[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----TEXAS., FLA., GA., N.Y.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Jul 21 20:24:08 CDT 2007
Capital punishment support diminishing
"I don't think we'll ever know."
That's how Sam Millsap now describes what he thinks about Ruben Cantu's
guilt. I suspect that Millsap is correct.
Cantu, a San Antonio man, was convicted of capital murder in 1985 and
executed in 1993 by lethal injection in Huntsville. Millsap was the Bexar
County district attorney at the time of Cantu's trial. He now opposes the
The Cantu case became headline news when reports by the Houston Chronicle
and the San Antonio Express-News raised serious questions about Cantu's
actual guilt. The recent 183-page report by current District Attorney
Susan Reed, concluding that Cantu was guilty of the 1984 murder, will
further stoke the debate.
But there is an obvious problem besides Cantu's guilt or innocence the
system of capital punishment itself. The system is broken in Texas and
other states that use it.
There have been 124 death row exonerations nationwide (eight in Texas)
since executions resumed in 1977. The last one was in Oklahoma two months
ago. Approximately 3,350 men and women currently are on the nation's death
rows. The 125th exoneration is surely out there, waiting for justice.
That is precisely the problem. This death penalty system catches the
innocent along with the guilty. It is not fail-safe, yet it deals out
death in judgment.
In Texas, the system truly deals out death. Texas will witness in August
its 400th execution since 1982. Texas executes more people than any other
state. Virginia comes in second, and hasn't reached 100 executions yet.
This comes at enormous financial expense, too. From the beginning costs of
a capital murder trial through an execution, the capital punishment system
15 years ago, a Dallas Morning News study pinned the cost of each Texas
execution at $2.5 million. The cost has almost certainly increased since
Additional problems abound. The notion that the death penalty is a
deterrent to murder doesn't hold true. According to the latest statistics
from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the 15 states with the highest
murder rates (Texas included) all have the death penalty. Some deterrent.
Further, for 15 straight years, murder rates have run higher in death
penalty states than in states without it. This system doesn't function as
And there is growing evidence that people are starting to catch on.
First, a national Gallup Poll now reports that overall support for the
death penalty has slipped from 80 % in 1994 to 67 % in 2006.
And, when given a choice between life without parole and the death penalty
for murder, 48 % now favor life without parole, compared to 47 % for those
who favor death.
2nd, some newspapers are reversing their longstanding support for the
death penalty. The Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News and Birmingham
News are calling for the abolition of the death penalty.
Many others such as the Express-News, the Houston Chronicle, and the Fort
Worth Star-Telegram have called for a moratorium on the death penalty.
3rd, the willingness of capital juries to hand down death sentences
appears to be on the decline. In 1996 there were 317 death sentences given
nationwide. By 2005, death verdicts had declined to 128.
4th, while 12 states do not have the death penalty, an additional 12
states with the death penalty now find their executions on hold.
Legal challenges to the methods of execution, official moratoriums, or a
ruling by the state high court have suspended executions in those states.
In short, the system of capital punishment is under attack.
The widely respected Death Penalty Information Center has summarized the
current situation in a report titled "A Crisis of Confidence," observing
that "most Americans believe innocent people have already been executed,
that the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime, and that a moratorium
should be placed on all executions."
We may never know the final truth about Ruben Cantu's guilt or innocence.
But we know enough about the system of capital punishment that it should
shame us into abolishing it.
(source: Commentary; San Antonio Express-News; Roger Barnes is a
University of the Incarnate Word professor and member of the Texas
Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty)
Death Penalty Sought For Alleged Mom Killer
The Smith County district attorney announced today he will seek the death
penalty against James William Cowart Jr., accused of robbing and beating
his mother to death at the motel where she worked.
Cowart, 45, was arrested Feb. 3 for allegedly killing Martha Miller, 64,
manager of the Airways Motel, 12851 Texas Highway 64 West. He was later
indicted on a capital murder charge.
The defendant appeared in 241st District Court Jack Skeen Jr.'s court
today for his 1st pre-trial hearing. His gray hair, which had been curly
and down to his shoulders when he was arrested, had been cut short and his
beard neatly trimmed.
Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham told the judge he had filed
his notice of intent to seek the death penalty against Cowart. The
deadline for his decision of whether to pursue the capital punishment was
Skeen scheduled jury selection, which will last several weeks, to begin
Oct. 11 and the trial is set to start Nov. 5, or whenever jury selection
is completed. If convicted of capital murder, Cowart faces death by lethal
injection or life in prison.
Defense attorneys Clifton Roberson and Tonda Curry have been appointed to
represent Cowart, while Assistant DA Joe Murphy is prosecuting the case
Authorities have said they believe Cowart beat his mother to death with a
glass ashtray and a stool before stealing the motel's cash and fleeing
between 11 p.m. on Feb. 1 and 7 a.m. on Feb. 2. A relative of the victim
found her body.
According to an arrest affidavit, Nicole Hand called 911 and reported that
she found Ms. Miller dead on the living room floor inside her residence.
Ms. Hand and Cowart's son, James Curtis Cowart, reported that the suspect
had been at his mother's residence the day before.
Deputies found a shirt, jacket and baseball cap on the roadway that Ms.
Hand and James Curtis Cowart said the suspect had been wearing the
previous day. Ms. Hand told police that the victim kept a cash box and
collected between $400 and $500 per day. She said there should have been 3
days worth of proceeds in the empty, bloody box, the affidavit states.
The victim had multiple blunt force trauma injuries to her head and a cut
on her wrist. Collected as a possible murder weapon was a green glass
ashtray covered in blood, as well as a bent, black metal stool that had
blood on it, the affidavit stated.
When deputies arrived at the Relax Inn, 1812 E. Gentry Parkway, they heard
yelling coming from Cowart's room and made forced entry. After giving
several verbal commands, Cowart, who was wearing bloodied blue jeans,
dropped the knife he was holding and was detained, according to the search
On the bed inside the motel room, deputies found a "large sum" of cash.
When Cowart checked into the motel, blood stains were left on the
(source: Tyler Morning Telegraph)
Killer on death row loses federal appeal-----Court rebuffs claims by North
Texan who once sought speedy execution
A North Texas man convicted of robbing, beating, raping and strangling a
93-year-old woman in her Kaufman County home almost 10 years ago has lost
an appeal before a federal appeals court, moving him a step closer to an
execution he once requested but now opposes.
William Murray, now 38, was condemned for the slaying of Rena Ratcliff in
her small home in Kaufman where she lived alone. Mr. Murray's mother had
once cared for the elderly woman as a home nursing aide.
A 3-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week upheld
lower courts' rulings that denied five claims from Mr. Murray - including
one that the trial court acted improperly by not requiring psychological
examinations for him when he told a court hearing in November 1999 that he
wanted appeals dropped and his execution expedited.
3 months later, he changed his mind, but a motion to reinstate his appeals
was denied. Other appeals have been filed.
The federal appeals court, in a ruling posted Thursday, noted that Mr.
Murray's lawyer agreed his client was competent to make such a decision.
Mr. Murray testified at a hearing that he wanted appeals waived, and a
psychological expert said that based on an informal examination, he had no
reason to doubt Mr. Murray's competence.
Mr. Murray later said that when he said he wanted to be executed for the
sake of the victim's family, he knew that his death would be a mistake and
that he was being influenced by depression and suicidal thoughts.
The federal appeals court said the rulings by the state courts and a
federal district judge were not unreasonable, and it denied his claim.
Mr. Murray also objected to receiving a postcard from the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals informing him that a motion for a rehearing on his
conviction was denied. He alleged that his legal help in appeals was
ineffective, that he was unfairly prosecuted for the death penalty and
that jurors at his trial should have been told about parole possibilities.
A life sentence would have made him eligible for parole after 40 years.
The appeals court denied each of those claims.
(source: The Associated Press)
Death order ignores ABA study
After reading various articles and related wire service accounts of Gov.
Crist's 1st death warrant, I was struck by the fact that the American Bar
Association's recent and relatively comprehensive report on Florida's
death penalty process was not mentioned, notwithstanding that direct
reference was made to the Commission on Administration of Lethal Injection
report and recommendations.
Given that Florida has the dubious distinction of being the state with
more death penalty exonerations than any other, the ABA report's main
objective is to identify issues and problems that undermine the fairness
and accuracy of Florida's death penalty process. The ABA report neither
supports nor opposes capital punishment.
Simply put, such issues and problems must be addressed by the state to
ensure that innocent people are not executed. Each of Florida's 3 branches
of government has a significant role to play. Unfortunately, it appears as
though relatively little action has been taken by state officials to
address these concerns since the ABA report was released last fall.
Recognizing that questions of innocence may not be at issue in the Schwab
case and readily acknowledging that the ABA report does not address method
of execution protocols, it nevertheless is important to make reference to
the ABA report in such instances in order to avoid the false impression
that once concerns relating to lethal injection protocols are addressed,
the issues and problems that are identified in the ABA report somehow may
Beyond method of execution protocols and, in particular, the Schwab case,
it is in the best interests of every Floridian for the state to take
long-overdue steps to ensure that the death penalty process is
(source: Daytona Beach News-Journal ---- Mark Schlakman is director of the
Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University and
board chairman of the Innocence Project. The ABA report can be accessed
through the following link: www.abavideonews.org/ABA340/ )
Pope makes plea to spare life of Troy Davis ---- Letters continue to pour
in supporting murder convict; Vatican among clemency supporters
The state clemency board reviewing the death sentence of Troy Anthony
Davis is continuing to receive an unprecedented amount of letters about
the case, ranging from Savannah neighbors to international religious
The Vatican added its support this week for commuting Davis' sentence to
life in prison without parole.
A U.S. envoy for Pope Benedict XVI, the leader of 1.1 billion Roman
Catholics worldwide, sent a letter urging state officials to consider the
special circumstances in the case, specifically that Davis' "conviction
was not based on any physical evidence, and the murder weapon was never
"The pope continually exhorts all people, and especially those men and
women who serve in government, to recognize the sacredness of all human
life," wrote Monsignor Martin Krebs. "I reiterate the commitment of the
Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, to uphold the sacredness and dignity of
all human life, and I hope that you will give heed to his petition."
Krebs' letter was mailed early this week to Gov. Sonny Perdue's office.
Staff members there forwarded it to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles
to add to its sizable stack of petitions.
The governor's office lost its clemency authority in 1943 during a push to
reduce its powers after Gov. Eugene Talmadge's term, according to the
University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government.
Now, Georgia is 1 of only 3 states in which the governor has no authority
to grant clemency.
However, as with any state board, the governor can apply political
pressure. The governor appoints board members, and the board is part of
the executive branch. Fourteen states place clemency responsibility solely
with the governor, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
In Savannah, family and friends were hopeful that a plea from the pope
would result in clemency.
"If you are truly doing the right thing, God will open doors for you that
no man can," said Nadra Enzi, who has worked with the Davis family,
organizing community events. "How often does the pope make statements like
this? Hopefully the pope's pleas for mercy will transcend political and
A call to Davis' mother, Virginia, was not returned Friday afternoon.
Jason Ewart, an appeal attorney for Davis, said he was upbeat about the
"I think most people could discern that the pope is against all loss of
life. He's an abolitionist when it comes to the death penalty," Ewart
said. "But you don't hear his name associated with every death penalty
case. I think he came out on this case because it's an example of a
needless loss of life."
Georgia's 5-member clemency board on Monday granted Davis a 90-day stay so
members can spend more time reviewing his clemency request. Davis had been
scheduled to die Tuesday night by lethal injection.
The letter on behalf of the pope is one of thousands that have been filed
with the board in recent weeks, including petitions from other well-known
people such as South African cleric Desmond Tutu and Sister Helen Prejean,
who wrote the book "Dead Man Walking."
Scheree Lipscomb, spokeswoman for the pardons and paroles board, said the
agency has received thousands of letters and e-mails, including form
letters supplied by Amnesty International through its Web site.
She said she has received 700 messages since the board issued its delay.
Lipscomb said letters, whether from the pope or an interested individual,
are all treated the same and are put into the case's file. She said she
could not comment on the content of letters, including whether some have
opposed commuting the death sentence for Davis.
Krebs stated in his letter, which was provided by Perdue's office, that he
was conscious of the suffering felt by crime victims' family members and
Davis attorney Jason Ewart said he was surprised when he heard the pope
had taken an interest in the case as well as the overall response.
"I think it's an overwhelming volume that shows people are concerned about
this case," he said. "I think that this thing has a lot of resonance
because of the way the court has mistreated the case, in my opinion."
(source: Savannah Morning News)
Many reasons to oppose the death penalty
I totally disagree with the death penalty in any form. As a member of a
civilized society, I cannot see any reason for this barbaric practice. I
would also like to mention that I am not a regular participant in any
religion although I have no quarrels with those who participate.
I do find it incomprehensible how anyone who considers himself a Christian
could support this concept.
There are many reasons not to support a death penalty. Just the fact that
in Illinois journalism students found enough evidence to overturn 13
convictions. That they saved the lives of 13 innocent people between 1977
and 2000 is mind-boggling.
In New York state more than 20, and nationwide more than 200, innocent
people have had their convictions overturned because of DNA evidence,
giving additional reasons to not have a death penalty.
The argument that this is needed because police and those protecting us
deserve our support has many flaws. The fact that there are always more
applicants for law enforcement jobs than positions shows the lack of a
death penalty is not a deterrent to filling these positions.
The goal should be to protect citizens from criminals without abusing the
rights of the innocent. We will never eliminate criminals. The
incarceration of innocent individuals is a tragedy that can never be
Using the power of the state to take an innocent life is a travesty
against everything that free people stand for. Using the power of the
state to take a guilty life is revenge and we all should be better than
One last point: With the dysfunctional state government we have, I cannot
understand the reason the governor ever made this an issue. I can
understand why the Senate continues to make it a priority.
JOHN W. SNIEZYK
(source: Letter to the Editor, Albany Times Union)
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