[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----TEXAS, GA., PENN., CALIF., N.J., MD.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Nov 21 01:17:28 CST 2007
Death penalty to be sought against man accused of killing wife, her 2 sons
The Dallas County District Attorneys office said Tuesday it will seek the
death penalty against a man accused of killing his wife and her two sons,
as well as sexually assaulting her 2 daughters.
Robert Sparks was also indicted Tuesday by a grand jury and charged with
capital murder and 2 counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child.
Mr. Sparks, 34, was arrested in September, just days after he called 911
to report the slayings. He claimed his wife was trying to poison him.
Mr. Sparks is accused of killing his 30-year-old wife, Chare Agnew, and
her sons, 9-year-old Harold Sublet and 10-year-old Raeqwon Agnew.
Ms. Agnew's 2 teenage daughters were found bound and gagged in a closet in
a home in South Dallas.
(source: Dallas Morning News)
Public defender system in crisis again
The state's public defender system once again appears headed toward a
At its Nov. 30 board meeting, the Georgia Public Defender Standards
Council will be given 2 options to deal with an anticipated funding
shortfall. One option is to stop paying private attorneys who are
defending more than 9,000 criminal cases across the state at the end of
This option risks shutting down a large part of the defender system and
sparking litigation over funding issues. Funds are also running out for
about 30 death-penalty cases.
The second option is to transfer $2.7 million already budgeted to pay the
public defender workforce in June to cover the costs of defending those
cases in the coming months. But if the General Assembly does not give the
council a midyear cash infusion, the defender system will have to furlough
its 398 state-salaried workforce next June. The council's staff is
recommending the board take this route.
The defender council's funding predicament is laid out in internal
documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through the Open
"We're taking it one day at a time," the council's director, Mack Crawford
said Tuesday. "We do have problems and we're doing all we can to work with
the governor, the Legislature and the state's judges to try and get
Henry County Superior Court Judge Arch McGarity said the state judiciary
is aware of the problem.
"There are certain judges who are concerned about it," said McGarity, who
heads the Council of Superior Court Judges. "The primary concern is
The statewide public defender system, now in its third year of operation,
replaced a hodgepodge of uneven, underfunded and overwhelmed county-run
programs providing legal representation for poor people accused of crimes.
A state Supreme Court commission found that inadequate representation in
the prior system heightened the chances of innocent people being
convicted. But the new system has struggled due to budget cuts and a
steady drain of legal fees and expenses already more than $1.2 million
for the defense of accused courthouse killer Brian Nichols.
The state provides about $40 million for the state's $110 million indigent
defense system, with counties picking up the rest of the tab. Most of the
state funding comes through the collection of certain court fines and fees
that were established to pay for indigent defense. By law, the council is
allowed to ask for the amount of fines and fees that were collected during
the previous fiscal year. But this past session, the Legislature gave the
council $35.4 million $2 million less than what had been collected.
In May, the council had to eliminate 41 full-time jobs 12 percent of its
workforce. This year, the council is asking for $4.5 million in emergency
midyear funding in the upcoming legislative session.
Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), a member of the House Appropriations
Committee, said he was aware of the council's budget problems,
particularly those stemming from the Nichols case.
"We always take very seriously these requests and are careful in
determining what we need to fund and what we don't need to fund," Fleming
said. "But there's been a lot of discussion about the public defender
system and how to make it more effective and more efficient."
The council's circuit public defender offices, which handle most of the
estimated 200,000 indigent defense cases each year, are operating within
budget, according to council records.
But the council needs more money to fund about 9,000 "conflict" cases
multi-defendant cases where a public defender can represent only one
person due to conflict of interest rules.
In these cases, the council must pay private attorneys at rates of up to
$60 an hour. These private attorneys are, on average, billing the defender
council about $1,000 per case.
Last year, the defender council asked lawmakers for $8.4 million to pay
for conflict cases this fiscal year. The General Assembly gave it $2.1
million. Separately, the council's budget for death-penalty cases has been
cut steadily in recent years.
By Nov. 14, the council had spent 80 percent of its budget for conflict
cases, even though the fiscal year is just four and a half months old,
according to council records.
"This is like getting in a car with an eighth of a tank of gasoline and
trying to drive to Savannah without having any money to stop for gas,"
said Stephen Bright, a senior lawyer with the Southern Center for Human
Bright applauded the defender council's efforts to set up new "conflict"
offices with state-salaried lawyers to handle the cases. "That will help
them contain their costs because it's more cost effective than paying
lawyers by the hour," he said.
But it is not enough to solve budget problems in the near term.
At a recent hearing in Brunswick, a judge wondered if he must delay the
death-penalty case against David Edenfield after defense lawyers said
there was no money for expert witnesses.
"Apparently the General Assembly is going to decide when this case should
be tried," Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett said during the Nov. 5
hearing, according to the Brunswick News.
Judge Hilton Fuller, who is overseeing the Nichols case, recently delayed
start of the trial once again because there is no money to pay for defense
costs. In a Nov. 16 order, Fuller noted that Legislature had not given the
defender council all the money that has been collected from court fees and
fines for the state's indigent defense system.
(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Death row inmates sue over Pa. lethal injection rules
3 death row inmates are challenging the constitutionality of
Pennsylvania's method of execution.
The inmates say state law doesn't require training of those who carry out
executions. They also say there's no documentation of the state's lethal
The inmates also say that, if the drugs used by the state aren't
administered properly, they would be exposed to excruciating pain.
The 3 filed a lawsuit earlier this month in federal court in Philadelphia.
The inmates' claims echo ones in a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court is reviewing the constitutionality of lethal injection in a
(source: Associated Press)
California's high court seeks death penalty fix----Justices propose to
deal with the massive backlog by allowing case review to be transferred to
The California Supreme Court on Monday called for a constitutional
amendment to ease the backlog in the state's death penalty system, which
takes an average of 17 years to execute a condemned convict -- twice the
The amendment would permit the state's high court, which has had exclusive
oversight of capital appeals since California became a state in 1850, to
transfer review of some death penalty cases to lower courts. Chief Justice
Ronald M. George, who announced the proposal, said he wanted the
Legislature to put the amendment on the November 2008 ballot.
The system's delays and ensuing backlogs are bad for the condemned
inmates, prosecutors and the public interest "in finality and enforcement
of the law," George said in a phone interview Monday.
Currently, the state's 7 Supreme Court justices spend about 20% to 25% of
their time and resources on capital cases, he said. The "ever-increasing
backlog . . . threatens to overwhelm the Supreme Court's docket," George
The proposal follows a small but significant chorus of voices calling for
change in what they describe as a "dysfunctional" system that renders
capital punishment as little more than an illusion.
The state has the nation's largest death row population, with 667 inmates
-- 652 men at San Quentin and 15 women at the Central California Women's
Facility in Chowchilla -- but only a few have exhausted their appeals,
which can last decades.
California has executed 13 inmates since capital punishment was reinstated
in 1978. In the meantime, more than 50 condemned prisoners have died of
old age, suicide or prison violence.
The state would have to execute 5 prisoners a month for the next 11 years
to clear inmates now on death row. And the backlog is likely to grow: 30
people have been on death row more than 25 years, 119 for more than 20
years and 408 for more than a decade.
However, the Supreme Court's proposal drew immediate caveats and some
State Senate Majority leader Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles Democrat who is
a death penalty critic, said she told George that the Legislature would
give the proposal "serious consideration."
However, she emphasized that if the state was going to amend the
Constitution, officials should seize the opportunity to "make a
comprehensive assessment of the fairness and adequacy of resources of the
death penalty system in California."
"If we are going to move forward on a major change in California, there
has to be a lot on the table," including the possibility of narrowing the
criteria for seeking the death penalty so that fewer cases would qualify,
Veteran federal appeals court Judge Arthur L. Alarcon, who urged a shift
in death penalty appeals to lower courts in an influential law review
article earlier this year, said he was pleased that his ideas were getting
He emphasized, however, that the state's death penalty machinery was
unlikely to work more effectively unless the state dealt with a critical
shortage of defense lawyers to represent death row inmates on appeal.
"Without raising the pay for lawyers, without providing more funding to do
adequate investigation" of the cases, "there are still problems," said
Alarcon, of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The proposal is expected to get its first public hearing on Jan. 10 at a
meeting of the California Commission for the Fair Administration of
Justice at the state Capitol. George and Alarcon are scheduled to speak at
that session, and it is anticipated that other proponents and opponents
also will be on the agenda.
Santa Clara University law professor Gerald Uelmen, the commission's
executive director, said he had serious concerns about the "tremendous
impact" the proposal could have on the state-funded agencies that
represent death row inmates. "They will need a lot more staff," and that
will be costly, he said.
George said he and the other justices have been wrestling with the backlog
issue for months. He said change was needed because the Supreme Court's
resources had not expanded to match "the growing number of defendants
sentenced to death in California."
He said the California Supreme Court rules on about 20 death penalty cases
a year. If the amendment passes, the Supreme Court would transfer about 30
capital cases a year to the state's intermediate-level appellate courts,
which are headquartered in Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, San
Francisco and Santa Ana.
Currently, there are 105 state appeals court justices. If the plan is
adopted, each would have to write a death penalty opinion once every 3 1/2
years, not a substantial increase in workload, George said.
The Supreme Court would retain those cases that involve a new legal issue
or clearly would have statewide impact, while distributing others that
could be resolved based on existing law.
George said the state Supreme Court had decided about 400 death penalty
cases over the last 30 years. He said those rulings plus "numerous
decisions" by the U.S. Supreme Court "have settled the vast majority of
legal questions concerning capital litigation as presently practiced in
California," and would provide considerable guidance to the state appeals
courts. The state high court would retain the right of final review, he
George acknowledged that the vast majority of the 38 states that have a
death penalty statute provide for automatic direct review by the state
court of last resort. But, he said, most of the states have relatively few
death penalty judgments each year, and the cases "do not pose a
substantial burden on those state supreme courts."
Death penalty trials and records are substantially bigger in California,
the briefing schedules stretch four to 10 times longer, and the reviewing
court's opinions are longer and consume more time and resources, George
James A. Ardaiz, the presiding administrative justice of the 5th District
Court of Appeal in Fresno, said he thought that the proposal was
"thoughtful" and "a recognition of the fact that under the current
Constitution the Supreme Court has become so impacted it cannot
effectively carry out the expectations of the public in terms of the
efficient implementation of the law. I look forward to helping the court
alleviate its backlog."
Judith McConnell, chief administrative justice of the 4th District Court
of Appeal in San Diego, said she believed that most of the chief appeals
court justices "generally support the proposal provided that we are given
adequate resources to handle the increased caseload."
"The state Supreme Court has a central staff for death penalty appeals. It
is my understanding that it takes a number of months for those staff
attorneys to work the cases up" before the court considers them, McConnell
said. "We would need additional staff."
McConnell said she definitely had concerns about how the state Supreme
Court would allocate the cases it transfers.
She said the appeals court in San Diego already was considering a number
of appeals, involving other types of cases, from San Bernardino and
Riverside counties, where court dockets have swelled significantly because
of rapid population growth.
Staunch death penalty advocate Kent Scheidegger, of the Criminal Justice
Legal Foundation in Sacramento, said he "has long favored an added role
for the courts of appeal in capital cases," in part because "the bulk of
issues considered by the Supreme Court are routine."
However, he said he was "leery of allowing two judges of a 3-judge panel
to overturn a capital sentence with no further right of review" for the
He said the high court should have to review decisions that overturn death
sentences unless they are unanimous.
The California Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the chief death penalty
lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California said
the proposal did not address what they consider the major problem
underlying the current backlog -- a lack of qualified defense attorneys
who are willing to take death penalty appeals under existing pay scales.
Veteran death penalty attorneys James Thomson, of Berkeley, and Lynn
Coffin, of Mill Valley, both said the organization believes the proposal
"is a constitutional step backward."
They said the organization's position is that "the highest punishment
deserves review by California's highest court. This proposal is a
significant departure from California's constitutional guarantee that
every person facing government-ordered execution should have his/her case
heard by the highest court in the state."
It takes a 2/3 vote of the state Legislature to put a proposed
constitutional amendment on the ballot, and a simple majority vote by the
electorate for passage.
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Court Seeks Altered Death Penalty Appeal
The state Supreme Court will seek an amendment to the California
constitution that would change the death penalty appeals process to help
ease the court's backlog of cases, the chief justice said.
Under the current system, death sentences are automatically appealed to
the California Supreme Court.
The proposal would allow many cases to be handled by 1 of the state's 6
appeals courts, with the high court stepping in when a significant legal
issue needs resolution or justices find another reason to review it.
The number of automatic death sentence appeals already threatens to
overwhelm the Supreme Court's docket, making up about 20 percent of the
court's caseload, Chief Justice Ronald M. George said.
"I don't want to pretend this is going to solve all the problems. But it
will solve a big part of it," he said Monday.
The average wait for execution in the state is now 17.5 years. The backlog
is likely to grow, considering the trend: 30 people have been on death row
for more than 25 years, 119 for more than 20 years and 408 for more than a
California's death row, with 666 inmates, is the nation's largest. While
58 death row inmates have died of old age, suicide, or prison violence in
the last 30 years, 13 have been executed since the death penalty's
reinstatement in 1978.
A legal challenge to the constitutionality of execution by lethal
injection has put all California executions on hold for the last 18
A constitutional amendment is required to change the current appeals
George said he hopes to find a legislator who will sponsor the measure,
which would then require two-thirds of lawmakers to approve it. A majority
of voters also would need to approve the change.
California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, a defense lawyers' association,
said "constitutional amendments are not the appropriate remedy for court
congestion. This proposal fails to address the major problem: lack of
Death Penalty Focus, a San Francisco-based nonprofit agency that opposes
capital punishment, hasn't yet taken an official position on the proposal,
but a spokeswoman said she's "very concerned."
"Further increasing of the number of individuals reviewing these cases ...
could cause increased disparities in the already unfair administration of
the death penalty," Stefanie Faucher said.
All death sentences go through a similar appeals process.
First, the case undergoes an automatic direct appeal, which considers
issues contained within the trial transcript like whether defendants were
properly read their rights or whether a jury received proper instructions.
Next, outside issues like juror misconduct or inadequate legal
representation are considered. After both appeals are complete, then the
accused may begin the federal appeals process.
(source: Associated Press)
Both sides of N.J. death penalty debate try to rally support
Death penalty supporters and opponents each tried to rally support Tuesday
with New Jersey lawmakers preparing to soon vote on abolishing the
Democratic leaders have said the Legislature will vote in the coming weeks
on a plan to replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole.
But Sen. Gerald Cardinale, a death penalty supporter, on Tuesday said he
was introducing legislation to make the state's death penalty law more
The state hasn't executed anyone since 1963.
Cardinale, R-Bergen, said his proposals would allow juries to consider
whether there's "lingering doubt" as they weigh imposing a death sentence.
He said his plan would also hasten appeals for those sentenced to death.
"The argument that because New Jersey doesn't use the death penalty we
should abolish it is absurd," Cardinale said at a Statehouse news
conference in which he was joined by Robert Blecker, a New York Law School
professor who supports the death penalty.
But as Cardinale made his pitch, 20 law enforcement officials sent a
letter to legislators urging them to replace the death penalty with life
in prison without parole.
Among those sending the letter were former state Attorney General Robert
Del Tufo and five former county prosecutors.
Their letter stated problems with the death penalty causes the public to
lose faith in criminal justice.
"Replacing the death penalty with life without parole provides our state
with a strong and effective punishment alternative that can be carried out
swiftly and with less cost and complications," the letter stated.
The Assembly and Senate expect to vote on whether to abolish the death
penalty before the legislative session expires on Jan. 8.
If approved by the Legislature and Gov. Jon S. Corzine, a death penalty
foe, New Jersey would be the first state to abolish capital punishment
since the Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976.
The effort to abolish capital punishment in New Jersey stems from a
January report by a special state commission that found the death penalty
was a more expensive sentence than life in prison and didn't deter murder.
The state has 8 men on death row.
(source: Associated Press)
Death penalty decried----Forum at St. John's opposes execution
Lifelong Parkville resident Lorri Batton, who was baptized at St. John's
Lutheran Church on Harford Road, said her personal beliefs brought her to
the church for an anti-death penalty forum.
"Even if 1 person in jail could be innocent, no prisoner should be put to
death," Batton said. "Eyewitness testimonies are just not reliable. No
one's judgment is perfect."
She was 1 of about 15 people who turned out for the Nov. 17 forum
sponsored by Maryland Citizens Against State Execution.
One of the expected speakers, exonerated former death row inmate Kirk
Bloodsworth, was unable to attend.
Bloodsworth was convicted of raping and murdering a young girl in 1984.
After 9 years on death row, he was exonerated of the charges after DNA
evidence proved his innocence. Bloodsworth was the 1st person in the
United States to be exonerated because of DNA evidence.
"I really would have liked to make it," he said when reached the day after
the forum. "Unfortunately, my wife was ill, and I needed to be with her."
One speaker was Bud Welch. His only daughter was killed in the 1995
bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, which claimed
the lives of 167 others.
Welch said his opinions on the death penalty stem from his relationship
with Bill McVeigh, father of Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh.
"I believe my daughter's death came from revenge and hate that Tim
(McVeigh) had for the United States government," Welch said. "Once I got
past my personal problems and all the initial pain of my daughter's death,
I realized killing Tim would only perpetuate that same hate and revenge
that killed my daughter."
McVeigh was executed in 2001.
Yusuke Sagawa came to the forum from Westminster to hear Welch.
"I read a book about wrongful convictions that lead to death row
exonerations and death penalty deaths," Sagawa said. "I am very excited to
hear Welch's story."
Welch spoke about his friendship with Bill McVeigh and how he and McVeigh
shared the sorrow of losing a child.
"When you lose a parent, you go to the top of the hill and you bury them.
When you lose a child, you bury them in your heart and that never goes
away," Welch said.
The next speaker, Walter Lomax, of Baltimore, said he was released from
prison in 2006 after serving 39 years of a life sentence for murder when a
group of supporters gathered evidence that resulted in his release.
"I wasn't on death row, but I am still against the death penalty," Lomax
said. "I mean, if I was innocent -- and I met many other men who I am
pretty sure were also innocent while I was in prison -- how can the system
see it fit to put people to death?"
Others at the forum had their own reasons for opposing the death penalty.
Danny and Maria Hammons, pastors of St. John's Lutheran Church in
Parkville, said they're against the killing of anybody at anytime for any
Maria Hammons said, "I know the congregation may be at different ends of
the spectrum with respect to death penalty, but I think this is an
advantageous opportunity for anyone to learn, pray or ask questions about
the death penalty."
According to the sponsoring group, Baltimore County has sent more people
to death row than any other county in Maryland.
"Baltimore County is over 13 times more likely to seek the death penalty
in an eligible case than is Baltimore City and more than 5 times more
likely than Montgomery County. Yet, Baltimore County accounts for only 6
percent of Maryland's homicides," according to a statement by the group.
Carney resident Nancy Allen said, "I am definitely against the death
penalty, and I think this forum will be good for people."
(source: Northeast Reporter)
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