[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----MD., TENN., KAN., OKLA., N.J.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Jan 31 06:03:04 UTC 2007
Cleared death row inmate embodies debate
In a court of law, people are supposed to be considered innocent until
proven guilty, but Kirk Bloodsworth was viewed as guilty by the jury,
public, police and media until proven innocent years later through DNA
The Cambridge native visited the Salisbury Barnes & Noble on Sunday to
tell an audience of about 30 people the story of his time spent on death
row and his life afterward as the first person in the United States to be
cleared by DNA evidence in 1993. He was promoting Tim Junkin's book
chronicling his experience, "The True Story of the First Death Row Inmate
Exonerated by DNA."
Last week, Bloodsworth spoke before the Maryland General Assembly as state
lawmakers discussed a bill to permanently repeal the death penalty in
Maryland. He currently serves as the program officer for the Justice
Project's campaign for criminal justice reform and the Justice Project
Education Fund, which promotes DNA testing for anybody claiming innocence.
Bloodsworth, a former Marine with no prior criminal history, was convicted
on charges of sexual assault, rape and first-degree premeditated murder of
a 9-year-old girl and was sentenced to death in 1984. He appealed the
original ruling on grounds that evidence was withheld at trial but was
found guilty a second time and sentenced to two consecutive life terms.
He took one day at a time for the nearly a decade he spent in the Maryland
Penitentiary in west Baltimore, a place he described as a gothic,
evil-looking castle where he could imagine Dracula swooping down at any
Bloodsworth, once perceived as a "brutal child killer," shared intimate
and at times gruesome details about his experiences in prison as audience
members gasped and cringed during his talk.
While he said that it doesn't matter what his stance on capital punishment
is, the justice system needs to be improved because one innocent person
wrongly convicted and put to death is too many, he said.
"Life in prison holds these people accountable for their actions,"
Bloodsworth said. "If they're dead, their not held accountable and all
their pain and suffering is gone. We have to come up with systemic
Several people said his story makes them hesitant about the death penalty.
"What I found the most interesting was that even with all he's been
through, he's not willing to forfeit privacy for the sake of security,"
said Delmar resident Sarah Slabaugh. "He provoked me to think about the
(source: The Daily Times)
Neurologist testifies for Pike ---- Doctor says killer has damaged brain,
history of abuse in childhood
Convicted Job Corps killer and death row inmate Christa Gail Pike suffers
from a damaged brain and endured a childhood loaded with sexual, physical
and drug abuse, according to extensive testimony in a post-trial relief
Her life may now depend on a judge's decision as to how her original
defense counsel handled -- or mishandled -- that aspect of her life during
A combination of the extensive abuse, brain damage and mental illness that
includes bipolar disorder rendered Pike "under the influence of a mental
disease or defect," Dr. Jonathan Pincus, a neurologist, testified Monday.
Pike's frontal lobes, the area of the brain that impacts social judgment
and decision-making, "are not put together properly," Pincus said. "It's
like her brakes are not working" to be able to thwart dangerous or
inappropriate impulses that most people would not act on.
Pike was sentenced to death for the 1995 torture slaying of fellow
Knoxville Job Corps student Colleen Slemmer. In 2001, she told Criminal
Court Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz that she wanted to abandon her appeal
options and be executed.
After a psychological evaluation of Pike, Leibowitz granted the request.
But Pike soon changed her mind, and ultimately the state Supreme Court
allowed her to reopen the appeals process.
Her current lawyers, Donald E. Dawson and Catherine Y. Brockenborough,
argue that Pike did not have effective counsel at her original trial.
They are putting on evidence about a variety of factors in Pike's life
they say would have been relative to her ability to form criminal intent,
or should have been considered as mitigating factors in determining her
The state, represented by Leland Price and Jo Helm, maintains that Pike's
trial attorneys did an effective job and that the prosecution's evidence
presented was so overwhelming that what Dawson and Brockenborough are
presenting now would have made no difference in the outcome.
During the hearing, Pike, in orange jail garb, sat quietly, her face
changing expressions many times throughout the day.
Leibowitz heard testimony from family members, including Pike's mother,
Carissa Hansen of Lubbock, Texas, and her aunt, Tarrie Ross of West
Virginia, about the extent of abuse and neglect in Christa's childhood.
"Her children were never her 1st priority, her men and her husbands were,"
Ross said of Hansen, who has been married 5 times and had relationships
with several other men.
Ross said that as a child, Pike would often sit and stare. As a
first-grade student, she drew a pornographic picture at school, and later
she regularly watched violent, gory horror films.
Pincus said Pike was raped on one occasion by a neighbor and sexually
abused on another occasion by one of her mother's boyfriends.
On cross-examination by Price, Pincus acknowledged that much of his
information about Pike's "dreadful, dehumanizing experiences" came from
interviews with Pike. But he said information obtained in interviews with
others support the stories.
"There is no doubt in my mind that it happened," he said confidently.
But Price reminded Pincus that his own testimony about the condition of
Pike's frontal lobes questions her credibility, because that is the area
of the brain that determines the ability to differentiate between the
truth and a lie.
And Pincus acknowledged that he believed Pike was, and still is, capable
of planning and executing a plan to kill someone.
The hearing continues today and could last through Wednesday.
(source: Knoxville News)
Seeking overturn of pleas----Ex-doctor's lawyer says advancements in fire
science require a trial.
A Johnson County judge committed "manifest injustice" by not letting
Debora Green withdraw no-contest pleas after a fire killed 2 of her
children, her attorney argued Monday.
The former Prairie Village doctor is asking the Kansas Supreme Court to
overturn that ruling and allow her case to proceed to trial.
Green's fight hinges on an expert who disputes original findings that the
1995 house fire was arson.
Green's attorney, Angela Keck, told justices that in 1996, Green and her
attorneys agreed to the murder and arson pleas to avoid the death penalty.
Since then, Keck argued, advancements in the scientific understanding of
fires and arson would allow her client to mount a better defense.
"There has been a revolution in arson and fire science," Keck said.
Prosecutor Steven Obermeier countered that before pleading guilty, Green
had "the advice of not 1, not 2, but 3 lawyers."
The Supreme Court will rule later. Justices, however, noted that
conclusions about the fire were not the only evidence against Green.
"There's still abundant evidence of your client's guilt," Justice Carol
Green, 55, is serving a life sentence in the deaths of Tim Farrar, 13, and
Kelly Farrar, 6. A third child survived. She also pleaded no contest to
attempted murder in the poisoning of her estranged husband. She is not
seeking to withdraw that plea.
The case drew national attention and was the subject of a book by Seattle
author Ann Rule.
Green's argument centers on how investigators assess damage caused by
flammable liquids. At a hearing in 2005, a defense expert said that a
phenomenon known as "flashover" could account for damage investigators
attributed to combustibles and that the cause of the fire should have been
The expert described flashover as a buildup of radiant heat that ignites
objects around it and leaves burn patterns similar to when flammables are
Prosecutors' experts testified at the same hearing that even after
applying the new fire investigation methods, they concluded the case was
(source: Kansas City Star)
Reversal of murder verdict stands----A state appeals court rules that its
decision in the case of Daniel Fears, accused in a shooting spree, was
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that it acted correctly 6
months ago when it reversed the murder convictions of Daniel Hawke Fears
and put in its own verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, it said in
an opinion made public Monday.
One of the appellate court's dissenting judges, however, accused his
colleagues of acting like "philosopher kings" in substituting their own
finding for those of the jury.
The court denied a request by Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson
that the justices rehear the Fears reversal, which should move him out of
prison and into a mental-health center. The court agreed earlier to delay
that transfer while it considered Edmondson's motion.
In the ruling filed Friday, the court decided that Edmondson was wrong in
his argument that the case should go back to a jury of Fears' peers.
"The state mistakenly suggests that this court does not have the authority
to reach its decision," read the majority opinion reached by Judges
Charles S. Chapel, Charles A. Johnson and David B. Lewis.
"Because double jeopardy prohibits a second trial after an appellate court
has found the evidence legally insufficient to support a conviction, the
remedy is reversal with instructions to dismiss," the ruling added.
"There is no 2nd chance, because our criminal justice system gives the
state one fair opportunity to offer whatever proof it could assemble. The
state is not afforded a 2nd opportunity to retry the defendant with more
or better evidence."
Vice Presiding Judge Gary Lumpkin sided against the majority, declaring in
his opinion that the new verdict revealed "unbridled discretion" on the
part of the appeals court.
"The problem is this is an appellate court subject to limitations on its
authority, not 'philosopher kings,' " Lumpkin wrote. "If the court were
true to its oath and jurisprudence, the proper procedure would be to
remand the case . . . for retrial."
Charlie Price, a spokesman for Edmondson, said the Attorney General's
Office was still considering what, if any, options it had left.
"The court's refusal to rehear this case is disappointing," Price said.
"The court has abandoned its own case law and substituted its judgment for
that of the jury.
"We can expect confusion in the wake of this case and more reversals as
trial courts attempt to decipher it."
Fears was 18 on Oct. 26, 2004, when, law enforcement authorities say, he
broke into his father's house, stole his gun and started shooting nearly
everyone he encountered, according to evidence presented at his 2004
trial. He was convicted nearly 2 years later of first-degree murder,
shooting with an intent to kill and other counts.
The dead included Reba Spangler, 68, who was buying a car at a Sallisaw
dealership, and Patsy Wells, 61, a next-door neighbor of Fears' father.
Wells' husband, Elvie Wells, was wounded in a front-yard attack.
Wells, who now lives in the Dallas area, said he was disappointed but not
surprised at the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision. He said he knew that
the court would not allow the case to go back for a retrial.
"They think they are smarter than the juries are, so they won't let that
happen," he said. "It's unfair the way it happened."
Rob Nigh, a Tulsa lawyer, represented Fears during the trial and also
wrote the successful appeal. He had argued that prosecutors not only
committed various errors during the trial but also failed to prove Fears'
sanity once defense witnesses had established his insanity.
Defense witnesses testified that they noticed dark changes in Fears'
behavior before the shootings and that he told about hearing voices.
"Mental illness is just as real as physical illness," Nigh said. "The law,
clearly written, requires them to prove his sanity beyond a reasonable
State law protects mentally ill people who are not in control of their
actions, Nigh said.
"There's a tremendous sense of satisfaction when the law is applied in the
way that it should be," he said.
Fears, who will turn 23 next month, has been in the custody of the
Department of Corrections since his 2004 sentencing. His next step likely
will be a transfer from prison to the Oklahoma Forensic Center in Vinita
for mental-health treatment, authorities said.
Newly elected District Judge Jeff Payton probably would be responsible for
signing off on any court order to move Fears soon.
Payton was not available Monday to comment on when that order would be
Fears could remain in treatment for the rest of his life, officials have
said. His fate would rest in the hands of a group of doctors and a judge
who would decide whether and when he was cured.
Once they determine that Fears is cured, he would be freed.
The Court of Criminal Appeals' ruling was contested even within its own
ranks. All five justices agreed that the office of former District
Attorney Richard Gray committed numerous errors at trial, so Fears
deserved a retrial.
Yet the vote originally was 3-2 about installing the new verdict in July.
Judges Lumpkin and Lewis argued that the verdict belonged in the hands of
a jury, and Chapel, Charles Johnson and Arlene Johnson, who are not
related, believed that it would subject Fears to double jeopardy.
Arlene Johnson and Lewis, however, switched sides in the latest ruling,
keeping the vote 3-2.
Roger Nix, Patsy Wells' son who now lives in Alabama, said he was
"embarrassed" by the court's decision to take Fears' fate out of the hands
of a jury.
"The OCCA has turned the justice system upside down and has become a
kangaroo court," Nix wrote in a e-mail response.
Fears case timeline
Oct. 26, 2002: Daniel Hawke Fears, 18, a senior at Sallisaw High School,
steals his fathers shotgun and begins shooting, police say. 2 people are
killed and 8 wounded during a spree from Sallisaw to Roland.
Oct. 30, 2002: Fears is charged with 2 counts of 1st-degree murder and 16
other felonies in Sequoyah County District Court.
Oct. 9, 2003: Fears' defense attorney, Rob Nigh, announces that he will
seek an insanity defense.
March 1, 2004: District Attorney Richard Gray decides not to seek the
death penalty for Fears, citing the defendant's age and lack of criminal
record at the time of the shootings.
Sept. 23, 2004: A Sequoyah County jury takes 2 hours and 20 minutes to
convict Fears of 1st-degree murder and other charges.
Dec. 9, 2004: District Judge John Garrett sentences Fears to life in
prison without the possibility of parole.
July 7, 2006: The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals rules, 3-2, that the
state did not prove Fears sanity. The court reverses the conviction and
installs its own verdict: not guilty by reason of insanity.
July 20, 2006: The appeals court grants Oklahoma Attorney General Drew
Edmondsons request for a stay in its ruling to consider his motion for a
Friday, Jan. 26, 2007: The Court of Criminal Appeals decides, by a
slightly altered 3-2 vote, not to rehear the Fears' reversal.
(source: Tulsa World)
New Jersey has 9 convicted murderers on its death row. These individuals
have forfeited the right to breathe the same air as the rest of us. Add to
those the planned, organized, delegated, paid for and executed spouse
killings by Rabbi Fred Neulander and Robert O. Marshall and there are at
least 11 solid reasons to maintain the death penalty in our state. Throw
in the two men who killed Christine Eberle at the PATCO Hi-Speedline's
Ferry Avenue Station in Camden and you have a baker's dozen.
The New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission found "no penological
reason" to maintain its use. Administered as intended by the Legislature,
it matches action to consequences. If you can't do the time (in this case,
eternity), don't do the crime. If you plan to kill, expect to die.
I am not sure capital punishment shouldn't be applied in other cases such
as child molestation. To house, clothe, feed, educate and cater to those
who would consciously and deliberately go about snuffing out someone's
life is an insult to the dignity and sanctity of life anti-capital
punishment advocates claim to be interested in protecting.
JOHN J. KIRKWOOD
(source: Letter ot the Editor, Cherry Hill Courier Post)
More information about the DeathPenalty