[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TENN., CALIF., ARK., MD.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Nov 30 17:08:08 CST 2007
TENNESSEE----stay of impending execution
Federal Appeals Court Grants Stay of Execution for Tennessee Inmate
A federal appeals court has granted a stay of execution for death row
inmate Edward Jerome Harbison.
Harbison is challenging Tennessee's 3-drug method of lethal injection. A
federal judge in Nashville previously ruled in his favor.
The state attorney general's office appealed the ruling to the 6th U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals in Ohio. That court granted Harbison's stay this
week. He was scheduled to die Jan. 9.
The decision comes as many executions nationwide have been put on hold
until the U.S. Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of the 3-drug
Harbison and others argue it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
(source: Associated Press)
Bredesen: Tennessee executions on hold until next summer
Tennessee isnt likely to execute any prisoners on death row until next
summer, Gov. Phil Bredesen said Thursday.
Bredesen, a Democrat, said the state will wait until the U.S. Supreme
Court rules on the case of two Kentucky death row inmates who argue the
method amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
Bredesen said he doesn't expect the high court to rule until May or June.
"And that's going to give a huge amount of guidance to governors, and to
federal judges and district attorneys, and to an awful lot of people
involved in this process, he said.
U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger ruled in September that Tennessee's
method of lethal injection is unconstitutional and ordered the state not
to execute a death row inmate using that method. Attorney General Bob
Cooper has said he plans to appeal, but Bredesen noted that appellate
judges are likely to wait until the Supreme Court rules before deciding
how to proceed.
"From my perspective everything is essentially on hold until the Supreme
Court rules," Bredesen said.
The governor said he won't try to adjust the state's execution protocols
to try to adhere to Trauger's ruling on the state's 3-drug cocktail for
"It would be inappropriate of us to try to charge ahead and try to figure
out how to execute everyone who is on death row," he said.
Bredesen in February placed a 90-day moratorium on executions because of
several glaring problems with the states execution guidelines, including
conflicting instructions that mixed lethal injection instructions with
those for the electric chair.
Trauger ruled that state Correction Commissioner George Little adopted a
new protocol despite knowing the risk of excessive pain for inmates
The administration also did not give enough consideration to a
recommendation by experts to discard the standard 3-drug lethal injection
cocktail in favor of a single drug method, Trauger said.
Bredesen said he disagreed with Trauger's ruling. The panel of experts was
there to advise, but not to decide on the final makeup of the protocol, he
"I ask for advice all the time from experts and don't take it," he said.
"That's what people in executive positions do."
"I never imagine that by bringing in an expert you're abdicating your
judgment to whatever that expert says," he said.
(source: Knoxville News Sentinel)
APD far short of funds for DNA tests
The Los Angeles Police Department would need $9.3 million to clear up a
backlog of untested DNA evidence that could hold the key to solving
hundreds of sexual assaults and other violent crimes, but state and local
money is falling far short of covering the cost, officials say.
The problem was underscored by a state audit released Thursday that
detailed the shortfall that has existed between state aid and local law
Under Proposition 69, approved by voters in 2004 to expand California's
DNA database, a special court fee was established to pay for DNA
collection and analysis. Initially, most of the fee money went to the
state crime lab, which was able to slash its own backlog of untested
The LAPD has received only $530,000 from the court fee over the last 3
years for DNA collection from felons, and nothing to analyze crime scene
evidence, authorities said. The department expects to receive $1 million
in state money next year for its crime lab, but officials say that will
barely begin to close the gap.
Evidence from 6,700 LAPD sexual assault cases is stored in envelopes and
cartons inside cold storage lockers and trailers at a city warehouse
facility on the eastern fringe of downtown and in a trailer behind police
headquarters. Each packet is a potential genetic road map to a rapist or
killer, whose capture and conviction could bring some peace of mind to
survivors and their families.
In some cases, police say, the rapist has confessed, or immediate analysis
is not necessary for other reasons. But despite the launch of a new
regional L.A. crime laboratory last summer and public expectations of
"CSI"-style efficiency, packages have been sitting untested for up to a
decade, LAPD officials acknowledged.
The logjam is particularly frustrating because the department has found
that 37% of cases with DNA evidence produce a "hit," or match, when tested
against the FBI's national DNA databank. And while the LAPD says it is
keeping up with 30 new DNA evidence packets arriving each week, Chief
William J. Bratton said the backlog may never be cleared without
"Passion is not money, and this situation takes money we don't have,"
Bratton said in an interview Wednesday. "It is not for lack of desire. I
had a [relative] who was very viciously raped, and I dealt with that
firsthand when she was 14 years old.
"30 years later she is still dealing with the trauma of that rape," he
said. "So there is nothing I am more aware of personally and intimately in
terms of damages caused by these things."
The problem is not unique to Los Angeles. Forensic DNA testing facilities
nationwide have been swamped by demands, not only from regular
investigators but also from "cold hit" squads seeking breaks in
long-dormant cases and from convicts with innocence claims. According to
U.S. Justice Department statistics, more than 500,000 unsolved crimes,
including 169,000 rapes, have DNA evidence that has gone untested.
In Los Angeles County, the backlog has occasionally caused trial dates to
be canceled, frustrated detectives and delayed justice for victims and
their families. More seriously, an evidence kit that went untested for
months left a rapist free to assault another woman and a teenager.
Detective Tim Marcia said he knew when he arrived at the scene of a
February 2000 sexual assault on a 43-year-old legal secretary in
Mid-Wilshire that it was the work of a serial rapist. So when he was told
DNA analysis at the LAPD facility would take eight months, the detective
drove the victim's evidence swab to the state crime lab.
4 months later, Christopher Cardwell broke into a pregnant woman's home in
Los Angeles and sexually assaulted her. The next month he raped a
17-year-old girl, also in her home. After the DNA testing was completed in
August, Cardwell was convicted of 20 sex crimes against the 3 Los Angeles
victims and 1 other and sentenced to 580 years to life in prison.
"It is unconscionable that victims should have to endure sexual assaults
and other acts of brutality while the evidence that prevents these crimes
sits untested," said Councilman Jack Weiss, who raised the case in a
recent letter to his colleagues on the issue.
LAPD Cmdr. Harlan Ward said some of the stockpiled evidence is from closed
cases; in others, police already know who the rapist is or don't believe
there was a crime. Individual detectives prioritize testing in cases in
which it could be the most helpful, such as rapes by strangers.
But odds are that among the 6,700 rape kits are genetic guideposts to the
identities of hundreds of unknown rapists, authorities said.
"Every kit in the freezer represents a woman or child who has been raped
and put their faith in the system," said Gail Abarbanel, founder of the
Rape Treatment Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.
Lisa Kahn, a deputy district attorney specializing in DNA evidence, said
authorities don't know how big the problem is because they don't know
what's in the untested evidence kits. But Abarbanel thinks many repeat
offenders could be stopped through more testing.
"We desperately need more police officers on the street, but it is just as
important to put criminalists in the crime lab," she said.
Rape charges must be filed within 10 years of the assault, but the cutoff
is suspended if a DNA profile is produced within the first 2 years. Greg
Matheson, head of the LAPD crime lab, acknowledged that not all the
department's DNA evidence in rape cases is tested within the two years
limit and that some is not even analyzed before the 10-year statutory
In order to better meet the two-year deadline, the LAPD went back this
year over sexual assault cases in which detectives had initially passed on
DNA testing. After selecting the most promising ones, they found that 44%
of the cases had DNA evidence and that 10% of those produced a hit in the
The LAPD lab has a city-financed budget of $5.7 million for DNA work, plus
a $1-million grant this year. Earlier this month Weiss offered a proposal
to generate the additional $9.3 million to clear the backlog.
The plan is similar to an initiative New York City used to eliminate its
backlog a few years ago. But Bratton, during the interview, said the
proposal is "dead on arrival" because the city doesn't have the money.
"I guarantee when it goes before the council it is not going to go
anywhere, and that is not because the council is not well intended,"
Assistant Chief Sharon Papa said the department is considering approaching
private donors to pay to test evidence at private labs.
The California state auditor looked at how the DNA court fee is collected
throughout the state, focusing on whether the revenue covered collection
costs for three counties, Orange, Los Angeles and Sacramento.
Orange County law enforcement, in 2005, sought $1.4 million to cover
taking samples from felons and received $314,000 from the court fee, the
audit found. Los Angeles County in 2006 asked for $1.9 million and
received $1.7 million. While the LAPD got $530,000, some agencies,
including the Orange County district attorney's office, did not get any
financial help, the audit found.
"Because of inadequate funding, the counties we visited could reimburse
the costs of only a few departments," the audit said.
In Los Angeles, one of the temperature-controlled lockers containing the
backlogged evidence is so crowded that boxes are stacked in the aisles.
The evidence envelopes are lined up in neat rows as if they were drugstore
photos awaiting pickup.
Steve Johnson, the LAPD administrator who oversees property facilities,
opened the door to one of the trailers and shined his flashlight inside.
One box was labeled, "1997. Black pants, underwear." Another contained a
blanket and a Raiders sweat shirt.
Johnson opened another trailer. The roof was caked with ice, which flaked
off onto the cardboard packages below.
"If the power goes out, these things stay cold enough for long enough to
get them repaired," Johnson said. "We're building 2 more freezers."
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Group will petition for committee on death penalty if not established by
The president of an anti-death penalty coalition in Arkansas said Thursday
the group would push for a ballot initiatives next year to establish a
committee to study the death penalty if Gov. Mike Beebe does not establish
a panel on his own.
Beebe has said he had no intentions of establishing a death penalty
commission, but that he would listen to the group's arguments.
"If the governor is not will to appoint a study commission without some
help, we are going to go out and get 100,000 signatures next year to show
him there is a great deal of interest on all sides of the political
spectrum," David Rickard, president of the Arkansas Coalition for the
Abolition of the Death Penalty, said Thursday.
Rickard said the group anticipates announcing the campaign officially in
February 2008. In the meantime, he said the group was gathering supporters
and lining up endorsements from key political, religious and economic
Rickard and other members of the coalition met with Beebe's chief of
staff, Morril Harriman, this week asking the governor to impose a formal
moratorium on executions and to establish a committee to study the cost
and numerous other aspects of the death penalty.
Beebe said Wednesday a state-imposed moratorium was unnecessary because
states have halted executions until the U.S. Supreme Court reaches a
decision on whether a Kentucky inmate should have the right to petition
for a stay on the argument that the method the state administers lethal
injection is cruel and unusual punishment.
Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has said he would not certify
any executions until the high court rules, and Beebe said he supported the
"If they truly want us to explore the options and listen to the evidence,
I'm there, I'm ready to listen," Beebe said. "Now is a good time for them
to come forward with the information rather than talking about some
Rickard said Thursday his group has only anecdotal evidence. A committee
composed of sociologists, criminologists, prosecutors and defense
attorneys from around the state needs to be formed to study a variety of
factors, Rickard said, such as the cost of the death penalty, an
execution's effect on the family of a murder victim, whether convictions
are geographically biased and the cost to the state Department of
Correction in terms of turnover of personnel involved in the process.
"We don't think we have adequate data to assess how well or how poorly the
death penalty is working in Arkansas," Rickard said.
He said Beebe should impose a formal moratorium on executions while a
commission studies the issue.
"We want to get some facts on the table so we can have a rational
discussion in a political environment rather than having individuals
citing anecdotes to try to make their case," Rickard said.
(source: Arkansas News Bureau)
A capital offense
Today, Maryland is in a unique position to get out of the business of
executing prisoners. A de facto moratorium exists here, stemming from an
appeals court decision that invalidated the state's protocols on
administering the death penalty. And even if the irregularities in the
protocols were fixed, it's unlikely any of the 5 men on death row would be
executed, because Gov. Martin O'Malley adamantly opposes the death
Even Scott D. Shellenberger, state's attorney for Baltimore County - which
leads the state in death penalty cases - has pledged to revise his
office's practice of seeking capital punishment in all eligible cases. But
such revision, should it occur, doesn't get to the heart of the issue.
In Maryland, the decision to seek death for a defendant rests solely with
individual state's attorneys - and though that has resulted in neither an
equitable nor a fair system, it won't change until the state's death
penalty law is repealed by the legislature or invalidated by the courts. A
perennial cause for death penalty opponents, the issue of repeal continues
to gain ground and supporters.
Across the country, fewer juries are sentencing defendants to death, and
more people seem to favor life without parole instead. A poll this year by
the Maryland Catholic Conference showed increasing opposition to the death
penalty among black voters (51 %, compared with 45 % in 2005) and more
support for life without parole (77 %, compared with 69 % in 2005). That's
an encouraging shift even though African-Americans represent the majority
of homicide victims in the state.
The Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of the dominant
form of execution - lethal injection - and this month stayed another
execution, that of a Florida inmate, pending its review. And yet, in
Maryland, the machinery of the capital system marches on - prosecutors
continue to seek the death penalty, and the appeals of those facing it
grind on at a cost of thousands of dollars to the state.
Of the 12 pending cases in which prosecutors are seeking the death
penalty, 8 are in Baltimore County, although most predated Mr.
Shellenberger. So far, his decision to impanel a team to review
death-eligible cases and consider at the outset social and personal
factors that would argue against the death penalty has changed his mind in
just one case - and it involved an 18-year-old, barely eligible for the
Time will tell if Mr. Shellenberger's approach changes the landscape, but
Maryland lawmakers don't need to wait - they should repeal the law.
(source: Baltimore Sun)
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