to
take money from her bank account.
Brown took her to a motel where he kept her in handcuffs and raped her. On
the third day, he slit her throat and left her to die in the trunk of her
>From there, Brown flew to Palm Springs, where he abducted, tortured and
stabbed a second woman. Despite a slit throat, she was able to call the
hotel desk when Brown left the room. Police arrested Brown when he
Brown gave a detailed confession to both crimes. In Seattle, he was tried,
convicted and sentenced to die in 1993 for Washa's murder. State courts
and a federal judge in Seattle upheld the conviction and sentence.
"This was not a case where there was any doubt about who committed the
murder," John J. Samson, an assistant attorney general from Washington,
In December 2005, however, Brown's appeal came before a 3-judge panel of
the 9th Circuit, which reversed the death sentence on the grounds that one
of the potential jurors was improperly excluded from the trial.
During voir dire, the process in which prosecutors and defense attorneys
question prospective jurors, either side may move to exclude someone they
think may have a strong bias.
When questioned, the potential juror, referred to as "Juror Z," said he
favored the death penalty only "in severe situations" and when it was
"very obvious the person would re-offend."
Under Washington law, a defendant convicted of aggravated 1st-degree
murder would be sentenced to death or life in prison without the
possibility of parole. That meant that Brown would have no chance to
"re-offend" outside prison.
A death sentence may be imposed in Washington only if all 12 jurors agree.
Because this potential juror would presumably reject a death sentence for
Brown, the prosecutor sought to remove him from the jury pool. "We have no
objection," the defense lawyer replied, and the trial judge dismissed
"Juror Z" from the case's jury pool.
Writing for the appeals court, Judge Alex Kozinski of Pasadena said "Juror
Z" was not flatly opposed to the death penalty. "Most importantly, he
promised he would 'follow the law' without reservation," he wrote.
Because "Juror Z was erroneously excluded," Brown was denied his right to
a fair trial, Kozinski concluded. His opinion was joined by Judges Stephen
Reinhardt of Los Angeles and Marcia Berzon of San Francisco.
In June, 2006, when a petition to rehear the case was denied by the
appeals court, 5 of its judges joined in a dissent, saying the decision
ignored a 1996 law which says U.S. judges should defer to reasonable
decisions made by state courts.
In September, Washington Atty. Gen. Rob McKenna appealed to the Supreme
Court, arguing that the trial judge had handled the jury selection
reasonably and in line with the law.
The justices voted Friday to hear the case of Uttecht vs. Brown in April
and to issue a ruling by late June.
Prosecutor: Death penalty still on table
Prosecutors will be allowed to seek the death penalty for 2 former Montana
State University athletes if the men are convicted of killing a suspected
drug dealer, a judge has ruled.
However, Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert has not decided whether he
will seek death sentences in the case.
Former Bobcats basketball player Branden Miller and former football player
John Lebrum are charged with murder, kidnapping and evidence tampering in
the June 23 shooting of Jason Wright, 26.
Defense attorneys had argued that Lambert should not be allowed to seek
the death penalty because he failed to notify the court, in writing and
within 60 days of arraignment, that he planned to do so. The purpose of
filing the notice is to inform the defendants of their potential
punishment and help them prepare for trial.
District Judge Mike Salvagni ruled this week that Lambert's failure to
file the paperwork within 60 days did not prejudice the defendants' cases
or violate their rights to due process.
Lambert included death as a possible punishment when he filed the charges
against Lebrum and Miller, Salvagni said in his order.
The defendants were informed when they appeared in Justice Court and
District Court that they could be sentenced to death, the judge said. He
also said that in court briefs, attorneys on both sides have referred to
Wright's death as a capital case.
"From the record, it is evident that the defendant was aware of the
possible imposition of the death penalty at the inception of this case,"
Lambert said Thursday that he has filed the death-penalty paperwork but
can withdraw it later. He said he will make the decision after he has all
the evidence and has had a chance to discuss the matter with Wright's
Defense attorneys said they will continue pressing to get the death
penalty off the table. They may challenge Salvagni's ruling, said Al
Avignone, Lebrum's attorney.
(source: The Billings Gazette)
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