[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TENN., FLA., GA., NEB.. KY., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Jul 1 17:35:00 CDT 2007
Uneven playing field creates injustice for indigent in Tennessee
As Independence Day approaches, Americans are reminded of their freedom,
liberty, constitutional rights and civic responsibilities. Our criminal
justice system plays a vital role in protecting these values, ensuring
that justice - not power, money or influence - prevails for all.
Our justice system was envisioned by our nation's founders as a stool firm
on 3 legs: the courts, the prosecution and the defense. These "legs" of
justice rely on each other, and if any of them is wobbly, unreliable
results will occur. Unfortunately, as a new report on Tennessee
prosecution and indigent defense funding reveals, the defense leg is not
wobbly, but broken.
The report by The Spangenberg Group, one of the nation's leading experts
on state criminal justice systems, is the first comprehensive analysis of
indigent defense and prosecution resources in our state. It documents the
imbalance of resources between the prosecution and indigent defense
functions: In fiscal year 2004-05, the defense function in all indigent
cases received less than half what the prosecution received - only $56.4
million compared to $130 million-$139 million.
The gap grows even more significant when we consider extensive services
law-enforcement agencies and forensic experts provide to prosecutors but
not to indigent defenders. While these cannot be precisely quantified,
Spangenberg determined that they effectively double prosecutors'
This disparity creates an uneven playing field that affects the
reliability of cases from low-level misdemeanors to death penalty cases
throughout the state. Too frequently, all that indigent defense attorneys
can do is "meet and plead" their clients. They lack the time or resources
to visit crime scenes, interview witnesses, conduct necessary
investigations and forensic testing, retain experts, or perform other
tasks required for effective defense. The problem has reached crisis
proportions in Knox County, where indigent defense attorneys are so
overburdened that they have about 53 minutes to spend on each misdemeanor
case, 59 minutes per DUI case and 72 minutes per felony. Lack of attention
to a misdemeanor case is one thing, but when this extends to capital
cases, the potential consequences are far more injurious.
Funding for indigent defense attorneys must be raised to a level that
corresponds appropriately to the resources of the prosecution. The state
need not supply more indigent defense resources at the expense of the
prosecution; the problem is not that the prosecution is overfunded, but
that the defense is underfunded.
The right to adequate counsel is a constitutional requirement and
necessary for our legal system to function fairly and reliably. Without
it, there is an increased risk innocent people will be incarcerated,
guilty people may never be prosecuted, and other defendants receive
unfairly long sentences. Policymakers, prosecutors, defenders, judges and
law enforcement alike should commit to bridging this funding gap to ensure
justice for all - not just for those who can afford it. Anything less
would be simply un-American.
(source: The Tennessean (Bill Redick and Bradley MacLean are Nashville
attorneys and director and assistant director of The Tennessee Justice
State must meet obligation to ensure counsel for accused----Today's Topic:
'And justice for all' includes poor
Included in the $27.8 billion state budget that Gov. Phil Bredesen signed
into law Thursday was funding to hire 32 additional assistant district
attorneys across Tennessee. The price tag: about $4.8 million.
Also included was funding for assistant public defenders. The exact number
is to be determined, but the total will probably be less than 20. The
funding: $1.97 million.
It's commendable that the legislature heeded the advice of law enforcement
officials and others in this endeavor, since the backlog of criminal cases
statewide is deep and getting worse. What is troubling is the disparity in
money committed to prosecutors versus public defenders, when reports
indicate that defenders in Tennessee are already at a great disadvantage
in financial resources.
This disparity has the greatest impact on poor people, and that is what
led the nonprofit Tennessee Justice Project to commission a study on the
issue. The Spangenberg Group, which studies state criminal justice systems
nationwide, reported on Tuesday that the funds made available to
prosecution of cases against indigent defendants in Tennessee in fiscal
year 2005 totaled $130 million-$139 million, while funds available for
their defense totaled only $56.4 million.
The Spangenberg report looked at money used for investigative and forensic
services and salaries and compensation for public defenders and
Why is this important? The Tennessee Justice Project says the disparity
"jeopardizes the fairness and accuracy of the Tennessee indigent defense
system," preventing public defenders and other defense lawyers from
providing adequate counsel to their clients.
The disparity may actually be far worse. Spangenberg was not able to
factor in federal, state and local "in-kind" services, such as lab work,
provided to prosecutors because there is no source of records on such
expenses. These resources would effectively double the $130 million-$139
While it is a key mission of state and local governments to bring
criminals to justice, there is concern the number of people being wrongly
convicted is growing. And this most often hits the poor, since they
comprise the majority of crime victims. A telling statistic from the U.S.
Justice Department's Bureau of Crime Statistics notes that about 3/4 of
inmates in state prisons receive publicly provided legal counsel for the
offense for which they are serving time.
If the majority of people who pass through the justice system cannot
afford a lawyer on their own, and public defenders' and court-appointed
lawyers' offices are strapped, it stands to reason that mistakes will be
made. Innocent people will be convicted, the offenders will not be
punished, and public confidence in the justice system will erode.
The Tennessee Justice Project has called for system reform. At the very
least, legislators in 2008 should consider a bump in public defender funds
that will at least give them a chance to be advocates for their clients.
This notion may be an unpopular one these days, when reports of heinous
crimes are such that many law-abiding citizens want to hear only that more
is being done to catch criminals and lock them up. But even those who take
a hard line see it differently when someone they know is wrongly accused,
or is guilty only of minor offenses until they are caught up in someone
The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that anyone accused of
a crime have the assistance of counsel. To render that assistance,
defenders need resources. It is not only a right - it is right.
(source: Opinion, The Tennessean
Report's data flawed, done to meet agenda
One thing that both prosecutors and defense attorneys can agree upon is
that it takes lawyers to handle criminal cases in court, and the more
cases there are, the more lawyers that are needed to handle them.
However, how to calculate the actual number needed and apportion them
between the prosecution and the defense is a matter of great debate. Since
1998, Tennessee has been grappling with establishing an objective process
to determine legitimate needs and balance those needs with what the state
Apparently, a special-interest group known as the Tennessee Justice
Project hoped to advance its political agenda by commissioning a report to
lend credence to claims that Tennessee's public defenders are seriously
understaffed. Since the consulting group touts itself as "the country's
leading experts on the delivery of indigent defense services," it is no
surprise that they find "an astonishing disparity" between the funds
available to prosecutors and indigent defenders. In a report replete with
questionable statistical assumptions and dubious financial calculations,
they conclude that public defenders across the state are in dire need of
123 extra lawyers. Using the same methodology and applying it to the
caseloads of the district attorneys who are responsible for all criminal
cases, not just indigent defendant cases, the results are eye-popping.
Statewide, prosecutors would need 800 additional attorneys. In my office
alone, I would be entitled to 100 new lawyers. Such a result is ludicrous.
Both sides need resources
In our criminal justice system, it is critical that both the prosecution
and the defense have the resources necessary to do the jobs expected of
them. Tougher laws and more police officers result in more arrests and
more people in the court system. Justice can suffer when there are not
enough judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys to handle ever-increasing
Mistakes can be made and serious consequences can result when a prosecutor
or public defender is too rushed or too overwhelmed by their workload.
When a criminal defendant is indigent and unable to hire their own
attorney, society has an obligation to provide capable representation. It
may not be popular to spend hard-earned tax dollars to defend a murderer,
a drug trafficker or child molester, but it is the only way our justice
system can operate. Every year, the Tennessee General Assembly must ration
the money it appropriates to all the necessary activities of government,
and no agency or department believes they have gotten more money than they
need or can use.
In fact, most can make compelling arguments that their resources are never
enough to do the job in the manner they would like.
I am not suggesting that public defenders are overstaffed or not in need
of additional help. I am certain that they could use more lawyers, and so
could the district attorneys. The only conclusion to be drawn from this
specious report is that Tennessee needs a consistent method for
determining the legal resources necessary to operate our criminal justice
system cost-effectively while providing competent representation for both
crime victims and the accused.
(source: The Tennessean----Torry Johnson is the district attorney general
for Davidson County)
Poor at disadvantage with double standard
In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Gideon v. Wainwright
and held that every criminal defendant has a constitutional right to legal
"Reason and reflection require us to recognize that in our adversary
system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor
to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is
provided for him. This seems to us to be an obvious truth."
In Tennessee, the criminal justice system operates with a double standard
in which the poor are treated much differently from defendants who have
money and other resources. The vast majority of criminal defendants are
indigent - they cannot afford a lawyer or any of the necessary tools for
an effective defense. Most criminal defendants, therefore, must rely upon
the state to provide them with a lawyer who has the necessary resources.
Our criminal justice system is based on the premise that the roles of
prosecution and the defense are equally important. For our criminal
justice system to work fairly and reliably, adequate resources must be
made available to both the prosecution and the defense.
Unfortunately, anyone who works in the criminal justice system must admit
the resources available to the prosecution far exceed the resources
available to the poor accused of crimes. The recent Spangenberg Group
study is simply telling us what has been obvious for a long time - and the
problem is getting worse.
Defenders barely cover costs
Earlier this year, the state comptroller released reports demonstrating
that prosecutors and public defenders are understaffed. The reports showed
prosecutors need 23 additional lawyers and the public defenders need 123
more lawyers. Earlier this month, the legislature appropriated funds to
add 32 prosecutors and 19 public defenders. The problem is obvious, and it
is getting worse.
When the public defenders cannot represent an indigent defendant for
reasons such as a conflict of interest, the court appoints a private
lawyer who is paid with state funds. These lawyers are paid at hourly
rates that barely cover the overhead costs of maintaining an office.
Further, limits placed on the fees are such that an appointed lawyer may
not be compensated for much of their work.
The lawyers for the indigent are dedicated and work extremely hard. The
simple truth is that we are not given the resources we need to fulfill our
important obligations to all of our indigent clients. We work under
crushing caseloads. We do not have enough time to spend with our clients
from the time they are arrested through their trials. We lack many of the
basic resources needed to conduct investigations or to hire important
The resources available to the prosecution should not be reduced. It is
obvious that prosecutors need adequate resources to do their important
jobs. But, at the same time, the essential role of the lawyers for the
indigent defendants must be acknowledged, and the resources available to
the defense must be increased. The prosecutor and the defense lawyer ought
to be given a level playing field on which to perform their jobs.
(source: The Tennessean----Ross Alderman is the public defender for
Public defender's office struggles
The continuing growth in the number of criminal court cases filed in
Blount County hasn't pushed the District Public Defender's Office to the
brink of dysfunction yet, but Mack Garner knows it coming.
"We're not there, but two death penalty cases would put us there," said
Garner, who has held the office since 1990. "There would go virtually half
my staff for what could be six months or a year."
The Public Defender's Office employs 4 full-time and 2 part-time
attorneys. During the 2005-2006 fiscal year, his office handled about
4,100 cases. This year, the case load is approaching 4,500. The State
Comptroller's Office estimates that Garner's office is about 6 positions
short of recommend staffing levels. Garner, though, said he could make do
with just 2.
"With 3 (additional) attorneys, we would be set for several years," Garner
said. "Two attorneys would probably solve our problem. The comptroller's
study is probably excessive. We don't need that many." During the recent
budget deliberations, the Blount County Commission, however, took no
action on Garner's request to fund an additional $89,171, which includes
the cost of benefits and $52,152 in salary, to add a full-time attorney to
During a recent day in Alcoa city court, Garner and his assistants plowed
through 50 cases, devoting about 12 minutes to each. That kind of pace
makes it hard to provide the quality of service that people deserve, he
said. "I try to do all my work by telephone because we simply don't have
an hour to spare to talk to a person about a case," he said "I'm not sure
all of our clients know what's going on because everything happens so
Since the county added the General Sessions Court Section IV seat that
Judge David R. Duggan holds, the demand for public defender services has
increased, Garner said, but despite the workload, his staff is getting the
"The reason we're not in crisis is my lawyers are great lawyers," he said.
"Some of my lawyers, it seems, are never sick or miss work. All of my
(assistants) are way, way above average. It would be very difficult to get
better representation than what we're providing. That's how we've managed
to avoid the crunch."
The Public Defender's Office is not alone in increasing workloads. Blount
General Sessions Judge William Brewer said that the overall number of
cases in the Blount County system is still on the rise.
"I can't tell you the numbers, but there is a lot more criminal cases now
as compared to 2 years ago," he said. "We have a more active probation
office that is, in turn, supervising folks who have been convicted of a
criminal offense and are more actively making sure they comply with the
rules of probation. If they do not, violation of probation warrants are
issued. That has increased the case load. Just in general, the number of
cases has gone up as it has over the years. We've got plenty to do."
According to Circuit Court Clerk Tom Hatcher, whose office oversees
administration for the County Circuit, General Sessions, Juvenile and
Traffic Court divisions, the number of cases filed in Blount County has
grown from 20,668 in the 2002-2003 fiscal year to 29,763 in the 2005-2006
fiscal year. That's a 44 % increase in 4 years.
District Attorney General Mike Flynn said his office is feeling the strain
"We're managing to keep up with the increased workload, but it's not going
to be too much longer until we reach a point where we'll need additional
assistance if this continues," Flynn said.
Currently, Flynn's office employs 6 state-funded assistant district
attorneys and one funded through a driving under the influence (DUI)
grant. Flynn said one of the these assistants is funded by diverting funds
from another authorized position.
"Right now, we're using a criminal investigator slot as an assistant to
keep up with the case load," he said.
There is some hope that Garner's office might be able to get funding for 1
new attorney position from the state. He'll find out in August when the
State Public Defenders Conference meets to discuss how to divvy up 19 new
positions among the 31 districts in the state.
"Given our percentage of the (staffing) deficit is among the highest in
the state, I dearly hope the conference will see fit to allot us one of
the positions," Garner said.
County Commissioner David Graham said that the Public Defender's Office
serves a population that private lawyers don't.
"These are the folks that don't have the means for representation," he
said. "We should really consider looking at (funding a new position)
seriously next budget year."<>P> Garner said his clients are not the only
people being hurt by the workload.
"Victims are having to come back to court 6 or 7 times because the cases
are being reset," he said. "It's not fair to the public. I hope the county
can see fit to (fund) it. We need to make our criminal justice system as
good as the rest of the county. Everybody deserves a lawyer. Everybody
deserves a fair trial. How your case comes out should not depend on
whether you're rich or poor."
(source: The Daily Times)
Attorney: Keep killer alive for study----Expert calls Schwab's bid for
Convicted murderer, pedophile and rapist Mark Dean Schwab should not be
executed so he can remain a living case study, his attorney argued in a
motion for clemency.
"As long as he's alive he is available for psychological research,
examinations and evaluations, which could in the future prevent a person
from becoming so fully mis-oriented as to commit a crime that Mr. Schwab
stands guilty of today," wrote Titusville attorney Kenneth Studstill. "For
that reason and only that reason clemency should be granted."
Studstill called Schwab a "scientific mystery in need of much more
in-depth study." He wants to see his client's death sentence commuted to
life in prison.
Dr. James Herndon, retired staff psychologist for the Orange County
Sheriff's Office, called the attempt "lame."
"It's also pretty vain. It's your typical sociopathic ego," he said. "You
can learn more about him by studying his past. The only person who
benefits by this would be him."
Schwab was convicted in 1991 for kidnapping, raping, torturing and then
killing 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez, who he tried to befriend after
seeing the boy's photo in the newspaper. Schwab called the child's school
pretending to be his father. He had the school relay a message to the boy
to meet him at a nearby field after classes.
He was never seen alive again.
Schwab was sentenced to death for the murder.
"It never ends," said Junny's father, Junny Rios-Martinez Sr., about the
wait to see his son's killer executed. "There's always something else."
The entire clemency process takes between 7 and 8 months. Studstill filed
this motion a few months ago. It will be reviewed by the Parole
Commission, which will make a recommendation to Gov. Charlie Crist.
The victim's mother, Vicki Rios-Martinez, said she has a scheduled meeting
with the governor in September. She and her husband both want to see
Schwab's sentence carried out.
"I think Schwab played out a life for a life. Junny was his sacrifice,"
she said. "He knew what he was doing."
But Studstill, citing testimony from the trial and subsequent penalty
phase, argued that Schwab had little control over his actions.
"It stood unrebutted that Schwab's mental illness controlled him," he
wrote. "Once the defendant acts out his fantasy the theme becomes an
irresistible impulse. This is where he has the incapacity to stop. This
where there are no more negative consequences."
Studstill, who did not return a phone call seeking comment, detailed what
Schwab claimed was an abusive childhood where he, too, was the victim of
rape. The motion describes how, as a child, Schwab would also parade
around his home wearing his mother's outfits, complete with high heels and
State Attorney Norman Wolfinger said it would be fine for scientists to
study Schwab -- after he is executed.
"We have sharks and whales wash up on the beach all the time and
scientists can study them," he said. "I have no objection if they want to
study him after he receives his injection."
Crist has yet to sign any death warrants since a moratorium on executions
was lifted in May. An execution date is not set until after the death
warrant is signed.
Vicki Rios-Martinez called the Studstill memorandum "frivolous" but
conceded that it meant the end was now one step closer.
"What else can they ask for?" she said. "Where else can they go?"
(source: Florida Today)
State moves prisoners to serve near loved ones----The taxpayer-paid trips
are an incentive, officials say. But victims' families are upset.
Convicted murderer Robert Craig, who once sat on Florida's death row, has
gotten a pair of cross-country rides at taxpayer expense so he could be
closer to family.
The 3,000-mile trips incense Toby Farmer, 29, whose own family was wrecked
in 1981 by the cattle-rustling farmhand, 1 of 2 men convicted of the
notorious Wall Sink murders of Lake County rancher John Eubanks and
Farmer's father, Bobby.
"He's already had umpteen more chances than he gave my daddy," said
Farmer, a corrections officer at the Lake County Jail.
Craig benefited from a little-known prisoner-exchange program that in the
past 12 months has shipped 173 Florida inmates to other states to serve
their time. Florida has taken in 177 inmates from elsewhere during the
State officials justify inmate transfers, saying they help maintain order
behind bars and can improve a prisoner's chance to stay straight when
released. But Chief Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway said he was
appalled to learn the state has paid to accommodate Craig's requests -- a
cost of nearly $5,000.
"Considering that the Farmer family was absolutely devastated by this
heartless crime, it is outrageous," Ridgway said. "Mr. [Bobby] Farmer's
wife . . . literally died of a broken heart shortly after, so [their] 2
very young boys essentially became orphans. And now one of the killers
gets to move to be closer to his own family? Outrageous isn't a strong
Craig, 49, whose death sentence was commuted in 1998 to life in prison,
returned to Florida on May 31 from California, where he was allowed to
serve the past 5 years to be near a woman he met and married while on
"We are sympathetic to the concerns of victims' families," said Gretl
Plessinger, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections. "But our
mission is not punitive in nature. Privileges like visitation are
important for prison security, staff safety and inmate well-being."
Prisons can dangle visits as an incentive for an inmate to behave, said
Jeff Mellow, an associate professor at the John Jay College of Criminal
Justice in New York.
"It's the carrot-and-stick approach," he said. "A prisoner who acts up can
lose the privilege of a visit, which is often the only thing he has to
look forward to."
Law-enforcement officials sometimes promise a suspect a transfer to
another state in exchange for testifying against co-defendants.
Florida-bred, Craig had no family in California until Nov. 20, 1998.
On that day, in a civil ceremony at Union Correctional Institution in
Raiford, he married Jeri Lynne Koffel, then 47, a Long Beach, Calif.,
caterer he met when he responded to a query that she sent to a death-row
inmate for a religious-studies class.
She said she flew to visit him twice a month for almost 4 years.
Craig was granted a move to California in April 2002, and the families of
his victims found out months after he was gone.
"We weren't even asked for our opinion," said Bobby Farmer's brother,
Travis, who retired last year from the Sumter County Sheriff's Office
after 31 years.
The Eubanks and Farmer families had no say in his return, either.
According to documents provided by the DOC, Craig asked to come back to
Florida in 2005, saying he had an ailing 83-year-old father in Live Oak
and a brother, Leonard, who had developed Parkinson's disease.
Though Craig's father died last year and his younger brother, John, a
dentist, is serving a jail sentence in Suwannee County for prescription
fraud, he has several other siblings in Florida, including 3 sisters in
Craig's wife recently divorced him, sold her home in California and moved
to New York state, but she thinks he deserves to be in Florida near
She said she can't understand the Farmer family's anger.
"What difference does it make if he's in California, Florida or Timbuktu?
He's in prison and he'll never get out," Jeri Lynne Craig said in a phone
Farmer, 29, and Eubanks, 32, were killed after they became suspicious that
Craig and Robert Schmidt, now 46, were involved in a cattle-rustling
scheme. They were shot in the back of the head and dumped into the deep
and murky waters of Wall Sink with cement blocks tied to them.
Toby Farmer, who was 3 when his father was killed, said Craig should not
only stay in a Florida prison, but die there, too.
"It might be Old Testament, an-eye-for-an-eye kind of thing, but they
should both die [in prison]," he said of the 2 killers. "It's just the way
I feel. They've both gotten far more [consideration] than they deserve."
(source: Orlando Sentinel)
Machinery of death grinds ahead----This man may be innocent. Georgia wants
2 days ago, the state of Georgia issued a death warrant in the case of
Troy Anthony Davis, requiring the state's Department of Corrections to
execute him by lethal injection between July 17 and 24.
There's overwhelming evidence that Davis did not commit the murder for
which he has been sentenced to die. But Georgia's machinery of death is
grinding ahead anyway, despite pleas for mercy from a growing number of
voices including Amnesty International and Nobel Peace Prize winner
Late on the night of Aug. 19, 1989, Davis got into a fight with a man
outside a Burger King next to the Greyhound bus station in Savannah. A
27-year-old cop named Mark Allen MacPhail, moonlighting at the station as
a security guard, ran to the scene and was shot to death.
No murder weapon was ever found, and no physical evidence made it to
trial. But Davis - a 20-year-old tough known on the streets as RAH, for
"rough as hell," was convicted of the grisly killing and sentenced to
death on the strength of 9 witnesses who claimed they saw him do it or
heard him confess to the crime after the fact.
6 of the nine witnesses have since recanted their testimony, according to
the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A witness named Antoine Williams, who
originally testified that he saw Davis pull the trigger, signed a sworn
statement in 2002 that he had "no idea what the person who shot the
officer looks like," and now says he was pressured by cops to finger
Another witness, a woman on parole named Dorothy Ferrell, also signed a
sworn recantation of her original testimony. "I don't know which of the
guys did the shooting because I didn't see that part," she now says. "I
was still scared that if I didn't cooperate with the detective, then he
might find a way to have me locked up again."
A man named Jeffrey Sapp, who testified to hearing Davis brag about the
shooting the day after the murder, also signed a recantation and says cops
pressured him. "None of that was true," he now says of his original
Another man who claimed Davis confessed to him now says he made up the
story out of spite because Davis once spat in his face while both were in
Sensing a pattern?
Stephen Sanders, who was at the Burger King when the shots rang out,
originally told cops he couldn't identify the shooter except by the color
of his clothes - but ended up naming Davis as the shooter at the trial,
and is now ducking requests for interviews.
And last but not least, one of the key witnesses, Sylvester (Red) Coles -
who originally went to police and named Davis as the shooter - is probably
the real killer, according to Davis' lawyers. Coles never told cops he
owned a .38 revolver, the kind used in the murder, and 3 people have come
forward to say they heard Coles take credit for the killing.
"Red said he killed a policeman and a guy named Troy took the fall for
it," one of these witnesses says.
But none of these facts can change Davis' sentence, thanks to the federal
Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which puts a time
limit on when evidence can be admitted in state death penalty cases.
Davis didn't have the aggressive legal help needed to round up witnesses
in time: Georgia is the only state in the union that doesn't guarantee
death row prisoners a lawyer during crucial points in the appeals process.
Those who want to help save Davis' life - a commutation would still leave
him in prison without parole - should write a short note to the Georgia
Board of Pardons and Paroles and send it to Amnesty International, 730
Peachtree St., Suite 1060, Atlanta, Ga. 30308. The letter can be faxed to
Please send your note soon. Enough voices raised might just give Davis the
room he needs to prove his innocence - and stop the mad rush to execution
that stains American justice.
(source: New York Daily News)
Man Convicted Of Killing Officer In 1989 Set To Die----Human Rights Groups
Challenging The Execution
The Department of Corrections has announced that a man convicted of
killing a Savannah police officer in 1989 will be executed July 17th.
The execution date was set after a Chatham County Superior Court judge
signed 38-year-old Troy Anthony Davis' death warrant.
Davis is on death row for the August 19th, 1989, shooting death of
Savannah police officer Mark Allen McPhail, who was killed while
responding to an altercation.
Court records say Davis shot into a car in a Savannah subdivision and
struck a man in the head, severely injuring him. A few hours later, court
records say, he struck another man in the head with a gun in a Savannah
parking lot, where he soon encountered the officer.
Human rights groups have challenged Davis' conviction, citing race issues
and witnesses who have recanted their testimony in the case.
One group, Amnesty International, said in a statement earlier this week
that it believes Davis should be granted a new hearing by the U-S Supreme
Court, which refused on Monday to hear Davis' latest appeal.
The group said that Davis, who is black, was convicted of killing McPhail,
who is white, without any physical evidence.
Amnesty International also says several witnesses have implicated another
man in the murder.
Previous appeals by Davis have failed.
Davis' execution would be the 2nd in Georgia this year. John Hightower was
given a lethal injection on Tuesday for killing his wife and 2
stepdaughters in Milledgeville in 1987.
(source: Associated Press)
Victims' families feel they're put through death row wringer
For years, Karen Schmidt replayed in her mind her brother James Thimm's
grisly murder at the hands of cult members in 1985, compulsively marking
the macabre anniversaries.
5 years ago today, she would recall, they shot him in the face. 10 years
ago today, they shot off his fingertips.
Her brother's killer, Michael Ryan, was sentenced to die for the
torture-slaying of Thimm on a survivalist farm near Rulo, Neb. But Schmidt
and her family were condemned to live with the case forever. Each appeal
from death row reawakened her grief; each call from reporters restarted
the tape player in her head.
It's been 21 years since Ryan was sentenced to die. The sense of relief
and justice that Schmidt felt that day in the Richardson County Courthouse
has long since given way to disappointment.
Ryan, who also killed 5-year-old Luke Stice at Rulo, remains on Nebraska's
"I'm really frustrated at the whole system," said Schmidt, a junior high
art teacher in Manhattan, Kan., adding, "After 20 years, this is not
justice. I'm not asking for vengeance, I'm asking for justice."
A capital case brings its own special pain to the victims' relatives. When
a case drags on, it denies them a timely resolution. And when death
sentences and execution dates are overturned or postponed which happens
in Nebraska far more frequently than executions family members feel
robbed of justice or emotionally drained.
Families quickly learn that death penalty cases are seemingly endless.
Even when an execution looks inevitable as it did this spring with Carey
Dean Moore it can hit a legal roadblock. And the case is once again up
for appeal, the sentence unfulfilled.
After 27 years on death row, Moore came within days of being executed in
May, before the Nebraska Supreme Court withdrew the death warrant it had
issued only weeks earlier. The high court stayed the execution because of
a pending case challenging the constitutionality of the electric chair.
"The system failed again. They're going to do it, they're not going to do
it. They need to make up their minds," said Mary Carlisle, daughter of
Reuel Van Ness Jr., one of two Omaha cabdrivers killed by Moore in 1979.
The other was Maynard Helgeland.
In interviews, about a dozen relatives of murder victims told of their
frustration with the court system, the fear that their loved ones were
being forgotten in the legal mumbo jumbo and, for some, the ambiguity
they feel toward the death penalty. Several said they could support a life
sentence if they could truly believe it would guarantee the killer dies in
Nationally, it takes about 11 years to execute someone on death row. In
Nebraska, it took an average of 15.5 years for the 3 men executed in the
Of the 10 currently on Nebraska's death row, 2 have been there longer than
20 years: Moore (27) and Ryan (21). The 3rd-longest resident is John
Lotter, at 11 years.
The frustration surrounding death sentences is one reason why New Jersey
is considering becoming the 1st state to overturn capital punishment since
reinstating it in 1973. A state commission, which called for abolishing
capital punishment, concluded that protracted death penalty cases hurt
surviving family members, drain resources and create a false sense of
The death penalty tortures survivors with endless appeals, said Kathleen
Garcia, a member of the New Jersey commission. Garcia voted to abolish the
death penalty in her state, even though she strongly supports it in
More victim profiles
A real estate broker, Abboud was 40 years old and had 4 young children
when he was killed in 1975. C. Michael Anderson, one of Abboud's
employees, paid Peter Hochstein $1,500 to kill Abboud. Hochstein shot
Abboud twice in the back and once in the head in a vacant lot in west
Omaha. The death sentences for Hochstein and Anderson were commuted to
life in prison.
This Iowa farm wife was preparing for a golfing trip to South Dakota when
Robert E. Williams of Lincoln, who had already killed 2 women in Nebraska,
walked into her farmhouse in 1977. Rowe was raped and shot. Her husband,
Wayne, found her bloody body on their bed. Virginia Rowe was 51. Williams
was executed in 1997.
Reuel Van Ness Jr. and Maynard Helgeland:
They were shot to death four days apart in 1979 by Carey Dean Moore. Van
Ness, 47, who worked several part-time jobs to support his family of 10,
was driving a cab the night of Aug. 22. He was shot three times in the
back. Moore dumped the body near Standing Bear Lake in northwest Omaha.
Cabdriver Helgeland, 47, a father of 3, was shot Aug. 26. He was found in
his taxi parked near 22nd and Leavenworth Streets. Moore has been on death
row 27 years.
Zimmerman and his wife lived in an apartment over his Grand Island, Neb.,
coin shop. In 1979, Charles Jess Palmer bound Zimmerman's hands and feet,
beat him and strangled him. He was 59. Monica Zimmerman, the victim's
wife, found his body. Palmer died on death row.As it is administered in
New Jersey, Garcia and others say, the death penalty brings more pain to
victims' family members than if the condemned had been given a life
"Every time they have to go through one of these court processes, it
brings everything to the surface again. It's just like pouring salt over
their wounds," Garcia said.
For her part, Schmidt is "offended" at the suggestion that the death
penalty causes more pain for the families than it is worth. Even though
she is conflicted about capital punishment she has come to believe it is
not civilized she believes a life sentence would bring its own pain and
set of legal appeals.
Daneda Heppner, a Schmidt cousin, said a life sentence would not be
justified in a case like Thimm's that involved 3 to 4 days of torture.
"A life sentence would devalue the lives of the victims. It would tell me
they were not worth enough for us to take drastic action, to end the
cruelty," said Heppner, who lives in Denton, Neb., and continues to
monitor the Ryan case on behalf of the Schmidt family.
There appear to be no substantive scientific studies on the impact that
death penalty cases have on the victims' families. But there are experts
on the impact of violent deaths on family survivors.
Death by murder does not give the family any time to prepare. It strips
the family of privacy, with the state and the public learning all the
details, said Dr. Ted Rynearson, medical director of Separation and Loss
Services at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.
It is common for family members to relive the crime over and over, to try
to make sense of it. Typically, after four to six months, they get a
handle on these "unbidden flashbacks," Rynearson said.
For some people, especially mothers, the recurring images can haunt their
thoughts for 5 or more years, Rynearson said.
Schmidt said one of the most difficult things about the memories is
knowing the burden they place on family and friends. Some questioned why
the family went to Ryan's trial and read newspaper clippings.
They didn't understand the family's love for James Thimm who was raised
by the Schmidt family from his infancy and the fear he would be
forgotten, she said.
"You finally have to stop talking about it, because people don't want to
hear it. We did lose friends over it. They'll tell you, flat out, 'We
don't want to hear about it,'" Schmidt said.
Monica Zimmerman of Grand Island, Neb., understands Schmidt's pain and
conflict. Zimmerman endured 3 trials and 27 years of uncertainty before
her husband's killer died of heart failure last year on death row.
In March 1979, she returned home after work to find the family's toy
poodle standing guard over her husband's bloody, beaten body. Eugene
Zimmerman, a coin dealer, had been strangled by Charles Jess Palmer, who
had been suspected of killing another coin dealer in his home state of
Monica Zimmerman said the ups and downs of the legal proceedings kept her
on edge. Whenever an appeal would surface, so would the old nightmares.
A life sentence might have spared her the endless appeals, Zimmerman said,
but she would have always feared Palmer would find a way out of prison.
With a death sentence, he was forced to fight to try to save his life.
"You always have that fear, that his latest (appeal) was going to work.
Something was going to happen. He was going to make it this time," said
Zimmerman, now 84.
For some, there is finality.
Wayne Rowe's wait for his wife's killer to die ended after 20 years when
Robert E. Williams sat in Nebraska's electric chair in 1997. Williams had
raped and shot Rowe's wife of 33 years, Virginia Rowe, during a 4-state
crime spree that ended with the deaths of 3 women.
Rowe found his wife's nude, bloody body in their upstairs bedroom in rural
Sioux Rapids, Iowa. For years afterward, Rowe and his son, Tom Rowe,
closely followed the case. Every time an execution date or an appeal came
up, the family would relive the crime.
"You were just starting to get on with your life you never forget; you
live it day by day but than something would come up, and it was like that
day all over again, the day my mom was killed," said Tom Rowe of Freeport,
When Williams was finally executed, the family found a sense of peace. "It
was like closing a book," said Wayne Rowe, who now lives in Spencer, Iowa.
Robert Blecker, a New York Law School professor and supporter of the death
penalty, said more families of homicide victims should experience the
finality felt by the Rowes. In some of the worst cases, he said, capital
punishment is the only sentence that makes sense and provides justice.
"They know it's wrong that their loved one's killers actually are enjoying
life, watching baseball on TV in prison," Blecker said.
In Nebraska, however, more families are likely to experience the pain of
having a death sentence commuted than witnessing an execution.
Of the 31 sentenced to die since 1975, only 3 have been executed. Thirteen
had their sentences commuted for a variety of reasons, 2 others were found
to be mentally retarded and others died on death row. In several cases,
prosecutors agreed to sentences of life without parole after the original
death sentence was overturned many years after the crime.
The killers of Joann Abboud's husband had their death sentences commuted
to life. Ronald Abboud, an Omaha real estate broker, was shot in an open
field in 1975 as part of a contract killing arranged by a disgruntled
Peter Hochstein, the contract killer, and C. Michael Anderson, the
employee, were sentenced to death in 1978. 23 years later, their sentences
were commuted to life after the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that a
3-judge panel had to be unanimous on death sentences. The panel that had
sentenced Hochstein and Anderson to die split 2-1.
The family was "extremely disappointed" by the commutations, said Joann
Abboud. The entire case has been a source of anguish and pain, she said,
and the commutations only compounded the pain. She fears they will one day
If Hochstein and Anderson could find a way to avoid the electric chair,
she reasoned, they could find a way to get out of prison.
After 21 years, Karen Schmidt worries that she may one day find herself in
Abboud's shoes. At one point, Schmidt indicated she could accept a life
sentence without parole. At another, she seemed to say anything short of
death would be an injustice.
She acknowledged she is conflicted.
"This is an emotional matter for me. I can't be 100 % logical, because
this is so close to my heart," Schmidt said a few days before placing
flowers on her brother's grave in a rural Beatrice cemetery.
(source: Omaha Herald-Tribune)
A path to healing, but not legislation
10 years ago today, when Kentucky carried out its 1st execution in 35
years, I thought there was a reasonable doubt about the guilt of the
No doubt that Harold McQueen, blotto on drugs and booze, had been part of
the convenience store robbery in Richmond that left a wonderful young
woman, Rebecca O'Hearn, dead.
But doubt about whether he or his half-brother was the shooter. The family
hired a lawyer for the half-brother, who went to prison and was paroled
after 11 years.
McQueen, a loser from the day he was born "prematurely to a teenager
married to an alcoholic," got a court-appointed lawyer whose dim
representation provides a textbook example of why the poor populate death
Carl Wedekind doesn't get into any of that in Politics, Religion and
Death: Memoir of a Lobbyist, though the book opens with McQueen's case.
Instead, Wedekind gracefully weaves the true story of 2 broken souls: the
convicted murderer McQueen, a diminutive man with an 82 IQ, handlebar
mustache and amazing mane, and Paul Stevens, a devout Catholic whose
daughter was brutally murdered.
After years of bitterness and anger, Stevens rediscovered his God and
became a volunteer chaplain at the prison in Eddyville. McQueen and
Stevens find forgiveness and peace through their unlikely father-son
And Wedekind, a retired corporate lawyer, finds himself part of the small
movement to end capital punishment after volunteering on the legal team
that failed to stop McQueen's execution.
This book, his second on the subject, was published by the Kentucky
Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. But it's not a polemic and is free
of statistics, legalisms and morbid preaching. Considering the topic, it's
quite a lively read, especially if you're into Kentucky history and
Wedekind chronicles trying to build a movement and lobbying the 2000
General Assembly. Among the more memorable scenes: the day he and Catholic
priest Pat Delahanty called on Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, the current
Republican nominee for attorney general. Arms raised, Lee told them not to
worry, that with the arrival of Christ, the good and evil would be sorted
with no appeal and 1,000 years of goodness would begin.
>From this encounter Wedekind seamlessly segues into a short history of
Protestantism in Kentucky and the Cane Run revival of 1801, when 25,000
pioneers, rapturously awaiting the Millennium, sang, prayed and spoke in
tongues at the largest revival the West had ever seen.
Meeting Lee was "a direct greeting from the Second Awakening."
Such insights make this book very engaging.
(source: Jamie Lucke is a member of the Herald-Leader editorial board)
Making sense of senseless killings on TV
Any man who has been in a relationship with a woman knows that women can
get on your last nerves. Some women are masters at it, but like athlete's
foot, we learn to deal with it. We don't kill them. We don't kill
Three unconnected, mind-boggling, but similar family-related murders
during the past few weeks have been hard to ignore. Christopher Vaughn, an
Illinois computer forensic adviser, has been accused of killing his wife
and 3 kids. Ohio police officer Bobby Lee Cutts Jr. has been accused of
killing his ex-girlfriend and mother of his 2-year-old son and his unborn
daughter. Chris Benoit, a WWE professional wrestler living in Georgia is
suspected of killing his wife, his son and himself.
While no one has been convicted, authorities feel confident in their
evidence and have made arrests in two cases, and a suspect in the third
case was found hanged in his home. Since the "who" question -- a computer
forensic adviser, a cop, and a professional wrestler -- appears to have
been answered, the next question is "why?"
Why do men kill their families? Why do men who are angry with women have
to include their own children in the killing? Being broke and divorced but
free would seem to be a definite better option than sitting on death row.
Why not just run away, leaving skid marks?
It's been explained by some experts that some men just get tired of their
families and take the quick way out by killing them. It wasn't always that
way. Throughout most of the 1800s it was legal for a man to admit his wife
into an insane asylum with a stroke of a pen. She didn't necessarily have
to be insane, either, just annoying. While divorce is still a legal
option, it has been suggested that that process may take too long, be too
expensive, and not provide the finality some men may want. It appears at
least one of the 3 men achieved that finality by taking his own life.
Lacking the patience, interest, or qualifications to figure out why some
men kill their families, I had to ask myself if I could ever under any
circumstances consider doing such a thing. After thinking about it for a
while, there isn't a woman alive worth going to jail for, and no child
should ever be killed.
Of the three family murders, the one I found most intriguing was of the
pregnant woman and her soon-to-be-born child who were allegedly killed by
her ex-boyfriend. Not only did he kill them, he solicited an accomplice
after the fact. Without a second thought, there is no way I could ever
help anyone dispose of a dead body or hide any evidence. If you do the
crime by yourself, then cover it up by yourself.
More bewildering than the murders themselves is how could anyone even
consider getting involved after a murder? I can understand the temporary
insanity some people suffer just before committing a crime, but to get
involved after the crime has been done? There is just no conceivable
rationale for getting involved. No amount of love or money.
Not to make light of such a serious, needless end of innocent lives, but
to try and make sense of the stupidity of someone getting involved after a
crime, this rhetorical conversation came to mind.
"Hello. Myisha? This is me, Cutts. Remember me from high school?"
"Hello. Yeah, this is me. What's going on?"
"Hey, umm, look. I just killed my ex-girlfriend and our unborn baby. Could
you come over and help me get rid of them? Oh, and bring a few gallons of
"OK. Are you at her house now or somewhere else? Do you want Clorox, or
should I get just any cheap brand from the 99 cents store? By the way, do
you have blankets, and is your vehicle big enough, or should I rent a
There is not one person I have ever known, dead or alive, with whom I
would ever have had or would have such a conversation.
These murders may meet the criteria for capital punishment, but in the
cases where the males survived, there is a better way to exact justice.
They should spend the rest of their days in jail thinking about what they
did and facing the possibility that they will ultimately deal with bigger
criminals who draw the line at hurting innocent women and children.
(source: Ron Jackson is a regular Daily Journal columnist from Kankakee)
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