[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----N.J., ILL., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Nov 11 14:04:52 CST 2007
Abolishing N.J. death penalty to get lame duck treatment
Sharon Hazard-Johnson isn't surprised New Jersey lawmakers are suddenly
moving to abolish the state's death penalty.
Lawmakers could have taken action anytime after a report released in
January by a special state commission found the death penalty was more
expensive than life in prison and didn't deter murder.
But Hazard-Johnson notes they waited to set votes until after Tuesday's
election in which Democrats retained their legislative majority.
"It's been a pretty quiet issue for sometime, but I know that everything
is strategy," said the Mays Landing resident whose parents were killed in
their Pleasantville home in 2001 by death row inmate Brian Wakefield.
On Friday, three days after the election, Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts
Jr. announced the Assembly would vote on Dec. 13 whether to abolish
Senate President Richard J. Codey expects the Senate to take similar
action before the new Legislature organizes on Jan. 8, but a voting date
hasn't been set.
That means the decision on whether to abolish the death penalty will be
decided, in part, by 27 lawmakers who won't be returning next year, either
because they retired or lost re-election.
It also means returning Assembly members can vote knowing they won't face
voters again for 2 years, and returning senators can do the same knowing
they won't face them for 4 years.
"I've thought that if they were going to make an attempt to abolish it
that they would definitely do it in the lame duck session because they
know it couldn't be approved any other way," Hazard-Johnson said.
The so-called lame duck sessions - that period following an election but
before the newly elected body convenes - often offer opportunities for
leaders to push unpopular or contentious initiatives into law.
But Roberts, D-Camden, insists that's not the case.
"This is time for us to finish unfinished business," he said. "I view this
as a very important element of unfinished business."
And he said abolishing what he called a flawed and immoral death penalty
is the leading concern, not the politics.
New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982 but hasn't executed anyone
since 1963. The Legislature imposed an execution moratorium in December
2005 when it formed the commission that studied the death penalty.
If approved by the Legislature and Gov. Jon S. Corzine, a death penalty
opponent, the move would make New Jersey the first state to abolish
capital punishment since the Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976.
"It is so cruel to the survivors of victims to put them through the
continued torture of a death penalty that has been illusory and not real,"
Roberts said. "In so many ways, it's more just to them, and more fair, and
more proper, to bring these matters to resolution and say to them that
someone who victimized you and your family will pay a very, very
significant price - they will be locked up forever without the prospect of
Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Bergen, isn't buying it.
"It is appalling that the speaker would announce that he intends to move
forward with the abolishment of the death penalty only days after the
election," Cardinale said. "The voters should have had the opportunity to
decide this issue instead of it being forced down their throats during the
lame duck session of the Legislature."
No legislative sessions are scheduled for the week ahead, but Assembly
committees are set to convene for the first time since June on Nov. 19.
The Assembly and Senate then have numerous sessions scheduled before the
new Legislature organizes on Jan. 8.
Legislators are expected to consider, among other things, devising a
formula for funding public schools, a plan to make New Jersey the third
state offering paid time off from work to care for a sick relative or new
child and affordable housing and anti-crime initiatives.
(source: Associated Press)
Former Illinois governor leaves legacy of distrust
George Ryan never was an angel.
Illinois voters knew when they elected him governor that he was an
old-school politician who rewarded friends and punished enemies. They knew
federal investigators were sniffing around the secretary of state's office
he'd been running for 8 years.
Still, they chose him over a squeaky-clean Democrat who promised to be a
Ryan entered the governor's mansion in glittery triumph, with everyone
predicting big achievements.
Now Ryan is entering federal prison and could spend the rest of his life
behind bars for a scandal that, if nothing else, reminded a jaded public
that misusing government can have real consequences.
It was a fiery 1994 auto wreck that exposed a scheme in the secretary of
state's office in which licenses were issued in exchange for bribes.
"Prior to George Ryan's conviction, some people dismissed all the
allegations and fingerpointing as partisan politics," former Republican
state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger said. "The U.S. attorney's activism has
changed attitudes from 'These are just shenanigans' to 'I don't trust any
of these guys anymore.' "
There is no doubt Ryan, 73, accomplished big things after becoming
governor in 1999.
He was the first U.S. governor to visit Cuba since Fidel Castro seized
power there. He passed a major construction program to rebuild Illinois
roads and bridges. He even drew national attention to problems with
capital punishment, being mentioned for the Nobel Peace Prize, after he
suspended executions in Illinois and emptied out death row by commuting
the sentences of all 167 inmates to life in prison. He cited the risk of
the criminal justice system making a grave and irreversible error.
Ryan turned the secretary of state's office into an arm of his campaign
organization, pressuring employees for contributions. Some came up with
money by taking bribes to issue driver's licenses to unqualified people.
The evidence suggests one of those unqualified drivers was behind the
wheel of a truck that lost a tail light and mud flap on a Wisconsin
interstate. A van hit the part and burst into flames. Six children burned
Once in the governor's office, Ryan steered millions of dollars in state
leases and contracts to political insiders who showered him with gifts,
including trips to a Jamaican resort, a free golf bag and $145,000 in
loans to his brother's troubled business.
Ryan was convicted in April 2006 of fraud, conspiracy and other charges.
His request to stay out on bail pending further appeals was rejected by
the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, so Ryan began serving his 61/2-year
prison sentence Wednesday at a minimum-security federal prison in Oxford,
Cynics saw the clearing out of death row as an effort to divert attention
from the scandal. Even people who shared his capital punishment concerns
wondered if Ryan had grown more sensitive because of his brush with the
Still, death penalty opponents embraced Ryan, and he helped change the
debate from morality to practicality: Can the public ever be sure the
right person is being executed?
When Ryan took office, Republicans held five statewide offices, had a
majority in the state Senate and were down 62 to 56 in the House. They
have now lost all statewide offices and the Senate majority and have seen
their House numbers shrink.
Trends far bigger than George Ryan are driving that change, but the stain
from his tenure certainly contributed.
Democrat Rod Blagojevich won his first term as governor by campaigning as
the antidote to Ryan's behavior and won a second term by portraying his
opponent as George Ryan Lite. The Illinois GOP no longer could portray
itself as a clean alternative to the Democrats and their long history of
dirty Chicago politics.
The Ryan scandal also contributed to passage of new state ethics laws
creating independent inspectors to fight corruption and restricting the
use of government resources for political purposes. Some officials went
further and stopped taking donations from people with state contracts.
Notably, Blagojevich is not among them. His dismal public-approval numbers
could be another response to Ryan's legacy - people see a governor giving
state jobs and contracts to political donors and conclude he is as corrupt
Ryan has apologized for not doing enough to guard against the corrupt acts
of others, but says he has "a clear conscience" regarding his own actions.
(source: Associated Press)
Supreme Court holds up executions while drugs used in injections are at
Murderous baby snatcher that she is, Lisa Montgomery will not pay the
ultimate price anytime soon.
She's only freshly convicted in Missouri for killing Bobbie Jo Stinnett,
and Matt Whitworth, assistant U.S. attorney, predicted: "It'll be many
years before it's all wrapped up."
But even in Texas, where the conveyer belt to the death chamber has
whirled faster than in other states, they have just postponed the Feb. 26
death date for Derrick Sonnier. He raped and murdered a woman, then
stabbed her 2-year-old son to death in 1991.
"We're just not going to go forward with execution dates, although we're
still trying cases as death-penalty cases," said Roe Wilson, assistant
district attorney of Harris County (Houston), which accounts for a quarter
of 405 Texas executions since 1976.
Across the county, the capital punishment machine clearly went into idle
Oct. 30, when the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the execution of a
Mississippi man who killed 20 years ago. The stay, which came after his
supposed last meal, but 19 minutes before the lethal drip was to be
opened, sent a signal to judges, prosecutors and prison officials in more
than 3-dozen states that accept capital punishment.
The court would not sanction any more appealed executions until the
question is settled: Can the drugs used in lethal injections cause cruel
and unusual punishment?
The Mississippi case, which involved the fatal beating of a 56-year-old
woman who had just been at church choir practice, was the third such stay
since the justices decided in September to consider the Kentucky case of
Baze v. Rees, which will be argued in January.
Lethal injections have been used in 85 % of the 1,099 executions since
1976. The others were electrocution (14 %) and the gas chamber (1 %),
while three prisoners were hung and 2 were killed by firing squads.
38 states have the death penalty, but New York's law was declared
unconstitutional with 1 man still on death row. Of the remaining 37, all
but 1 uses injection. Nebraska uses the electric chair.
Even before the lull, the execution rate had declined to just 42 this
year, the fewest since 1994. Executions peaked at 98 in 1999.
Death-penalty opponents see an opening. The American Bar Association is
promoting a nationwide moratorium on capital punishment. Polls show more
Americans questioning its use, particularly over concerns of wrongful
We should take advantage of this apparent pause in executions to consider
the severe injustices within the system as a whole, said U.S. Sen. Russ
Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who has introduced the Federal Death
Penalty Abolition Act.
"Right now, certainly the abolitionists are gaining some steam," said
Daniel Medwed, a law professor at the University of Utah. "The lay of the
land is that essentially everyone is waiting for the Supreme Court. A lot
of states are just waiting and seeing how that process unfolds. They don't
have to do that, but they're being very pragmatic."
Whitworth, who convinced a jury in Kansas City that Montgomery should die,
expects executions to get back on track after the Supreme Court decides
"I think this is just a temporary thing," he said. What are a few more
months when cases can take decades to work their way through the appeals
Proponents of the process note that none of the cases before the high
court question the constitutionality of capital punishment unlike in
1972, when the court scrapped the death-penalty laws, but accepted a
reformed system 4 years later.
Taylor Only the protocols, or how the drugs are combined, for lethal
injection are at issue at the moment, not the constitutionality of that
form of execution.
But the Eighth Amendment argument filed by more and more condemned men has
been tying up lower courts.
Missouri has been dealing with its own version of this argument.
With 66 executions since 1976, Missouri ranks fourth in the nation, behind
Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma. The state now has 51 prisoners on death row,
but an appeal by Michael Taylor led a federal judge to put all executions
on hold in 2006.
In June, an appellate court overruled his decision, saying a doctor is not
needed to monitor executions because of the high level of anesthetic given
the inmate. The petition by Taylor, convicted in the 1989 kidnapping, rape
and murder of 15-year-old Ann Harrison of Kansas City, is before the high
court as well.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court, dealing with trial arguments, not
lethal injection, upheld the constitutionality of the Kansas death
penalty, which was reinstated in 1994. But the state has not executed a
prisoner since 1965. The state has 10 prisoners on death row, the most
recent, Scott Cheever, convicted of murdering a sheriff.
Wilson, the assistant district attorney in Texas, supports the death
penalty, and said she was eager to have the Supreme Court review lethal
injections in an attempt to quell the controversy. But she defended them,
saying they provide "the most painless way."
"It's basically like having major surgery," she said. "If you've ever had
that done, you know that one second you're aware and the next second the
Lethal injections involve 3 chemicals: sodium thiopental to induce
unconsciousness, pancuronium bromide to cause muscle paralysis, and
potassium chloride to stop the heart.
Opponents of the death penalty say that if inadequate levels of sodium
thiopental are administered, the anesthetic effect can wear off before the
heart stops. In a report issued last month, Amnesty International cited
the case of Angel Diaz of Florida, who "appeared to be moving 24 minutes
after the first injection, grimacing, blinking, licking his lips, blowing
and appearing to mouth words."
"The numerous recent botched executions have shattered the myth that
lethal injection is a gentle process," said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn,
director of Amnesty International USA's Program to Abolish the Death
Penalty. "If lethal injection doesn't call medical ethics into question,
what does? Health professionals are charged with saving lives, not ending
Some argue that the lethal injections numb prisoners' faces, making it
impossible for them to make expressions that show pain. As a result,
lethal injections are easier for observers to watch.
Medwed, the Utah professor, predicted that death-penalty opponents would
gain more traction if the Supreme Court concluded that lethal injections
were cruel and unusual punishment.
"Lethal injections have been in vogue for a long time," Medwed said. "What
makes this unusual is that the most popular and prominent method of
execution is being attacked.
"The interesting thing will be to see if the Supreme Court finds it cruel
and unusual, what's left? What are states going to do? Some people think,
in Utah at least, that the firing squad is the most humane because its
just one bullet to the head its quick."
(source: Kansas City Star)
Odd debate on 'comfort'
There can be no more confusing debate than that of the latest Supreme
Court's decision to halt executions by lethal injection because there is
concern about such executions are "cruel and inhuman punishment" because
of discomfort imposed by the exact lethal cocktail administered.
Have such issues been raised over other forms of execution? Does it not
strike anyone as odd that we are worried about people's comfort as we are
putting them to death?
Perhaps we should not be debating the issue of comfort as we are taking a
person's life, but instead abolishing executions altogether.
(source: Letter to the Editor, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin)
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