[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----USA, GA., FLA., TENN., CALIF., ILL.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Nov 14 11:23:28 CST 2007
Death-penalty cases on hold pending Supreme Court review
Prosecutor Matt Whitworth persuaded a jury to sentence Lisa Montgomery to
death, but he isn't expecting the Kansas woman to die anytime soon.
Whitworth, an assistant U.S. attorney in Kansas City, Mo., said that
Montgomery, 39, should to be put to death for strangling a pregnant woman
and then using a kitchen knife to cut the baby from her womb.
On Oct. 30, however, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the execution of a
Mississippi murderer until it concludes a review next year of whether
lethal injections constitute cruel and unusual punishment. And even before
that, many states - including Texas and Missouri, two of the leaders in
state-sanctioned killings - had imposed de facto moratoriums.
"It'll be many years before it's all wrapped up," Whitworth said.
After 1,099 executions since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated,
there's been an unusual lull in the nation's death chambers. There've been
only 42 executions so far this year, the fewest since 1994.
In Texas, which has led the nation with 405 executions since 1976, the
execution chambers have ground to a halt.
In Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston and accounts for 100
executions since 1976, Assistant District Attorney Roe Wilson said the
uncertainty caused by the high court's review caused her to switch gears.
Last week, she asked a court to withdraw the Feb. 26 execution that had
been planned for Derrick Sonnier, who raped and murdered a woman and 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," Wilson said.
With executions all but on hold across the country, death-penalty
opponents see an opening. The American Bar Association is promoting a
nationwide moratorium on capital punishment. And despite the long odds
against success, opponents want Congress to ban executions.
"We should take advantage of this apparent pause in executions to consider
the severe injustices within the system as a whole," said Sen. Russ
Feingold, D-Wis., who's introduced a Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act.
The controversy over lethal injections comes as polls find more Americans
questioning the use of the death penalty, particularly over concern about
wrongful convictions. Experts say that's giving more ammunition to
"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."
Thirty-seven states allow the death penalty. Lethal injections have been
used in 85 % of the executions since 1976. The remaining prisoners were
put to death by electrocution (14 %) and gas chamber (1 %), while three
prisoners were hanged and two were killed by firing squads.
The Supreme Court review, prompted by a Kentucky death-penalty case, is
taking aim at what most people have long believed is the best way to
execute prisoners. The lethal injections numb the prisoner's face and make
it impossible to show pain. As a result, they're easier for observers to
Lethal injections involve three 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 curtains surrounding his stretcher
eventually were closed.
"The numerous recent botched executions have shattered the myth that
lethal injection is a gentle process," said Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, the
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
Medwed predicted that death-penalty opponents would gain more traction if
the Supreme Court concludes that lethal injections are cruel and unusual
"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 it's just one bullet to the head - it's
Wilson, the assistant D.A. from Texas who supports the death penalty, said
she's 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" to execute condemned prisoners.
"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
In Missouri, Whitworth expects executions to resume after the Supreme
Court makes its decision. He said it's just a matter of time before the
jury's sentence will be carried out.
(source: McClatchy Newspapers)
Lawyers ask top Georgia court to give death row inmate new trial
Attorneys for death row inmate Troy Davis asked the Georgia Supreme Court
for a new trial, and warned that the wrong man is scheduled to be
In a case that has drawn fierce protest from death penalty opponents,
Davis' attorneys argued Tuesday that new testimony proves their client's
innocence and implicates another man.
"This is a case of mistaken identity," said Jason Ewart, an attorney for
Davis, who added that the amount of new evidence justifies a new trial.
"There's no case like this."
Prosecutors say the case is closed and new evidence cannot be considered.
They chastised defense attorneys for holding the evidence in their "back
pocket" and unleashing it days before their client was scheduled to be
Attorneys representing Davis are using a unique Georgia law which experts
say is the only one of its kind in the nation that allows inmates to seek
a completely new trial after exhausting other appeals.
Davis was convicted of the 1989 murder of 27-year-old Savannah police
officer Mark MacPhail.
The officer, who was working off-duty as a security guard at a bus
station, rushed to help a homeless man who had been pistol-whipped at a
nearby parking lot. When he approached Davis and 2 other men, he was shot
in the face and the chest and fell to the ground, mortally wounded.
Witnesses identified Davis as the shooter. A jury convicted him in 1991
and sentenced him to death. At the trial, prosecutors said he wore a
"smirk on his face" as he fired the gun, according to records.
But Davis' lawyers say new evidence could exonerate their client and prove
him a victim of mistaken identity. Several witnesses who initially
testified against Davis have since recanted or contradicted their
testimony. And three others who did not testify have said another man,
Sylvester "Red" Coles who testified against Davis at the trial confessed
to the killing.
"He pointed the finger at Mr. Davis to save his own skin," Ewart said of
Coles, adding that Coles had the "motive, opportunity and means" to commit
Coles refused to talk about the case when contacted by The Associated
Press during a recent Chatham County court appearance on an unrelated
traffic charge, and he has no listed phone number.
Prosecutors call the witness statements "suspect," and say some of the
witness affidavits simply repeat what a trial jury has already heard,
while others are irrelevant because they come from witnesses who never
David Lock, an assistant district attorney for Chatham County, said the
defense is trying to convince the court there was a "grand conspiracy" by
police to land a conviction.
"It's easy to understand how in the future, over the years, witnesses who
knew the defendant lived in the same neighborhood could be coerced
themselves," he said. "If there's any conspiracy theory, it's after the
trial, not before it."
He also questioned the legitimacy of affidavits, which he said fail to
prove that Davis should be granted a new trial.
"They just submitted affidavits and did not go into the background of how
they were obtained," Lock said of the defense attorneys.
The outcome will be closely watched in the Georgia Capitol, where Davis'
case is frequently cited by advocates of new statewide standards to govern
eyewitness identification. Death penalty critics, meanwhile, present Davis
as an example of the uncertainties of capital punishment.
The packed courtroom was filled with observers. MacPhail's family and
allies from the Fraternal Order of Police sat on one side and relatives
and supporters of Davis on the other.
A decision is not likely for weeks, but the significance of the hearing
seemed to buoy Davis' relatives.
"We were waiting on this for a long time. All we wanted was for Troy to
have his fair trial," said his mother, Virginia Davis. "It is never too
late to hear new evidence when someone is fighting for his life. We're
going to have a new trial for Troy and we're going to free him."
Even if Davis loses his request for a new trial it is unlikely that he
would be executed until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on a Kentucky case
challenging lethal injection as a means of capital punishment.
On the Net: http://www.gasupreme.us
Injection issue may delay another execution
The scheduled execution of a convicted child murderer in Florida on
Thursday may test the notion that the U.S. Supreme Court has instituted an
unofficial nationwide moratorium on the death penalty.
Mark D. Schwab is to die by lethal injection for the 1991 death of
11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez. He has appealed to the Supreme Court for
a stay of execution.
The high court has granted three such stays since agreeing to hear a
challenge on whether the use of lethal injections constitutes a form of
cruel and unusual punishment. Some states also have volunteered to place a
moratorium on lethal injections pending the Supreme Court's findings.
The issue of whether death by lethal injection represents cruel and
unusual punishment stems, in part, from last December's execution in
Florida of murderer Angel Diaz.
Then-Gov. Jeb Bush ordered an investigation and issued a moratorium on
executions after an autopsy revealed it took twice the normal time for
Diaz to die because one of the needles missed the vein and pumped the
deadly cocktail into his tissue.
A panel revised lethal injection protocols, and the state ban was lifted
in July. Gov. Charlie Crist chose Schwab as the first post-moratorium
execution in the state.
"It would not surprise me if it were delayed again," said State Attorney
Norman Wolfinger, whose office prosecuted Schwab. "Any matter of death is
always going to be an issue. I don't see it as cruel and unusual at all.
The real issue should be, do you deserve to die."
Wolfinger said he wished the state would return to using the electric
chair. That, he said, was something criminals feared.
On Tuesday night, a Florida judge refused to grant a new hearing or to
throw out Schwab's sentence, rejecting a claim that Schwab has a mental
disorder and was incapable of stopping himself when he killed Junny.
(source: Florida Today)
Motion to Stay Schwab Execution Denied
Death row inmate Mark Dean Schwab was sentenced to death for the 1991
kidnapping, rape and murder 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez of Cocoa.
Schwab, who had recently been released from prison for raping another
child, targeted Junny after seeing his picture in a newspaper.
A motion to stay the execution of Mark Dean Schwab set for this Thursday
was denied late Tuesday in a State court in Brevard County.
Schwab is scheduled to die by lethal injection for the murder of Junny
Rios- Martinez. The 11 year old was kidnapped, assaulted, tortured and
murdered in April of 1991.
Schwab was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death in 1992.
Lawyers for Schwab had argued that the psychologist in the original trial
did not do a through enough examination and in fact had never met face to
face with Schwab. They said that a psychologist recently interviewed
Schwab and said that he may have been mentally ill when he committed the
In denying the stay, judge Charles Holcomb noted in his brief that 'The
Defendant in this case has had many opportunities over many years to
present his arguments to this and to other courts as to why he should not
Schwab's lawyers will now appeal to the State Supreme Court. The case
Schwab is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection Thursday night at 6
p.m. at the Florida Sate Prison in Raiford.
AG: State cant use the chair unless prisoners want it
Tennessee cannot currently use the electric chair on prisoners unless they
chose that method of death, the state attorney general said Tuesday in a
Prosecutors have been calling on the state to use the electric chair as a
back-up after a U.S. District Court in September found Tennessees lethal
injection procedures to be unconstitutional.
But in his 6-page written opinion, state Attorney General Bob Cooper said
that the law "does not allow substitution based on rulings of a federal
district court or a state trial court." The law says that the chair
back-up is triggered only if the Tennessee Supreme Court or the U.S.
Supreme Court find or let stand rulings that hold lethal injection
unconstitutional, the opinion said.
The opinion was issued in response to a question by state Rep. Mike
Turner, a Democrat from Old Hickory.
It also followed a debate by lawyers who questioned the state could go
forward with executions using the chair after Tennessee Supreme Court
Justice William C. Koch Jr. said the law allowed for substitution.
An attorney who represents death-row inmates said she agreed with Coopers
opinion in part.
"While I don't agree with it on all 4 corners, I think that they are
correct, electrocution cannot be used under the current state of the law,"
said Kelley Henry, an assistant federal public defender.
Since U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger found Tennessees lethal injection
procedures unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to that
method of execution.
Most legal experts believe that executions across the country will be
delayed until the nation's highest court rules on the issues.
"There will be no executions in Tennessee until the Supreme Court has
decided this," said David Raybin, a Nashville attorney who wrote the state
death penalty law. "There is a de facto moratorium in the United States."
Jury ponders death penalty
In Los Angeles, a jury will now decide whether 2 men should die or spend
the rest of their lives in prison for the 2001 beating deaths of an
elderly La Habra Heights couple.
Prosecutors on Tuesday urged a Los Angeles Superior Court jury to mete out
the death penalty while defense attorneys for Theodore Shove, 55, and
Lewis Hardin, 35, asked for a sentence of life in prison without the
possibility of parole during closing arguments in the penalty phase of the
The same jury convicted Shove and Hardin last month of the 1st-degree
murders of Hubert "Bert" Souther, 81, and his wife, Elizabeth Ann, 79,
with the special circumstance that the killings were done for financial
The couple's badly beaten bodies were found Sept. 17, 2001, in their home.
Shove hired Hardin to kill the Southers because he wanted the couple's
surplus hardware and tool business, Cal Aero Supply, according to
prosecutors who said the murder weapon used was a tire iron.
Deputy District Attorney David Walgren said Shove and Hardin committed the
crimes for the most crass, revolting reason: greed. They wanted money but
didn't want to do the hard work needed.
"This is what they did, they took that couple and slaughtered them in
their own home, in their own bed," he said.
He said neither man deserves the jurors' mercy or leniency.
"We are here for one reason only. We are here because of the choices of
Lewis Hardin and Theodore Shove. They have put themselves in this
Walgren reminded the jurors of the men's prior convictions and history of
He said Hardin was convicted of kidnapping a woman at knifepoint and
taking her on a "terror-filled ride" for several hours where he threatened
to kill her and harm her daughter.
He said Shove's ex-wives testified to being physically abused by him, a
driver told of Shove pointing a gun at his head and threatening his life
after a road rage incident and Shove's oldest sister, Mary Julian, related
waking up to see him at a window pointing what looked like a gun at her
and saying, "Bang. You're dead."
When Walgren repeated that everyone was here because of the two men's
actions, it prompted an outburst from Hardin.
"That is a lie," Hardin said.
Judge Kathleen Kennedy-Powell told Hardin not to say anything.
Jeffrey Brodey, one of Hardin's attorneys, reminded the jury that no one
knows what happened in that room and raised the specter of someone else
being the killer, such as a cohort of Shove.
He said the scenario presented by prosecutors was speculation.
Brodey also pointed to unidentified footprints found in the Southers'
house and noted the absence of Hardin's DNA and blood in the room and
Spots of blood found in different places in the house were identified as
Hardin's. But Brodey questioned the route prosecutors said his client took
in that darkened house.
Brodey said a mitigating factor in the jury's decision could be Hardin's
He called Hardin a damaged man who was beaten as a child by his uncle and
stepfather and lived on the streets when he was kicked out of the house at
14. But he has sons and family members who love and support him, Brodey
"Please treat him as a human being," he said.
Alex Kessel, Shove's lawyer, questioned the ex-wives' testimony and said
they didn't seek medical aid.
He said just because the prosecution asked for the death sentence doesn't
mean they should get it.
"You have to temper it with, 'Is this the worst of the worst?' " Kessel
said, adding that jurors should ask themselves does this case rise to the
level that they should impose the death penalty.
"The prosecution doesn't want you to see Shove as a human being. He's not
an animal," he said. "The death penalty is for the worst of the worst."
(source: Whittier Daily News)
Man can face death sentence
In a last-ditch effort to bar a 27-year-old Wauconda man from death row
eligibility, defense attorneys called the Kane County state's attorney as
a witness Tuesday, charging he used the threat of capital punishment as
leverage to entice murder suspects to accept plea agreements.
Attorneys for Michael Calabrese, who shot and killed a man in 2005 over a
dice game in Carpentersville, argued State's Attorney John Barsanti
admitted to such coercion in a July 18, 2006, article in the Daily Herald.
"The Supreme Court has said there is some line, somewhere. There is a line
somewhere and the question is whether the line is crossed in a case such
as this," defense attorney John Hanlon said. "The death penalty is
supposed to be a narrowing process, the worst of the worst cases."
Barsanti testified his statements in the newspaper were accurate, but he
seeks the death penalty "whenever possible and appropriate." He also
disputed defense attorney claims he used the death penalty to appease
Judge Philip DiMarzio said Barsanti's under-oath testimony was "far more
compelling" than a newspaper article and denied the request from
Calabrese's attorneys to bar the death penalty from a possible sentence.
If Calabrese was not eligible, his sentence range would be between 45 and
85 years and he must serve 100 percent of it.
The last person sentenced to death in Kane County was Luther V. Casteel
for killing two and wounding 16 others during a shooting spree in 2001 at
JB's Pub in Elgin. His sentence was commuted in 2003 when then-Gov. George
Ryan emptied death row.
A jury last month convicted Calabrese of slaying Edmond Edwards, 25, of
Chicago Ridge after losing money during a dice game at the Fox View
apartment complex May 1, 2005. Edwards was found face down in a parking
lot with $140 in his hand and another $670 in his pocket. Calabrese waived
his right to have a jury decide whether he should be put to death.
DiMarzio determined that Calabrese was eligible for the death penalty
because he is older than 18, personally pulled the trigger, knew the act
would result in death or great bodily harm, and the murder was committed
while another felony -- attempted armed robbery -- was taking place.
After the ruling, Calabrese turned and whispered to his mother, "Will you
come and visit?"
Calabrese is due in court for sentencing Jan. 14. Then, defense attorneys
will call medical experts and other witnesses to show DiMarzio that
Calabrese has mental health problems and had been diagnosed with bipolar
Prosecutors will present aggravating factors, such as the impact of
Edwards' death on others and Calabrese's lengthy criminal record.
Prosecutor Bill Engerman said Calabrese was convicted and imprisoned for
burglary, theft and possession of a controlled substance and refused to
participate in an out-of-state treatment program.
At 14, Calabrese committed a criminal sexual assault on a 10-year-old and
once kicked a pregnant woman in the abdomen at a sandwich restaurant after
she claimed he was the father, Engerman said.
(source: Daily Herald)
Wauconda man ruled eligible for death penalty
A Wauconda man found guilty in a fatal shooting in Carpentersville 2 years
ago learned Tuesday he might be sentenced to death.
A Kane County Circuit Court judge ruled Michael J. Calabrese, 27, of the
1000 block of Grand Boulevard, is eligible for the death penalty after a
jury found him guilty last month of two counts of first-degree murder for
the shooting death of 25-year-old Edmund Edwards at an apartment complex
in St. Charles Township.
Calabrese would be the 1st condemned Kane County defendant since 2001.
According to authorities, in the early hours of May 1, 2005, Calabrese and
others were at the Fox View apa rtments playing dice, drinking and smoking
marijuana. Witnesses -- most of whom had met him before -- said Calabrese
lost a substantial sum of money that night, and even threatened to return
to rob the dice game.
Minutes after Calabrese left the area, a masked man wielding a revolver --
later identified by witnesses as Calabrese -- approached the group and
demanded money. No one handed over any cash, but when Edwards got up to
leave, Calabrese followed him and fired one round that struck Edwards in
Calabrese's sentencing proceedings could take several days, lawyers said.
He is next scheduled to appear on Jan. 14.
(source: Lake County News-Sun)
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