[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----VA., S. DAK.. MD., OHIO
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Jul 9 09:56:43 CDT 2007
When your job is taking a life
For 17 years, Jerry B. Givens led the nation's 2nd-busiest execution
team, putting to death 64 men deemed so dangerous or depraved that their
lives were forfeited.
Unlike soldiers and others sanctioned to take life, Givens and his
colleagues worked anonymously with no acclaim or public thanks. There are
things he wants people to know.
"I'm not a cold-blooded killer. . . . I did it for the commonwealth," he
says. And, he adds, working in the death house "isn't about being tough."
Taking life has affected him in ways he finds difficult to articulate.
"I am not a robot," he explains.
Givens served 25 years with the Virginia Department of Corrections,
reaching the rank of captain. His career ended in 1999 when he was
convicted of federal perjury and money-laundering charges and served 4
years behind bars.
Now 54 and graying, he is out of prison, denies any wrongdoing and
believes it is the state's turn to help him. "The only thing that I want
is what is fair. . . . I want to have a normal life like everyone," he
He said he would go back to work for the Department of Corrections and
would even assist with executions. The department, however, says felons
cannot be officers because they cannot carry a firearm.
Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information
Center, said that in modern times several people involved in executions
have gone public after retiring, including former wardens in Mississippi
"I think it is rare for the head of the execution team to be public,"
Dieter said. As far as is known, no member of the Virginia team has ever
spoken to the media before.
Tears flow at times when Givens talks about his work in the state's death
houses -- first at the former Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond and
then the Greensville Correctional Center, where the electric chair was
moved in 1991.
Givens initially electrocuted people. Then, starting in 1995, he also
conducted lethal injections. Though there were 9 or more officers on
the team, Givens said it was he who pushed the button and performed the
Among those he dispatched were serial killers, rampage killers,
psychopaths, rapists and sadists.
Givens never focused on the crimes.
"I tell you what I did," he said, his voice breaking. "All of my condemned
. . . I prayed for them. I told them that they had to get themselves
together because at 11 o'clock they were going either to see their maker
or going elsewhere."
"Before I cut their hair, I put my hand on their head and I prayed for
them. I told my team to pray because before and after an execution, this
will help to get through this. Because if not . . . it will affect you."
Robert Johnson, a professor of justice, law and society at American
University in Washington, and author of "Death Work, A Study of the Modern
Execution Process," knows that work on an execution team is stressful.
Johnson has known Givens for years and interviewed him for the book. "He's
a good man," Johnson said. "Givens was a pretty strong figure on the team
. . . and it's still a big part of his life, thinking back on those days
and making sense of them."
Johnson says that being on an execution team is hard work. "They train a
great deal trying to make the process sort of as mechanical and rote as
possible so that it becomes more or less automatic -- the procedures at
While executions are open to only a small number of witnesses, among those
on hand are top officials of the Corrections Department. "If they make a
mistake, it would be terrible for the inmate and also an embarrassment for
the department," Johnson said.
"And they're also taking human life," he added. By the time an execution
looms, the condemned is often far less of a threat than at the time of
sentencing. Johnson believes executioners have to wrestle with their
"The impression I had was that people were sort of suppressing their own
feelings about this business to protect themselves."
Givens was born in Richmond and raised a Baptist. He played football at
John F. Kennedy High School, from which he graduated in 1972. In 1974, he
went to work for the Corrections Department at the old state penitentiary
on Spring Street.
The U.S. Supreme Court had barred executions 2 years before. In 1977,
Virginia reinstated capital punishment, and an execution team was formed.
Though team members are volunteers, Givens insists, "they came to me."
At the first team meeting, "they said to us . . . what we say down here,
stays down here. We all took a oath."
The identity of the officers who perform executions is a closely guarded
secret. State law requires the identities of anyone conducting an
execution be kept confidential and exempt from discovery through the
state's Freedom of Information Act. Givens was the 1st and apparently
only member of Virginia's team to be publicly identified. It slipped out
and was reported in a story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch when he was
convicted in 1999.
Once the team was assembled, he said, "we practiced and practiced and
"You try to prepare a guy because you didn't want him to decide to go out
fighting," he said. Instead, he wanted them to "go out with some dignity
and that's what we did."
Givens did not go into details, but said: "I always look at it this way: .
. . All my condemned attend their own wake."
He said that preparing for an execution was stressful, and that he had to
stay focused and, in a sense, become another person.
"How can I be myself? I'm not a natural killer," he said. "These people
haven't done anything to me. I'm not doing it out of revenge."
The first was Frank J. Coppola, a former altar boy and Portsmouth police
officer who beat a bound woman to death during a 1978 burglary of her
Newport News home.
Givens pushed a button, and Coppola was pronounced dead Aug. 10, 1982, at
11:27 p.m., ushering in the state's modern era of capital punishment.
Givens recalls other high-profile cases such as Richmond's deadly Briley
brothers, James and Linwood; serial rapist/killer Timothy Wilson Spencer,
aka "The South Side Strangler;" and Joseph O'Dell, whose claims of
innocence sparked international attention.
"Guys like that you don't forget," he said.
His last execution was in 1999, and he went to prison the following year.
He was released in 2004 and is adamant he did nothing wrong.
He said the experience has shaken his faith in prosecutors and has made
him wonder if he executed someone who was innocent -- but it hasn't shaken
his belief in the death penalty.
Marie Deans of Charlottesville, former director of the now defunct
Virginia Coalition on Jails and Prisons, is a strong death-penalty
opponent who spent time with many condemned inmates during their last days
She got to know execution team members, including Givens.
"I learned a lot about life and death in the death house -- and I learned
a lot I wish I didn't know," she said. "I'm sure they learned even more
they wished they didn't know."
Being on the execution team was seen as a prestigious job. "I think a lot
of them went for it for that reason," Deans said.
But she said, some volunteers "find out when they get there what it's all
about and they can't back out. [They] get trapped."
She believes the longer one stayed on the team, the greater the emotional
impact. But with each execution, she said, "some of them really turned
around. Something was going on that was making them more and more humane."
Givens was among them, she believes.
Deans has not seen Givens in years but wonders if they might have
something in common as a result of working in the death house:
post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Before I had a doctor talk to me, I thought, 'I'm going crazy.' You hold
on and you hold so tight that it just gets worse because you don't know
what in the hell is going on and what's happening to you."
The Department of Corrections has counseling available for team members.
"But those guys would not'fess up to having any problems at all," she
said, adding that some developed problems with alcohol while others had
Givens does not know if he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He
said the work did cause some problems in his marriage, but he never drank
or used drugs.
"If you drink, you could escape it, or you could escape it for a while,
but the problem's going to still be there. You have to be strong."
He recalls seeing a doctor around the time he was sentenced and then for a
"I told him, 'I believe I can maintain it.' I [had] learned how to be
Givens, now driving a truck, has contacted Department of Corrections
officials about going back to work there. He said that as a supervisor he
did not carry a weapon.
He is also exploring the possibility of getting some form of assistance
from the state for the extraordinary work he performed, but needs a lawyer
to help him. Meanwhile, he is writing a book. He says the title will be:
"Another Day Is Not Promised."
"That's what I used to tell them," he said of the condemned. "Another day
is not promised to none of us, but the guys on death row, they knew . . .
they could not make plans for the next day."
(source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)
Page excecution will not be held before Wednesday
Elijah Page, scheduled to die this week for a 2000 slaying in the Black
Hills, probably be executed Wednesday at the earliest.
State officials must give public notice of the time and date of his
execution at least 48 hours in advance. As of 11 p.m. Sunday, there was no
word on when Page will be executed.
Page's death will be the state's first execution in 60 years and comes
10 1/4 months after Gov. Mike Rounds delayed the inmate's 1st execution
date because of legal concerns about the combination of drugs that prison
officials planned to use in the lethal injection.
Rounds postponed Page's planned last Aug. 29, execution because of his
concerns that a 1984 state law requiring the use of a two-drug mixture in
executions could put prison officials at legal risk if they instead
administered a three-drug combination that has become standard in lethal
In February, state lawmakers amended the law to allow prison officials to
use whatever lethal injection mixture they choose, clearing the way for
the executions of Page and the state's three other death row inmates to
Page, 25, of Athens, Texas, has ended all appeals and asked to die for the
brutal murder of Chester Allan Poage, 19, near Spearfish.
(source: Argus Leader)
Elijah Page is scheduled to be executed this week. It's the 1st South
Dakota execution in 60 years. Gov. Mike Rounds delayed it last year so
that the law regarding lethal injection could be brought up to date.
But in many states, that "up to date" method is still very controversial.
In fact, 11 states have holds on their executions until the lethal
injection procedures are examined and approved in court.
The South Dakota Legislature changed the law so that the lethal injection
can be administered using three drugs, which is the most common procedure
in the country.
Drug #1 is an sedative called Sodium Pentothal. That's meant to put the
inmate into a deep sleep.
Drug #2 is a paralytic agent called Pancuronium bromide. That's meant to
paralyze the inmate and collapse his lungs.
Drug #3 is a Toxic agent called Potassium chloride. That's meant to stop
The drugs are now being contested in the courts.
"What we have observed is scientific journals and doctors testifying that
based on their autopsies of people that were executed, that a number of
inmates may have been conscious. Not properly under anesthetics," Richard
Those doctors believe that if not enough of the anesthetic is
administered, and drug #2 paralyzes the inmate, then no one can tell
whether the inmate is fully asleep and unable to feel the pain of drug #3
rushing through his body.
"The second 2 drugs are the problem if the first drug isn't administered
correctly," Dieter said.
Dieter is the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center,
an organization that doesn't take a stance on the death penalty, but is
critical of how it's carried out.
He's paying close attention to the 11 states that now are holding off on
all executions until the courts decide whether the lethal injection is
cruel and unusual punishment.
"Inmates have challenged the lethal injection process, and courts have
said there are legitimate grounds, that at least these things should be
reviewed through hearings," Dieter said.
Dieter says one problem is the fact that state-to-state, corrections
departments are inconsistent on the amount of each drug they administer in
the lethal injection process.
"Without a doctor, you're always at risk of doing it in a botched way or
ineffective way. So I think that is the crux of the problem," Dieter said.
Doctors and anethesiologists likely are not present at executions, because
doctors' code of ethics prohibits them from participating in executions.
So, in many cases, prison guards are trained to do it. The South Dakota
Department of Corrections doesn't release who administers the procedure,
just that the individuals must be "properly trained."
We also have no way of checking up on whether enough of each drug is used
in South Dakota, because the DOC doesn't release that information either.
Dieter would like to see the lethal injection procedure updated.
"In the medical field, there have been considerable advances. Even in
veterinary field, they don't use these drugs on animals anymore," Dieter
In his last court hearing a year ago, Elijah Page's lawyer explained to
him the possibilty of feeling pain during the procedure. Page said he
doesn't care and wants to die anyway. Dieter believes that shouldn't be
good enough for the state.
"Just saying we changed the law isn't and adversarial process. And the
fact this inmate Elijah Page wants to be executed, shouldn't be the
deciding factor in whether an execution goes forward. We don't want to
execute people cruelly, even if they want to be executed cruelly," Dieter
So even though the South Dakota Legislature changed law in order for this
execution to take place, it's still happening under the same circumstances
that has many states deciding to wait.
The most recent polls find that as many as six out of 10 Americans favor
of the death penalty for those convicted of murder. A bill that would have
eliminated the death penalty quickly died this year in the Legislature.
(source: Keloland TV News)
Maryland delays new death penalty rules
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has delayed issuing new rules that would
allow the state to resume carrying out executions.
O'Malley's decision comes more than 6 months after Maryland's highest
court ordered a moratorium on executions in the state, The Washington Post
reported Sunday. The decision blocks the executions of 6 inmates on
Death Row, and has angered victims' advocates and others who are lobbying
for a resumption of executions.
O'Malley said his administration may wait until next year to end the
moratorium on capital punishment that has been in place in Maryland since
The moratorium was imposed because of allegedly improper lethal injection
procedures, the Post reported.
Authorities are also reexamining the laws under which inmates are rendered
eligible for execution in Maryland.
(source: United Press International)
OHIO----female could get death penalty
Moonda could get death penalty but Bradford only 15 years
Donna Moonda could get the death penalty for arranging her husband's
Damian Bradford, who actually pulled the trigger, could get out of prison
in as little as 15 years if everything breaks the way he hopes.
If any part of the Moonda murder prosecution bothers ordinary citizens, it
is the relatively lenient sentence that the U.S. attorney has recommended
for Mr. Bradford.
Mr. Bradford and Mrs. Moonda both killed for money, but federal
prosecutors regarded her as more morally responsible for the crime.
Mr. Bradford, now 26, had only seen Dr. Gulam Moonda a couple of times
before he shot him to death on the Ohio Turnpike.
Mrs. Moonda, 48, had been married to the doctor for 14 years when she
began plotting his murder and looking for a hired killer. In short,
prosecutors believed that Mrs. Moonda put the whole sordid plot in motion,
and that Mr. Bradford was greedy enough to carry it out.
The 2nd phase of her trial, in which jurors will decide whether to
sentence her to death or life in prison, begins next Monday. U.S. District
Judge David Dowd said he expects 2 or 3 days of testimony before the
question of her punishment goes to the jury.
As for Mr. Bradford, he still has to be sentenced by Judge Dowd, who is
not bound by the terms of the plea bargain.
Michael DeRiso, Mr. Bradford's lawyer, said he hopes the judge will impose
the 171/2-year sentence recommended by prosecutors. Mr. Bradford might not
serve even that much time if he behaves himself in prison.
Mr. Bradford already has been in jail for 15 months since his arrest and
guilty plea. The time he has served would count toward whatever sentence
Judge Dowd imposes.
If Judge Dowd imposes the 17 1/2-year sentence recommended by prosecutors,
Mr. Bradford could have 2 ways of shortening it.
First, he could receive a reduction of 52 days for every year served if he
is a model prisoner credited with "good time."
Mr. Bradford also might be eligible for a 1-year reduction if Judge Dowd
recommends him for a drug treatment program and federal prison
administrators agree to accept him.
"What a deal. He could be out of prison when he is 39 years old," said
Roger Synenberg, Mrs. Moonda's lawyer.
The plea bargain, though controversial, was acceptable to Dr. Moonda's
relatives, Mr. DeRiso said.
"People have to understand that the family approved the deal that I got
Damian. Any plea bargain of this magnitude is done with the victims'
consent," Mr. DeRiso said.
Mr. Bradford's testimony helped convict Mrs. Moonda. But it also
demonstrated that he twice plotted with her to kill Dr. Moonda, and that
he committed the murder after considerable premeditation.
Mr. Bradford said their first plan was to murder Dr. Moonda at his mosque
in Youngstown, Ohio, during the early part of 2005.
In his sworn testimony, Mr. Bradford said he talked on a cell phone with
Mrs. Moonda as he waited for the doctor to emerge from the mosque.
By Mr. Bradford's account, she said Dr. Moonda might be with another
physician, Dr. Iftikhar Chatha.
Mr. Bradford said Mrs. Moonda told him to kill them both if he had to.
But after sizing up the situation, Mr. Bradford said, he aborted the
murder plan at the mosque.
He followed Dr. Moonda back to his office near Hermitage, Pa., then went
to meet with Donna Moonda at the home she shared with her husband.
Mr. Bradford said he suggested that they kill Dr. Moonda when he returned
home, but Mrs. Moonda vetoed the idea. She said a family trip on the Ohio
Turnpike was coming up, and they would kill her husband then.
That trip, which occurred May 13, 2005, was the last day of Dr. Moonda's
life. Mrs. Moonda suddenly pulled off the turnpike that evening. Mr.
Bradford, who was tailing the Moondas, parked behind her, then robbed and
killed Dr. Moonda with a bullet to the face.
She told police the killer was a mysterious robber.
On his return drive to Pennsylvania after murdering Dr. Moonda, Mr.
Bradford said he smoked a cigarette and spoke on his cell phone with
clients in his drug-dealing business. He testified that he wanted to bury
the memory of what he had just done.
"At the time he didn't have remorse, but in my opinion he does now," Mr.
Mr. DeRiso also said prosecutors probably could not have convicted Mrs.
Moonda without Mr. Bradford's help.
"He stood up there and told the truth, knowing that a lot of it made him
look bad," Mr. DeRiso said.
He also said that Mr. Bradford's detailed account was valuable to people
who cared about Dr. Moonda.
"I think the family first and foremost wanted to know what truly happened.
That has occurred, so they're not going to come to court and say Damian
shouldn't get the deal."
Judge Dowd, of course, does not have to accept the plea agreement.
He made that point during Mrs. Moonda's trial, when her lawyers described
Mr. Bradford's 17 1/2-year sentence as a done deal.
Judge Dowd has not yet scheduled sentencing for Mr. Bradford. The judge
wanted to see if he kept his promise to testify truthfully in Mrs.
Right now, it appears that Mr. Bradford has a chance to have a long life
Still, Mr. DeRiso said, Mr. Bradford has many hard years ahead.
"This has been a high-profile case, and people are going to be gunning for
this kid," he said.
(source: Pittsburgh Post-Tribune)
Improve Method of Executions
It matters not that the way Joseph Clark died was unusual. Beyond any
reasonable doubt, it was cruel.
Clark was executed by the state of Ohio in May 2006. He had committed
heinous crimes: In 1984, he launched a 9-day, 1-man crime wave in
Toledo, staging robberies in order to obtain money for illegal drugs. One
day, he killed a convenience store clerk during a robbery. The next day,
he murdered a gas station attendant. He was sentenced to death for his
But when the time came to carry out the sentence, Ohio prison officials
and personnel botched it badly. It took nearly 90 minutes from the time
they began attempting to kill Clark before they finally succeeded in doing
so by lethal injection.
Personnel handling the execution at first could not find a suitable vein
into which to inject the lethal chemicals. The vein they settled on
collapsed, forcing them to try again. Then, according to reports, they
apparently injected the legal drugs into the wrong IV line.
At one point, Clark raised himself up on the table to which he had been
secured, and announced to the execution staff, "It don't work."
Later, as Clark's agony became more apparent to those witnessing the
execution, he begged, "Can you just give me something by mouth to end
Clark's family is suing the state of Ohio. They are seeking $150,000 in
financial damages - but the key to their action is a demand that the state
change its system of executing prisoners.
So persuasive is their case that Michael Manning, the brother of the gas
station attendant Clark killed, has joined them in appealing for a change.
Manning witnessed Clark's execution. "Nobody should have to die a horrible
death," he told a judge.
Opinions concerning whether capital punishment is acceptable differ
greatly. However, most people agree that cruel and unusual should not be
part of any level of punishment for a crime.
Ohio officials shouldn't wait for the Clark's lawsuit to be resolved. They
should find some means of ensuring that executions in the future are not
handled so badly.
(source: The (W. Va.) Intelligencer)
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