[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TENN., GA., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Oct 13 10:57:31 CDT 2007
1st Federal Death Penalty Case Here Proving Costly To
Taxpayers----Attorney Fees Already Past $318,000, Expert Charges Not
The decision to handle the 1st death penalty case in Chattanooga is
proving costly to taxpayers.
The prosecution of Rejon Taylor for the death penalty for the killing of
Atlanta restaurant owner Guy Luck began in June of last year. The amount
paid to Taylor's four attorneys has already topped $318,000.
There have also been a number of payments for a variety of expert
witnesses in the case, but John Medearis, chief clerk for the Eastern
District of Tennessee, said that information is not available to the
He said, "Even the government does not see those figures."
A 3rd area of cost is transcripts. That is at $828 thus far.
Attorney payments have been:
Bill Ortwein - $155,740
Howell Clements - $94,996
Leslie Cory - $35,005
Lee Ortwein - $32,372
The attorneys have filed an array of motions in the case, and the docket
entries already far exceed a routine case.
Judge Curtis Collier is overseeing the case, which had been set for trial
last February. The trial is now slated for April 2008.
2 other young Atlanta men charged with the August 2003 murder - Sir Jack
Matthews and Joey Montrez Marshall - entered guilty pleas and are expected
to testify against Taylor.
Prosecutors said earlier they had decided not to seek the death penalty
against any of the defendants.
However, authorities said Taylor recruited other jail inmates in an escape
attempt at the Hamilton County Jail. The attempt was foiled, but a
correctional officer was injured. Officials said Taylor obtained weapons
for the escape try.
They said he "has failed to adapt his behavior to societal norms, thereby
demonstrating a significantly low rehabilitative potential" and has
demonstrated a lack of remorse for the crime.
Approval for the death penalty had to go to the U.S. Attorney General.
The case, which was switched from Hamilton County Criminal Court, earlier
had been ruled "death eligible."
A Federal Grand Jury had indicted the trio for carjacking resulting in
death, firearms murder during and in relation to carjacking, and
kidnapping resulting in death.
According to an earlier hearing in state court, one of the defendants said
the plan was to let the victim out to find his way back to Atlanta, but he
was shot after he "jumped" them on Aug. 6, 2003.
County Detective Chris Chambers said Matthews said the 51-year-old Luck
was abducted at Buckhead in his white Econoline van. The plan was to drive
him north and let him out to find his own way back, it was stated.
He said Matthews stated they pulled off I-75 at Collegedale when Mr. Luck
The detective said Matthews stated that he turned and fired, striking the
victim in the right arm.
Matthews said Taylor also turned and fired several shots, including one
that grazed him (Matthews).
(source: The Chattanoogan)
Investigative series is what newspapers do best
Marsinah Johnson and Nikki Waller were teenage girls desperately trying to
fit in when they crossed paths with Ahmond Dunnigan and his gang known as
Both girls faced unimaginable torture and murder at the hands of
Dunnigan's crew in separate incidents in Fulton and DeKalb counties in
A litany of legal setbacks led to Dunnigan pleading guilty and being
sentenced to life without parole even though prosecutors in both counties
agreed that if anyone deserved death, it was him. Fellow gang members
involved in the murders also avoided death. The AJC's investigative
series, published the week of Sept. 23, showed just how arbitrary death
can be for Georgia's convicted murderers. In fact, the series' findings
echoed the argument Supreme Court justices used 35 years ago when they
invalidated the nation's death penalty in Furman v. Georgia.
At the time, Justice Potter Stewart said capital punishment was "so
wantonly and so freakishly imposed" that death sentences were cruel and
unusual punishment. Another Georgia court case restored the death penalty
a few years later and became the basis for new death penalty statutes in a
number of other states.
Longtime AJC court reporter Bill Rankin suggested that the newspaper come
up with a statistical approach to measure whether death sentences in
Georgia were being applied arbitrarily or disproportionately.
"We found huge disparities in the way different courts and district
attorneys applied the death penalty," said Jim Walls, who edited the
"We found that only 4 percent of killers who are eligible for the death
penalty actually get it, and that one reason was the fact that our statute
was written so broadly that it covers most murders, including many that
many DAs would never prosecute for death."
Rankin and reporters Heather Vogell, Sonji Jacobs and Megan Clarke
examined 1,315 murder convictions eligible for the death penalty from 1995
Among the findings:
* Only 29 of Georgia's 132 most heinous murders resulted in a death
sentence. 50 of the state's worst killers avoided death by pleading
guilty. Some are eligible to receive parole.
* Similar circumstances can result in starkly different outcomes depending
on where a murder occurs. Killers were twice as likely to get death if the
victim was white.
* In doing proportionality reviews to justify death sentences, Georgia's
Supreme Court has repeatedly cited other cases that had been overturned.
* More juries are choosing life without parole over death.
"Fifty-seven people got the death penalty [in the decade we reviewed], but
more than 1,250 others could have faced the death penalty in that time,
and they all had victims who left behind friends and family, so there are
actually many thousands of people directly affected by the way [the state]
applies the death penalty," said Walls. "Death penalty trials and the
appeals cost millions of tax dollars more, according to some studies,
than life imprisonment."
To report the series, reporters visited more than 100 Georgia counties to
examine court records and were surprised to find how incomplete some of
the records were.
"You would think on such important cases the records would be fuller or
richer," said Clarke.
A checklist of more than 100 entries was used to gather consistent
information on every case. They focused on the nature of the crime and the
evidence, the court proceedings and aggravating circumstances that could
trigger Georgia's death penalty.
They also looked at the demographics of the killer and victim and their
relationship. The newspaper asked 2 criminologists, who have never taken
an advocacy position on the death penalty, to do an advanced analysis of
The series, which has received significant reaction from readers,
attorneys and judges, is an example of investigative journalism that
newspapers are uniquely positioned to deliver.
On ajc.com, the series was enhanced with an interactive quiz, a video of
Gordy Foust talking about his son Todd's murder and a database of the
(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Death penalty opponents speak out at L.A., Oxnard events ---- Clergy say
it's a struggle to get flocks to see capital punishment as a 'life issue.'
Last week, as the U.S. Supreme Court said it would hear a case concerning
the constitutionality of executions by lethal injection, walkers and a
workshop for clergy tried to refocus attention on the death penalty in
California - a state that houses nearly 700 men and women on death row.
The walkers had started Sept. 15 with a rousing rally in San Diego with
about 50 supporters, including giant puppet images of Mahatma Gandhi and
the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Their ultimate destination was the
Capitol in Sacramento, some 800 miles away.
The small group of walkers, from Death Penalty Focus, California People of
Faith Working Against the Death Penalty and Amnesty International USA, had
hiked north to Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties, stopping for
rallies at county courthouses to encourage district attorneys not to seek
the death penalty in even the most egregious cases.
Arriving in Los Angeles Oct. 4, they made their way to the criminal courts
building downtown for a noon demonstration in front of the honeycomb-like
high-rise that houses the office of Los Angeles County District Attorney
Steve Cooley on the 18th floor.
Holding placards that read "Executions Are Revenge Killings," "We Support
All Victims of Violence" and other anti-death penalty slogans, they formed
a semi-circle near a huge black-and-white banner saying, "Stop Executions
in the USA."
Wearing a flopping hat, Richard Carlburg, a retired aerospace engineer who
spent 24 years in the U.S. Air Force, put down the little lantern with the
stubby candle he and fellow walker Jeff Ghelardi had been alternately
carrying for 216 miles. He told the gathered group of about 40 people that
the candle was a symbol of hope to brighten up dark places.
"Can you imagine a darker place than death row?" the 61-year-old member of
Amnesty International USA, declared, his voice rising with emotion through
a hand-held megaphone. "Can you imagine a darker place than the mind of
man that thinks he has to kill people in order to have justice?"
Carlburg said they would continue to carry the candle, which he hoped
would keep the death penalty on the public's "radar screen," until the
U.S. government and state of California stop their "barbaric acts" of
Doubling the sorrow
Sister Miriam Clare Burkett, 87, came to the downtown rally because of a
troubling childhood memory. When the retired Sister of St. Joseph of
Carondelet was nine in Santa Ana, a young man from her neighborhood was
convicted of and executed for committing a capital crime. "I could see the
sorrow built around it just doubled," she told The Tidings.
Another speaker at the rally, Norm Stamper, was a former police chief of
Seattle and a cop for 34 years. He said the death penalty was not only
unnecessary but also inefficient, taking 10-to-12 years to prosecute a
capital case from arrest to execution and costing $8 to $12 million. The
ex-lawman pointed out that a dozen states had outlawed the death penalty,
along with almost every nation in Europe.
"I opposed the death penalty because too often, predictably and
inevitably, against a backdrop of race and class discrimination, we have
people who would not be on death row if it were not for the color of their
skin or the size of their personal treasury," he said.
"And I oppose the death penalty," he added, "because from time to time we
get the wrong guy."
The last to speak was Gloria Killian. Twenty-six years ago she was
convicted and sentenced to die for being involved in a home-invasion
robbery where somebody was killed. But when California's Supreme Court
banned the death penalty (and before it was later restored), her sentence
was lessened to 32 years to life.
Friends spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire one of the best
criminal lawyers in the country, before she was eventually exonerated by
DNA and other evidence.
"I think I'm one of the lucky ones," she mused. "It only took 22 years of
my life, and probably most of my sanity. But as time goes on, it becomes
more and more distressing because it's continuing to happen."
After nearly an hour, the group formed a circle to sing the old civil
rights anthem, "We Shall Overcome." Then, heading up Temple, they began
marching to their next destination - Ventura - on the way to Sacramento.
2 days earlier, another small group of Californians gathered to discuss
capital punishment - an eclectic mix of Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and
Buddhist leaders who met in Oxnard.
Sitting at round tables in the Courtyard Marriott Hotel on Oct. 2, some 40
members of the clergy listened to Aundr Herron, a former assistant
prosecutor in Missouri and current staff attorney for the California
Appellate Project, which works with inmates on death row, stress the role
faith leaders should be playing in the struggle to abolish the death
"Religious organizations and faith groups have long expressed their
opposition to the death penalty, recognizing the apparent contradiction
between religious faith and state-sponsored execution," Herron observed.
"But while the institutional leadership has issued resolutions, edicts and
official pronouncements against the death penalty, the real message and
purpose of these efforts has not been effectively transmitted to or
embraced and internalized by organized religions' lay membership."
Herron pointed out that capital punishment is largely used against
society's "most damaged and disadvantaged" members; that it's exorbitantly
costly; and that it doesn't deter crime, with the states practicing it the
most, ironically, having the highest murders rates.
She also noted that in recent years there have been more than 200
"exonerations" for inmates sentenced to die. Finally, she reported that
concerning lethal injection, which is used in California and 36 other
states, the 3-drug protocol for executing human beings falls below the
standards used by veterinarians to euthanize animals.
But she said these reasons to stop capital punishment paled in
significance to the theological arguments raised by the faith community.
"I think we can all agree that a core belief in God is patently
inconsistent with the vengeful execution of those who offend our laws,
even those who grievously injure and murder our fellow citizens," she
"Doesn't the death penalty violate our values of forgiveness and
redemption, compassion and rehabilitation? Have we become so vengeful, so
bitter and so attenuated from the inherent value of every human life that
we are willing to concede that the ritualistic extermination of our errant
fellow citizens is our highest, best and most God-like response?
"If we consider these questions from a faith-based perspective, the right
answer -uncomfortably and unpopular as it may be - cannot be denied," she
stressed. "People of faith cannot be party to the death penalty."
'Never ever done'
During a panel discussion, Rabbi Emeritus John Sherwood of Temple Emet in
Woodland Hills said the death penalty is prescribed in the Talmud, Jewish
scripture, including stoning for incest, bestiality and even child
rebelliousness, and strangulation for striking one's father or mother,
adultery and being a false prophet.
But the criteria for finding someone guilty of a capital offense is also
prescribed in minute detail. No circumstantial evidence was allowed, and
two qualified eye witnesses were required. Moreover, the witnesses had to
carry out the execution themselves.
"In other words, it was never ever done," Rabbi Sherwood said. "We have no
evidence that any Jewish religious court ever carried out an act of
capital punishment - period! And today a number of major Jewish
organizations have come out in absolute opposition against the death
"Our problem, like with other religions, is getting our laity to follow
through with it," he added. "The numbers are increasing, but we have a lot
of work ahead of us. The challenge is ours."
Dharma Holder Gary Koan Janka, a Buddhist from the Zen Center of Los
Angeles who serves as chaplain in the Los Angeles County jail system, said
that the Buddha's perspective on capital punishment was very straight
forward: "Don't do it!"
This comes from the enlightened experience that there is no separation in
the world. Everything and everybody is interconnected. He said Buddhism's
precepts all boil down to "not harm."
"The Buddha taught that no one is beyond redemption," Dharma Holder noted.
The Rev. Julie Morris of Trinity Episcopal Church in Sylmar said
Episcopalians were charged not only to oppose capital punishment but to
actively work against it. She noted that Jesus interrupted the execution
of an adulterer with the famous words, "Let those who are without sin cast
the first stone."
Also Christians should not forget that Jesus himself was a victim of a
state-sanctioned, legal execution of the Roman Empire.
"Finally, the Christian community holds reconciliation between God and
human beings, and between human beings and one another, as our primary
work in the world," Rev. Morris declared. "If we go along with the common
understanding that we hear always in the media --- that the death penalty
will bring closure to the families of victims --- we are violating our own
The Rev. Howard Dotson of the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles
explained that reformed Christians believe that people are always being
changed according to the word of God. He said the 77 million members
around the world have been asked to provide legal assistance and minister
to individuals facing capital punishment. In 2000, the federation of
churches' general assembly called for an immediate moratorium on all
"People say, 'Well, for especially egregious crimes we should keep the
death penalty,'" he said. "Last week I buried a 3-week-old baby who was
killed in a gang shooting on 6th Street. I don't think Baby Louise's mom
is going to get closure. And I don't think we should have the death
penalty just reserved for these special crimes."
Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry noted that the Catholic view of
capital punishment had been a "significant progression" in church thinking
over the years. He pointed out that Pope John Paul II, in his 1995
encyclical Evangelium Vitae, said the gospel of life balanced the argument
for the protection of society with the dignity of all people.
"The pope connects the death penalty with other life issues," he said. "He
sees a continuum from the womb to natural death. This he calls a culture
of life in contrast with a culture of death, which he associates with the
In an interview, the bishop said he was encouraged that more and more
Catholics were viewing the death penalty as much of a life issue as
abortion. He reported that national polls show half of all U.S. Catholics
now oppose capital punishment.
"Catholics are members of society, and they're influenced by the society
around us," he said. "Often times they accept things that are not really
in conformity with church doctrine. So it's a constant struggle.
"But I think the mood is clearly swinging against the death penalty,"
Bishop Curry added. "It is part of the respect for human life."
(source: The Tidings)
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