[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----TEXAS, PENN., WASH., DC, N.H... IND.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Jul 1 17:33:12 CDT 2007
Assessing the Supremes----Justices miss on race, deliver on death penalty
The Supreme Court's rulings Thursday dealt with two issues important to
many Texans: the role of race in America and the way Texas carries out its
death penalty. Here's our view:
Race and school - Residents of Louisville and Seattle had worked years to
create voluntary school desegregation plans to avoid racial isolation on
their campuses. Unfortunately, the decision in Parents Involved in
Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 et al wipes out those
local efforts. By limiting race's role in school admissions, the court
made it harder for districts to fight racial isolation in schools.
The only silver lining is Justice Anthony Kennedy's point of view. The
Reagan appointee agreed that the districts went too far in using race to
determine admissions. But he also fired back at Chief Justice John
Roberts, who wrote the 5-4 opinion.
Significantly, Justice Kennedy reminded his colleague that race remains a
factor in American life. Districts indeed should be free to consider it as
one of several tools they use in determining the composition of their
Practically speaking, he turned the case into a "yellow light" for
districts. They still can factor in race, but they need restraint in their
plans, plus ample documentation. That's certainly better than completely
outlawing the consideration of race.
Death penalty - In another embarrassment for our state, the court again
slapped Texas for carelessly administering the death penalty. In Panetti
v. Quarterman, the court ruled that Texas tried to execute a mentally
Exactly how many times will it take for our good state to get the point?
Cases like this deepen our conviction that Texas must abolish its death
penalty. Scott Panetti almost got executed because a Texas judge failed to
even have a hearing about his mental competency.
Yes, he killed family members. But does our state really want to put to
death mentally incompetent prisoners who failed to get a decent trial?
Thanks to the Supreme Court, Texas didn't get the opportunity.
(source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)
JUVENILE NOTION----Our youths must be (better) served----Harris County
officials seem set on building a new juvenile detention center. Bad idea:
There's a cheaper, more effective alternative.
Harris County officials know a winner when they see one and the new plan
to build a $76 million juvenile detention facility has "voter approval"
written all over it. After all, how can anyone vote against providing
better facilities for our children?
The surprising answer is that a "no" vote is an easy decision when you see
the new juvenile facility for what it is: a place where children can be
locked away while our judicial system determines what to do with them.
Mandatory incarceration may be appropriate in some situations, such as
when the child stands accused of violent acts or is a repeat offender with
multiple run-ins with the law. But should it apply to first-time
offenders? Or to children accused of spray-painting a lamp post or taking
a car and going joyriding? Under the current system, all of these kids are
candidates to spend 1, 5, 20 or more days in a detention facility before a
judge even hears their case.
Not everyone believes that mandatory incarceration is a good idea and
child advocates across the country have been working diligently to change
this outdated part of the juvenile justice system. Nationwide, the
powerful Annie E. Casey Foundation has thrown its weight behind the
Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. Today, JDAI programs operate
in 80 locales, including the District of Columbia. Dallas has begun the
only JDAI program in Texas, and a growing number of child advocates
believe that Harris County deserves one, too.
Last year, officials from the Casey Foundation met with Harris County's
chief juvenile probation officer, other elected officials, prosecutors,
defense attorneys and law enforcement personnel to outline how a JDAI
program could be implemented here. The program's premise is remarkably
simple: Rather than immediately incarcerating first-time offenders, a
collaborative team of juvenile defenders, prosecutors, law enforcement and
social workers meets to identify potential alternatives to 24-hour
lockdown. These alternatives can include foster care, a specialized group
home, and community-based programs.
JDAI programs produce spectacular results. Nationwide, these programs have
helped reduce youth felony arrests by up to 54 % and cut the number of
detained juveniles by up to 65 %. If a JDAI program in Harris County were
to achieve anything close to these numbers, the $76 million juvenile
detention facility proposed by Harris County officials would simply not be
In response to the Casey Foundation's presentation on its JDAI program
which wowed an audience of juvenile justice advocates from the Houston
area Harris County officials politely declined to pursue matters. It's
clear now that Harris County prefers to invest $76 million of taxpayer
funds to build new juvenile lockdown facilities instead of investigating
cost-saving JDAI programs with huge upside potential to improve public
safety and reduce juvenile crime.
With a bond election on the books, it's easy to predict the future. In the
months ahead, county authorities will release artist renderings of their
proposed juvenile facility. Voters will feast their eyes on illustrations
of smartly made beds and visualize how children will be properly cared for
by Harris County professionals. After all the feel-good publicity, $76
million will seem like a small price to pay for "desperately needed"
But an alternate future deserves consideration. A few years from now,
after Harris County implements its Juvenile Detention Alternatives
Initiative, juvenile advocates envision sharp drops in our youth crime
rate and the number of juveniles requiring detention. Professionals in our
juvenile justice system will be giving our children the individual
attention they deserve as they work to prevent a "first time offense" from
ruining a young life.
Which future should we select? If we need help in choosing the right
direction, perhaps we should ask the young men and women who might one day
be locked away in Harris County's juvenile detention facility. They would
vote for a system that would give them the best chance of overcoming a
first-time offense and they would vote "no" unanimously.
(source: Editorial, Houston Chronicle; Michael Lindsey holds law and
doctoral degrees and is the site coordinator for a successful Juvenile
Detention Alternatives Initiative program in Dallas. He is a fellow at the
Center for Children, Law & Policy at the University of Houston Law Center,
where Ellen Marrus serves as co-director and George Butler Research
Professor of Law)
Death-row reversals of fortuneIn 7 years, 50 Pa. inmates awaiting
execution were spared by the courts.
Harrison "Marty" Graham was sent to death row in 1988 for strangling seven
women, whose corpses he kept beneath piles of trash in his North
Philadelphia apartment. In 2003, a state trial-court judge threw out the
sentence, and Graham now is serving life.
Kenneth Ford was condemned to die after a jury found him guilty in 1991 of
killing 2 women with a 10-inch Bowie knife in a West Philadelphia candy
store. In 2002, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the sentence, and
Ford now is serving life.
Joseph Szuchon lived with his girlfriend in the city until she broke up
with him and moved to Erie. In 1981, he fatally shot her there in a
cornfield. In 2001, a federal appeals court threw out his death sentence,
and Szuchon now is serving life.
In just the last seven years in Pennsylvania, an estimated 50 inmates who
were facing execution have gotten new leases on life behind bars, as
federal and state judges overturn death sentences at a rate that is
buoying opponents of capital punishment and infuriating prosecutors.
Departures from Pennsylvania's death row - with 225 residents, the 4th
largest behind California, Florida and Texas - have roughly equaled
arrivals since 2000, and could soon eclipse them.
The appeals pipeline is clogged with condemned inmates fighting for life
without parole, at the very least. Also since 2000, about 75 of them have
scored significant interim victories - new sentencing hearings or retrials
- typically after courts found serious legal errors in the way their
original cases were tried.
Eyes around the world have been focused on one in particular: Mumia
Abu-Jamal, on death row for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer
A federal judge concluded in 2001 that Abu-Jamal should get a new
sentencing hearing, a decision that was quickly appealed. He awaits a
ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, where the case
was argued in May.
Meanwhile, well out of the public spotlight, state and federal judges have
been ruling in favor of other Pennsylvania death-row inmates, including
three in just the last 2 weeks. A convicted murderer from Bucks County got
his death sentence changed to life in prison; one from Washington County
was granted a retrial; and one from Philadelphia won a new sentencing
The reversals since 2000 have come from a range of courts. The
Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued about 20 percent of them. About 50 %
were overturned by state trial judges during the next level of review. And
federal judges handed down about 30 % of the reversals.
Despite the size of Pennsylvania's death row, executions have been
extremely rare since the penalty was reinstated in 1978: 3 "volunteers"
who gave up their appeals and asked to die. Before them, the last
execution was in 1962, when Elmo Smith was put to death for a Montgomery
County rape and murder.
Now, prosecutors are complaining, the wave of reversals has turned capital
punishment in the state into even more of an expensive charade.
"There is no death penalty in Pennsylvania," said Montgomery County
District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. Four death sentences from the county
have been thrown out in the last 7 years.
State Supreme Court Justice Ronald D. Castille, who often has voted to
uphold death sentences, joined his fellow jurists in overturning one just
this week. He said that the long appeals process and the reversals have
meant that the death-penalty statute is not enforced. "It's only on the
books," said the former Philadelphia district attorney.
Death row is all too real, countered Jules Epstein, a Widener University
law professor who represents inmates appealing their cases. "There clearly
is a death penalty in Pennsylvania," he said. "People get sentenced to
death. People sit on death row. And the real reason people haven't been
executed yet is because of tremendous problems within the system."
Courts nationwide are becoming more cautious in capital cases, according
to Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information
Center, a nonprofit research group in Washington. "They're starting to
review cases with a more realistic eye about what could be lurking
underneath," he said. In Texas, which has executed more prisoners than any
other state, four death sentences were reversed just this year by the U.S.
In New Jersey, the state Supreme Court famously reversed death sentences
before a execution moratorium was declared in 2005; its death row is down
to 8 inmates.
Some of the newfound caution, Dieter said, can be attributed to an
attitude shift about the death penalty, stemming largely from the
exonerations of at least 75 death-row inmates nationwide since 1993. In
Pennsylvania, Nicholas Yarris won his freedom in 2004 when DNA tests
cleared him of a Delaware County rape and murder - after 22 years on death
Most Americans still support the death penalty, according to a Pew
Research Center poll released this month, but that majority has shrunk
from 78 % to 64 % since 1996. Increasingly, Dieter added, there is support
for life without parole as an alternative.
Some sentences have been thrown out because U.S. Supreme Court rulings
demand it. At least seven inmates on Pennsylvania's death row, including
Marty Graham, were spared when the justices barred the execution of the
mentally retarded in 2002. Several others who committed their crimes as
juveniles escaped the death penalty after the high court in 2005 abolished
it for offenders under 18.
However, the bulk of the reversals have turned on legal errors in the
original trials, and most of them were in Philadelphia cases dating to the
1980s and early 1990s. In Kenneth Ford's case, the flaw was "ineffective
assistance of counsel" - his lawyer acknowledged that he "dropped the
ball" in failing to present mental-illness evidence that might have led
the jury to opt for life. In Joseph Szuchon's, a prospective juror had
been unfairly dismissed.
Abu-Jamal has argued that African Americans were systematically excluded
from his jury, which was made up of 10 whites and two blacks. He also has
contended that the trial judge, Common Pleas Court Judge Alfred Sabo, was
biased against him and gave misleading jury instructions.
Sabo, who has since died, had a controversial record in capital cases,
presiding over trials that ended in 32 death sentences. So far, 24 have
Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner, who was chief
defender in Philadelphia from 1975 to 1990 and now presides over homicide
cases, said that city cases from the 1980s have been reversed for good
The court system, he said, "frequently trampled all over the rights of
Those facing the death penalty often got lawyers hand-picked by judges,
who frequently selected friends who didn't necessarily know much about
Lerner said there also were a few aggressive homicide prosecutors who were
not concerned about defendants' rights - just getting convictions.
The result: Defendants landed on death row.
Since then, more stringent training requirements have been put in place
for defense lawyers, Lerner said, and the quality of representation in
capital trials has improved. And he now gives high marks to homicide
"The court's a lot different, too," Lerner said. "By and large, the judges
who have been trying homicide cases for the last 8 to 10 years . . . are
far more concerned about fair trials."
Changes in the law have made it harder for death sentences to survive
"hyper-technical" judicial scrutiny, said Deputy Philadelphia District
Attorney Ronald Eisenberg. He added that he also believes courts are
"uncomfortable" with the death penalty.
"The higher rate of reversal here," he said, "has to be the attitude of
A review of reversals in Pennsylvania cases shows they were ordered by
judges of varying social philosophies.
For example: Antuan Bronshtein was sent to death row in 1994 for the
murder of a Montgomery County jeweler. In 2005, a Third Circuit panel
ordered a new sentencing hearing; one of the members was Samuel A. Alito
Jr., now part of the conservative bloc on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Reversals by an ideological array of judges show that "the problems with
the death penalty in Pennsylvania are systemic, endemic and pervasive,"
said Robert B. Dunham, a federal defender who is part of a special unit
known statewide for winning appeals for death-row inmates. By his count,
judges have granted new trials or sentencing hearings to 200 condemned
prisoners in the state since 1978, with the majority handed down just
So will there ever be an execution in Pennsylvania?
Lawyers who follow capital cases say that Alfred K. Albrecht, convicted of
setting the 1979 fire that killed his wife, daughter and mother in Bucks
County, is at risk. The Third Circuit, one of the last appellate stops for
death-row inmates, ruled against him earlier this year.
If Abu-Jamal loses in the Third Circuit, he, too, will be in jeopardy.
But so far, said Castor, the Montgomery County district attorney, the
courts are sending a loud message to those on Pennsylvania's death row:
"If you hang in there long enough, you're eventually going to win."
(source: Philadelphia Inquirer)
Supreme Court 9 Trial ends with Time Served and a return to the Court for
the 14th Annual Fast & Vigil
8 anti-death penalty activists who were arrested for unfurling a STOP
EXECUTIONS banner on the plaza of the US Supreme Court on January 17th,
2007, the 30th Anniversary of the 1st execution in what is known as the
"modern" era of the death penalty, were found guilty and sentenced to time
served and a $50 contribution to the Victims of Violent Crimes
Compensation fund. This was similar to the sentence received by the 9th
demonstrator, Franklin Dew, who entered a nolo plea in March. They had
faced up to 60 days in jail and a fine of $5,000.00 on each count.
January 17th is the date on which Gary Mark Gilmore was executed by the
state of Utah in a death by Firing Squad in 1977. Mr. Gilmore
"volunteered" for execution. In the last 30 years, approximately 10% of
the 1086 executions have been "state-assisted suicides."
The STOP EXECUTIONS banner was draped across the courtroom and then
entered into evidence by the government. After today's trial several of
the convicted assisted the prosecutors, both Tulane Law School graduates
who indicated they were impressed with the work of the New Orleans
Innocence Project, to refold the 30-foot banner in the hallway of DC
Superior Court outside Judge Rafael Diaz' courtroom. The defense entered
the Prayer to End the Death Penalty by Sr. Helen Prejean into evidence.
All 8 represented themselves with Mark Goldstone and Carrie Ellis serving
as attorney advisors.
On trial were Elizabeth V. Brockman of Durham, North Carolina, Brian
Buckley of Charlottesville, Virginia, Ronald W. Kaz of Chas, South
Carolina, Scott Langley of Boston, Massachusetts, Rachel Y. Lawler of
Montpelier, Vermont, Thomas W. Muther of Topeka, Kansas, Jack
Payden-Travers of Lynchburg, Virginia and Anna Z. Shockley of South
Carolina. All nine arrested on Jan. 17th had spent 30 hours in the
District of Columbia jail before being released on personal recognizance &
had been issues a stay-away order banning them from the Supreme Court
building and grounds until their trial.
The morning of the trial was taken up with Judge Diaz clearing his docket
of other cases and ruling on the pre-trial motions for dismissal by the
defense and the dropping of one of the two count indictment by the
government. The serendipitous arrival in the courtroom of supporters
throughout the day was much appreciated by all the defendants. A mock
trial to prepare them to represent themselves as pro se defendants had
been held the night before in the chapel of the Dorothy Day Catholic
Worker House in DC which extended hospitality to the group in January,
March, and June.
This marks the 3rd time that anti-death penalty activists have displayed a
STOP EXECUTIONS banner on the grounds of the US Supreme Court. 18 were
convicted for the 20th anniversary action in 1997; 7 were acquitted after
the 25th anniversary demonstration. A total of 34 arrests have now
occurred as a result. The 8 "convicted" for the 30th anniversary action
have 30 days in which to enter an appeal. In anticipation of such an
action Judge Diaz arranged for a court-recorder to take the testimony as
he feared that with such a large number of pro se defendants the
electronic microphone system would not capture all of their statements.
The "convicted" death penalty activists returned to the sidewalk in front
of the US Supreme Court at midnight June 28th to participate in the
beginning of the14th Annual Fast & Vigil to End the Death Penalty which
ends on July 2nd, the date on which the US Supreme Court reinstated the
death penalty in 1976 in the case of Gregg v Georgia.
State defends death penalty in Addison case
State prosecutors say lawyers for the man accused of killing a Manchester
police officer last year are misreading the capital murder law.
Michael Addison's lawyers argue the state Supreme Court has not written
special rules to handle a death sentence appeal. They are trying to stop
all proceedings in his capital murder trial and three other cases until
the court either writes rules or prevents the state from seeking the death
penalty against him.
Prosecutors argue the Legislature did not intend the high court to create
special standards for capital murder appeals. They say the death penalty
law sets down the issues the court must consider on appeal and the law
offers the court more guidance in death penalty cases than any other case
that comes before it.
Addison is charged with shooting Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs
last October. He's also charged with 2 armed robberies a shooting incident
at a Manchester apartment complex.
Addison argued that the high court's failure to write specialized rules to
handle a death penalty appeals violates his constitutional rights to due
process, adequate representation and to defend himself.
The law says the cases must be reviewed in "accordance with rules adopted
by said court." The state said Addison's attorneys take this to mean the
Supreme Court must adopt special rules for handling capital murder
Their claim is "inconsistent with the plain language of the statute," the
state argued, noting the court already has detailed rules governing all
Prosecutors said even if the court agrees that special rules be written
for death penalty appeals, the court has plenty of time to write any rules
before Addison's murder trial begins and that the rules would have no
bearing on his non-murder cases.
(source: Associated Press)
CAPITOL NOTEBOOK----An exemption from death penalty?
INDIANAPOLIS - The U.S. Supreme Court last week clarified that courts must
weigh the mental health of death row inmates before their execution to
ensure that they understand why they're being punished and the
punishment's connection with their crimes.
But in Indiana this year, state lawmakers will take the debate a step
A study committee will take testimony on the larger issue of whether
defendants who were severely mentally ill at the time of their crimes
should face the death penalty at all.
It's a controversial topic, but banning the death penalty for such
defendants has support among mental health professionals and the American
Bar Association. Still, no states with the death penalty have been so
In Indiana, the study committee grows out of legislation that was debated
in a Senate committee this year but which never came to a vote.
Sen. Anita Bowser sponsored the legislation only a couple of months before
she lost a battle with breast cancer.
Then and now, the bill seems to have little chance of passage. The death
penalty remains a popular choice in Indiana for the most heinous
But Bowser had been successful before, helping to persuade fellow
lawmakers -- even as a member of the Senate's Democratic minority -- that
the state shouldn't be executing minors or defendants with mental
Indiana did both before the U.S. Supreme Court acted to ban such
The debate about the mentally ill could prove more difficult, however.
Mental illness is not well understood and can occur in so many variations
and levels of severity that creating an overall policy will likely prove
In the Senate debate this year, defenders of the mentally ill argued that
-- like defendants with mental retardation -- those with severe disorders
such as schizophrenia and delusions can't exercise rational judgment or
understand their crime.
"These people are not likely to be deterred by the death penalty," Philip
Coons, a psychiatrist and professor emeritus at the Indiana University
Medical Center, said then. "Because of their illness, these people are
simply not the worst of the worst," the criminals for which the death
penalty was intended.
Some committee members were skeptical. They worried that defendants would
try to use mental illness to escape execution. But Coons told the
committee that faking is rare and easily detectable.
Others said only defendants who suffered severe, persistent mental health
problems would likely qualify under any resulting law. Psychologist Carla
Gaff-Clark told the committee that definition would apply to 5 to 10 % of
death row inmates.
No members have yet been assigned to the study committee -- aptly named
the Bowser Commission -- and the group probably won't begin meeting for a
month or 2. But it's clear they'll have much to discuss.
(source: Courier-Journal ---- Lesley Stedman Weidenbener's column appears
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