[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----PENN., VA., FLA., MO.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Oct 13 16:23:08 CDT 2007
Death appeal delayed 9 years in court----Michael Bardo was sentenced to
die in 1994, but his appeal lingers due to 'miscommunication.'
An oversight within the Luzerne County judicial system has resulted in a
nearly 9-year delay in resolving the appeals of a city man who was
sentenced to death in 1994 for murdering his young niece.
All court review of the case of Michael Bardo ceased in 1998, when the
state Supreme Court directed Luzerne County Judge Patrick Toole to
reconsider his denial of a request to have new attorneys appointed to
The problem is that Toole never ruled on that matter, and no one involved
in the case ever raised the issue again. That resulted in the case coming
to a standstill until this week, when a Times Leader reporter who was
investigating the delay brought the issue to Tooles attention.
In an interview Friday, Toole, who presided over Bardo's trial, said he
had no idea the case was awaiting a decision from him until the
newspaper's inquiry prompted him to review the Bardo file.
Toole, now a senior judge, said he is trying to schedule a meeting with
the district attorney's office and public defenders office to determine
how to reactivate the case.
"Right now the problem for me is how do I get it back on track?" Toole
said. "That's what I hope to discuss with counsel. The next issue is, how
did it happen and how do we see that it doesnt happen again?"
Unusual set of circumstances
Exactly what did happen is unclear, but Toole said it appears there was a
miscommunication with the Supreme Court.
The delay in the case does not alter Bardo's legal status regarding the
death sentence. He remains on death row at the State Correctional
Institution at Greene. It's possible the delay could have legal
consequences for any further appeals he would file, however.
Assistant District Attorney Scott Gartley, who handles death penalty
appeals for the office, said he is reviewing whether the delay means Bardo
has waived his right to raise certain issues.
Bardo was sentenced to death for killing his 3-year-old niece, Joelle
Donovan, in 1992 and dumping her body into Solomon Creek in South
Bardo exhausted his 1st round of appeals in November 1998, leading then
Gov. Tom Ridge to issue a warrant for Bardo's execution. The warrant was
stayed on Dec. 23, 1998, based on an appeal filed by Bardo's appellate
attorneys, Al Flora Jr. and William Ruzzo. That appeal challenged Toole's
refusal to appoint new attorneys to represent Bardo in his second round of
The Supreme Court never ruled on that issue, however. The same day the
court stayed his execution, it remanded the case back to Toole, directing
him to reconsider his denial of the request for new counsel.
The district attorney's office got the notice of the remand. But Toole
said Friday he never got the order.
"If I had received it I should have done it, period. But I don't have any
record it was received," Toole said.
The appeal was filed when Peter Paul Olszewski Jr., now a county judge,
served as district attorney.
On Friday, Olszewski said that as far as he knew, Toole was still
reviewing the matter when Olszewski left office at the end of 1999.
"If the Supreme Court remanded a matter to the trial judge, I have to
assume they sent it to him. It would never occur to me he didn't get it,"
The matter was further complicated by a notice the Supreme Court issued on
June 22, 1999, advising Toole and the district attorney that the appeal
regarding the appointment of new counsel had been withdrawn by the
What Toole didn't know was that withdrawal was based on the court's Dec.
23, 1998, ruling that remanded the case to Toole. The notice did not state
the reason, he said.
"I thought the appeal was withdrawn. I never heard from anybody," he said.
"That's why I closed the file and shipped it out."
Process has started
In the ensuing years Toole said it never dawned on him that there was a
problem because its not uncommon for death penalty appeals to take years
"When a death warrant is issued a bevy of appeals come. I just assumed one
of these days we'd see a death warrant again," he said.
He said he does not fault prosecutors or defense attorneys for the delay.
"They get a notice telling them to wait for the judge. If the judge does
not get that notice, they could wait forever," Toole said.
Flora and Ruzzo were preparing for another homicide trial on Friday and
could not be reached for comment.
Gov. Ed Rendell, who signs all death warrants, was also unaware that
Bardo's case was in limbo, said Chuck Ardo, spokesman for the governor.
Ardo said Rendell acts on cases after his office is notified by the court
system that a defendant has exhausted all appeals.
"We were aware the case was at some point in the appeals and then we never
heard anything beyond that," Ardo said. "We depend on the notification
process to keep us informed. Somewhere along the way there was a failure
in that process."
Ardo said attorneys in the office are now reviewing the case and plan to
speak with the district attorney's office regarding how to proceed.
Whatever happens, it likely will be years before Bardos case is resolved.
Even if he loses at the county court level he has a host of other appeals
available to him through state and federal courts.
(source: Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader)
Va. execution in '06 bungled, attorneys say----Lawyers for next inmate to
die make claim in his appeal
Virginia bungled a lethal injection last year, leading to a prolonged
execution, lawyers for condemned killer Christopher Scott Emmett contend
in an appeal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Emmett is facing execution Wednesday night for the April 2001 slaying of
John F. Langley, 43, of Roanoke Rapids, N.C., a co-worker he beat to death
with a brass lamp for drug money.
Among other things, Emmett's lawyers say the executioners of John Yancey
Schmitt on Nov. 9 administered the lethal combination of drugs twice. It
took 13 minutes for him to die, longer than the other 70 lethal injections
performed in Virginia.
The attending physician testified that he did not know why the second set
of chemicals was administered to Schmitt, but that "it could have been
The state attorney general's office, in a response to the appeal filed
yesterday, said the execution was not bungled but acknowledged the
chemicals were administered twice.
Chemicals have been administered twice in 10 of Virginia's 70 lethal
injections since 1995. In nine of those 10 cases, the Virginia Department
of Corrections did not follow its own procedures when administering the
2nd set, Emmett's lawyers contend.
A federal judge in Richmond heard the same evidence last month when he
upheld the constitutionality of the way the state conducts lethal
injections. He also ruled there was no evidence improper conduct during an
execution in Virginia resulted in a painful death.
But in his opinion, District Judge Henry E. Hudson said he had "some
concern with aspects of Virginia's execution procedures . . . the
inconsistencies demonstrated by the evidence are disturbing and may
warrant administrative review."
Matthew Engle, one of Emmett's lawyers, said that because the inmates die
and because of the masking effect of one of the drugs, inmates can appear
calm and serene even if they are suffering.
"It's impossible to prove" under the circumstances, he said.
In addition, post-mortem testing of executed inmates in Virginia does not
appear to be adequate to determine if proper levels of drugs were used,
said Jennifer Givens, another Emmett lawyer.
The court papers state that Emmett's "characterization of that [Schmitt]
execution as something that 'went wrong' is insupportable."
Among other things, the state argues: "Schmitt's executioner administered
a 2nd set of chemicals into the original IV line when he had not
'flat-lined' within three minutes, even though the [execution] protocol
allowed the executioner to wait up to 10 minutes."
Schmitt was to have been executed in June, but Gov. Timothy M. Kaine
delayed it until Wednesday so the Supreme Court could consider whether to
hear his appeal. The justices declined to do so this month.
However, on Sept. 25, the high court agreed to hear a Kentucky case
challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection. Richard Dieter, of
the Death Penalty Information Center, said that no execution has been
conducted in the U.S. since Sept. 25.
Aside from the courts, Kaine has been asked to grant Emmett a reprieve
until the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the Kentucky case.
(source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)
Florida High Court: Why rush execution?----Justices want decisions made in
Florida Supreme Court justices Thursday asked why there's a rush to
execute Mark Schwab on Nov. 15. Though Schwab has been on death row more
than 15 years, a separate state case and a federal review are pending that
could affect his execution.
Schwab kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered 11-year-old Junny
Rios-Martinez of Cocoa on April 18, 1991. He was convicted and sentenced
to death on July 1, 1992.
His is the 1st death warrant signed by Gov. Charlie Crist and the first in
the state since a moratorium on executions was lifted following an inquiry
into the botched December 2006 lethal injection of Angel Diaz.
The state's highest court last year chose the appeal of Ian Deco
Lightbourne to consider the constitutionality of Florida's revised lethal
injection methods in the wake of Diaz's execution. Lightbourne's case has
produced a record of more than 7,000 pages as a circuit court held
hearings on the legality of Florida's 3-drug mix and changes made by the
Department of Corrections since Diaz. The trial judge concluded the new
procedures are constitutional.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Lightbourne
case immediately before it heard Schwab's appeals.
"Lightbourne has to be decided first, wouldn't you agree with that?" asked
Justice Barbara Pariente. "It would look pretty bad for the administration
of justice in this state if Schwab is executed and 2 weeks later we decide
lethal injection as administered in Florida is cruel and unusual."
Lightbourne is not under a death warrant and justices asked why they
shouldn't stay Schwab's execution while they decide that case.
Crist, a former attorney general, was asked Thursday if he would consider
a moratorium on executions while the courts deliberate cases on the
constitutionality of lethal injection.
"There are a lot of people waiting for justice to done," Crist said. "They
have suffered the loss of a loved one. My heart bleeds for them."
There is also a pending U.S. Supreme Court review of a Kentucky case that
seeks to set the standard of constitutionality for lethal injections.
"Why in the world would we move forward to approve an execution when there
is some possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court will give specific
guidance on this very issue in terms of lethal injection?" asked Justice
Harry Lee Anstead. "What is the emergency of having an execution put
forward while we're waiting for what will be the absolutely controlling
law in this area?"
Earlier, assistant attorney general Kenneth Nunnelley said the state's
methods would stand up to whatever the U.S. Supreme Court decides in the
"Florida's procedures will meet any standard they may possibly choose to
apply," Nunnelley said.
WOMEN IN PRISON----Women inmates tell stories through art----An arts
program is helping inmates share the harsh realities of prison in the hope
of helping at-risk girls avoid the same fate.
On a miserable gray day near the edge of the Everglades, past thickets of
razor wire, doors guarded 24/7, past the sounds of a woman screaming at
the voices in her head, a dozen women sit in a circle in a place they call
In this bright room with its under-the-sea mural, these women with
terrible stories to tell and hard experiences to share become writers,
dancers, performers, poets, artists, singers, playwrights.
Outside of this circle, this oasis that gets created for two hours each
Saturday, 11 of the women are inmates at the Broward Correctional
Institution in Pembroke Pines. Eight are serving life sentences for
murder. And in the years before their crimes, many of these perpetrators
were also the victims of violence and abuse.M
In the past 13 years, dozens of female inmates have shared their stories
with Leslie Neal, an associate professor of dance at Florida International
University and founder of ArtSpring, a nonprofit organization that brings
an arts program called Inside Out to women in prison.
On Thursday, some of that painful, creative work goes public at Any One of
Us: Words from Prison. A benefit featuring Vagina Monologues creator Eve
Ensler and singer-songwriter Amy Carol Webb, the event -- staged by Neal,
with original music by Webb, dance pieces, video of prisoners talking
about their lives and readings by a cast that includes community leaders
and former inmates -- is set for 8 p.m. at Miami's Gusman Center for the
For Neal, Ensler and the many volunteers who bring writing workshops and
the cathartic power of the arts into prisons, passion for the work is
based on 2 ideas: that artistic expression really can be a tool for
healing and change, and that women who have been locked away from the
world are still human beings with value.
''There's this terrible thing that women do called their crime. Then
there's the rest of them, which is full and extensive and powerful and
important,'' Ensler says. "Isn't there something about people transforming
themselves and becoming new kinds of people that can benefit society?
Wouldn't that be honoring the people that they hurt, rather than just
punishing and just holding people forever?''
For Neal, who has made the 100-mile roundtrip from her home in south
Miami-Dade County to BCI nearly every Saturday since 1994, sitting with
the women in that circle is a deeply rewarding calling -- though it's one
that comes with a price.
''I've got a history of abuse, and a dysfunctional childhood. It's a fine
line that separates me from them. That's what motivates me most. There,
but for the grace of God, go I,'' Neal says. "Sometimes I go home and cry.
I sob at 1 a.m. on my deck in the moonlight. I sob when my husband is
asleep. It's not for everyone. It's very hard work.''
Beginning in February 2006, ArtSpring partnered with the Miami-based Girls
Advocacy Project to conduct four-month writing workshops called Bridging
the Gap -- GAP for short -- at both BCI and the Homestead Correctional
Institution. Many of the pieces in the Any One of Us program were written
during those workshops, prompted by questions for the inmates from young
girls in detention facilities -- girls already struggling to overcome
abusive relationships, family problems, early motherhood, addiction and
The stories of women doing hard time in prison and girls in detention are
GAP founder Cindy Lederman, administrative judge of the Miami-Dade Circuit
Court's juvenile division, says, "What we've learned is that whether
they're girls or women, they have the same stories, the same trauma.''
The hope is that the inmates' cautionary tales and frank talk about the
realities of months, years or a lifetime in prison might help at-risk
girls avoid the same fate.
Deidre Hunt, a former death row inmate serving a life sentence for murder,
reflects on the way many women wind up in prison, and what never getting
out really means.
''I know a lot of these girls are here because of men. Because of boys.
Their association with them. Because of love. Because you want somebody to
love you so much that you're gonna cling to the first person you feel like
loves you . . . And beating, and being abused, is not love,'' says Hunt,
"If you end up in prison, when your grandmother goes to the hospital, you
ain't gonna be able to go see her. Or if your mom dies, you can't go to
the funeral. Every single person that gets sick, or has a baby, or gets
married, you won't be able to hug 'em. You won't be able to be there. And
you won't be part of anything. The world is going to go on without you.''
Maggie Carr, a BCI inmate serving a life sentence, has gone from laughing
about ''all this fruity stuff'' that the ArtSpring volunteers have the
inmates do to becoming a believer in the healing power of the arts.
'I used to say, 'How can the arts be rehabilitative? How can the arts
soothe you?' '' says Carr, whose 20-year-old son Lezley was only 6 when
she went to prison.
"It's hope. It's manifested hope in every essence you can think of: in the
writing, the dancing and laughing, and even in our idiosyncrasies and
personality defects and loving each other and hating each other. It's the
only thing in the Department of Corrections that offers you normalcy and
Those things can be in short supply for a young woman serving a long
sentence. Valencia Byrd, still as slender as the teenager she was when she
entered prison, is one of them.
''[When] I came to prison, I was 17 years old, with a six-month-old baby
and a 40-year sentence. And I wish that everything that was [said] in the
Bridging the Gap group, and by people like Leslie and the volunteers that
come in, I wish somebody would have said that to me. 'Cause that was me at
17,'' says Byrd, now 31. "My son is 14, and I've been here since 1994 --
13 years. I never even gave him a birthday party.''
Ensler, a star activist whose V-Day organization is dedicated to ending
violence against women and girls, has morphed from performer-playwright to
crusader-fundraiser. She began coaching inmate writers in 1998 at New
York's Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. The women's writing was
featured in the 2003 PBS documentary What I Want My Words To Do to You and
in the first Any One of Us: Words from Prison fundraiser in New York last
year. But since a change in the prison's administration, Ensler says, she
hasn't been able to go back into Bedford Hills.
She remains a committed advocate for programs like hers, ArtSpring's
Inside Out and Bridging the Gap -- and for their expansion.
''It's insane that we can't do writing groups and let women process their
feelings and come to terms with their crimes. That we let them just sit
there and essentially rot, because there are no programs,'' Ensler says.
"Then we recycle people: We recycle pain, and we recycle violence, because
there's no transformation.''
WHAT ABOUT VICTIMS?
Yet victims' advocates ask: What's wrong with letting someone convicted of
murder rot? That tension between punishment and rehabilitation in a prison
system is constant and, like so much of life, political.
''I certainly empathize with victims. They are really important, and it's
important we pay attention to their feelings,'' says Laura Bedard, deputy
secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections and a reader at the Any
One of Us event.
Bedard, who taught criminology courses at Florida State University and
served as warden at Lowell Correctional Institution, is now working to
expand arts programs in Florida's prisons.
''Inmates need to understand the impact of their crimes on victims and to
look at the tremendous consequences. Arts in corrections is not about
having fun; it's a process, so inmates will be better equipped to deal
with life. Our job is to hold inmates accountable and to provide
opportunities for change,'' she says.
Webb, who has written 2 new songs (If Only I Could See the Ocean and Any
One of Us) for the Gusman event, has performed inside prisons many times,
and the just-punish-them attitude ticks her off.
''Being in prison is getting stripped of your selfhood,'' Webb says. 'The
world at large doesn't see the series of events and circumstances that led
to these consequences. People think, 'Well, if they were convicted, they
must have deserved it.' It's a fact that a lot of us got a second chance,
got an education. We have no right to be righteous about who we are and
why we aren't on the other side of that cage.''
AN INSIDER'S VIEW
Someone who has been on both sides of the bars, Vicki Lopez Lukis, is a
performer in Any One of Us. She is a former Lee County commissioner who
served 15 months in federal prison on a mail fraud conviction before
President Bill Clinton commuted her sentence. She is statewide expansion
director for GAP and was chairman of the Florida's Ex-Offender Task Force
under former Gov. Jeb Bush.
''Nobody in this work says these are poor, innocent women. But they are
paying with their lives. They are human. I can't dismiss them and say they
have no more value,'' she says, adding that the arts give women who ''may
never see the outside again'' a way to cope with that reality.
"The Department of Corrections has been much more punitive than
rehabilitative over the past 30 years. But [most] of us come home, and
when you release inmates, you should help them have the tools to be better
people. This is not about being soft on crime. It's about being smart on
A WAY TO GIVE BACK
For the inmate writers who have taken a life, writing something that could
serve as a reminder and help change someone's future is a way to give
back, the discovery of a purpose.
Says Valerie Rhodes, serving a life sentence at BCI: "I wanted to be
somebody else's lifeline. And if I could give them 1 or 2 words or a poem,
or something that would help them to pull through whatever they're going
through, then my life isn't wasted. I am very proud of that.''
(source: Miami Herald)
Executions set to resume in Missouri
Green rolling hills, charming small towns and winding roads: a pastoral
setting that belies the presence of an ominous compound surrounded by
coils of electrified wire known as Potosi Correctional Center.
A facility of the Missouri Department of Corrections, Potosi is a maximum
security prison, built in 1989 and housing about 800 offenders. In the
early 1990s, the prison fazed out its death row wing, and mainstreamed its
capital punishment inmates into the general population. There are
currently 45 capital punishment inmates at Potosi.
Driving from Kansas City to Potosi, about 60 miles from St. Louis, took
five and a half hours. Hours to imagine scenes from "The Green Mile,"
"Silence of the Lambs" and other frightening prison films. Hours in which
stomachs fluttered and climbed into the throat, especially in the last
Aside from the coils of wire glinting in the sunshine, the building didn't
appear scary. Visitors mounted a flight of stairs to the visitor's
entrance, and the first of three checkpoints between the outside and the
visitor's room. Signing in, showing identification, shedding jewelry and
other metal or sharp objects, and submitting to the guard's metal
detecting wand. On to the next checkpoint where a second guard entered
names into a computer, identification and keys were put in a clear plastic
bag, left hands were stamped with ultraviolet ink, and more forms signed.
A 3rd guard waited down the hall. Hands were held under a black light so
the ultraviolet message appeared. Then the electric door slammed shut. It
is an unforgettable sound, with an echo of finality.
Into the visitor's room to await the three capital punishment inmates who
had agreed to talk. What will they be like? Charles Manson? Ted Bundy?
A buzzing sound announced their arrival. 3 men in mid-life, looking -
except for their institutional white shirts and grey trousers - like 3 men
Richard Clay, Dennis Skillicorn and Jeffrey Ferguson were all found guilty
of first degree murder and sentenced to die by lethal injection. Like most
capital punishment inmates, their sentences were handed down more than 10
At first, the conversation skirted the crimes and the punishment.
Skillicorn: "Here at Potosi we've been integrated into the general
population. That gives us an opportunity to participate in general
population activities, like work. Most of us have jobs."
Since 1996, he has worked in Set Free Ministries, a prison ministry run by
the prisoners. "We cater to the spiritual needs of about 2,000 college
students in Missouri and Illinois," he said. "It's a mission, work that
gives me a real sense of purpose."
Ferguson, 52, agreed. "Working, doing something positive, rubs off on the
other guys." He works in the prison hospice program, caring for terminally
ill prisoners, and for Set Free Ministries.
"In hospice, we sit with the dying," he said, "write letters for them,
hold the phone to their ears and mouths so they can talk to family and
friends, help keep them as comfortable as we can. The main thing is we
work to make sure nobody in prison dies alone. What's worse than dying
alone in prison?"
Skillicorn, 47, who also works in the hospice program, said that hospice
dispels the stereotypes of death row inmates - its OK for men to care for
other men. Hospice care givers learn about palliative care and helping
maintain the dignity of life until the end, he said.
"We learn to get our priorities straight," Skillicorn said.
Suddenly, the interview changed. Clay, 42, appeared morose at first,
staring at the table. "I want to say that I've always maintained my
innocence," he said without raising his head. "I was with the wrong people
at the wrong time." He looked up. "But having said that, I'm at peace with
it. I've been 13 years on death row. The victims' families want somebody
to pay for the crime. It's pure emotion. They want to be satisfied and I
can understand that. I plan to say to them, 'I hope my death gives you
Ferguson said he and other capital punishment inmates pray for their
victims, "those we hurt and their families. If the death penalty was done
away with, and we got life without parole, those families wouldn't have to
go through it all over again."
Clay: "Death row is terminal, like cancer. So I asked myself, 'Do I let it
eat me up like cancer or do I let it make me a better person?' I chose to
become a better person, grounded in my faith."
Drugs and alcohol had played major roles in the murders the three men were
convicted of. "Usually the guy on death row that you talk to is not the
guy who committed the crime that brought him here," Skillicorn said. "The
guy we used to be was high on dope, or drunk, or caught up in something
emotional that made him snap. People can and do change."
The men under sentence of death at Potosi have known each other for years;
they have formed close bonds with each other.
"I know if Jeff's or Rick's mom is sick," Skillicorn said, "and they know
if my wife or stepson isn't feeling well."
"We send each other birthday and Christmas cards," Ferguson said. "And
when one of us is taken for execution, well ... ," his voice trailed off.
Skillicorn picked up the thread of Ferguson's thought. "We don't have an
opportunity to grieve like other people because we live with it every day.
When the clock strikes midnight on an execution day, each of us thinks
about it." He smiled ruefully. "The day before an execution we share a lot
of fond memories and hey, remember when ole Whatshisname did such and
such? and we smile. The next day nobody wants to talk about it because
it's a reminder of what we all face."
There have been no executions in Missouri since October 2005. The U.S.
Court of Appeals stayed the scheduled execution of Michael Taylor -
sentenced to die for the murder of a 15-year-old girl - who had challenged
the lethal injection procedure, saying it was cruel and unusual, and
violated the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The court then
granted another 60 days for further investigation. In June 2006 the Court
of the Western District of Missouri ordered that all executions in the
state be put on hold until the Department of Corrections adjusted the
execution procedures to make them conform to Eighth Amendment standards.
The state was given 40 days to submit new protocols.
The District Court denied the state's request for reconsideration and
continued to affirm that the state's execution protocols were
insufficient, thus clearing the way for the state to appeal to the 8th
In June 2007, the 8th Circuit Court overruled the District Court's
decision, ruling that the state's execution process is constitutional. The
court held that a doctor is not necessary to monitor executions because of
the high level of anesthetics given to the inmate. Executions remained on
hold while the ruling was appealed.
In August the federal court refused to continue the moratorium on
executions even though challenges continued. The state may now set
execution dates. According to Brian Hauswirth, public information officer
for the Missouri Department of Corrections, execution dates have been set
for 10 capital punishment inmates.
Ferguson: "We made the original allegations that the lethal injections
were cruel and unusual because we were trying to save our lives. But it's
true. It's gonna hurt ... Hey, the guy who invented the process didn't do
any clinical trials to make sure it was OK. Of course, how could he?"
Ferguson smiled at the irony.
Clay doesn't like to think too much about the future. So he fills his days
with work and activities.
"I get up for count and then go have breakfast in the cafeteria," Clay
said. "I work in the chair frame factory from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., then
shower and change and go to chow. Some nights I volunteer with Set Free
Ministries, or go to church. Then I watch a little TV, write letters and
go to bed. Next day I do it all over again. On Fridays I see case workers,
family or friends who visit, go to the store and have some recreation
When he allows himself time to think about it he wonders about the
process. "Is it going to hurt? I'm not afraid to die, everybody dies. It's
the process that scares me."
Ferguson on the other hand, said he was simply going through the motions
of living. "I spend hours trying to get to sleep at night just thinking
about my life and death. What do I want for my last meal, what will my
last words be, what do I want my legacy to my daughters and grandchildren
Skillicorn said the main problem with being on death row is that you can't
make any long-term plans. Whatever the outcome of his sentence at Potosi,
he said, "I'll continue to do the work God gave me to do. I just may have
to change offices."
Skillicorn is also the editor of a quarterly newsletter called Compassion,
for which death row inmates in prisons all over the country can submit
art, poetry or essays on life and faith, or other topics. Proceeds from
subscriptions and donations are given in the form of college scholarships
to families of murder victims. So far, scholarships totaling more than
$30,000 have been awarded.
Hauswirth said the death penalty protocols in use in the State of Missouri
were signed into law in 1977 by then-governor Joe Teasdale. At the time
Missouri executed prisoners with lethal gas. In 1988 the state began using
the combination of sodium pentathol, pancuronium bromide, and potassium
chloride in lethal injection, a cocktail formulated by an Oklahoma
Hauswirth said the Department of Corrections has no control over
sentences. Convicted offenders are sentenced by a jury of their peers, not
by a judge. The Department of Corrections simply follows the court orders.
A death sentence provides for an automatic appeal to the Missouri Supreme
Court, and for appeals to lesser courts. Appeals may be based on claims of
innocence, the constitutionality of the legal process, allegations of age
or race discrimination, or other reasons. Ultimately the appeals may even
go to the U.S. Supreme Court. Appeals may take years, Hauswirth said.
"We try to be fair, firm and consistent in our treatment of offenders," he
said. "But we are following court orders. We have to believe that the
protocol the department follows is humane, constitutional and quick."
Hauswirth said that the department of spiritual and religious programing
is a very vital part of prison life. All of the correctional facilities in
the state have an all-faiths chaplain on staff, and ministers of specific
traditions can be cleared to visit and hold services or classes.
According to Kathleen Reagan, an attorney writing for Commonweal magazine,
the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which manages 100 institutions nationwide,
employs only 60 full-time chaplains. Forty two contractor priests serve
the remaining facilities. State prisons are similarly affected by a lack
of chaplains, she wrote.
In the spring of 2001, Tom Cummins, a member of Mary Queen of Peace Parish
in Webster Groves, answered the call to minister to men in administrative
segregation at Potosi Correctional Center. Today he drives 90 minutes each
way to visit offenders three times a month and holds a monthly Communion
service and faith class. On alternate Fridays, Father George Galovich,
pastor of St. James Church in Potosi, celebrates Mass at the prison,
attended by 20 to 25 offenders. Father Ted Pieper, pastor of St. Joachim
Parish in Old Mines, also celebrates Mass at Potosi monthly.
"At the time, there was no lay Catholic chaplain at Potosi," Cummins said
in a telephone interview. "I began visiting men who were in isolation
because of bad behavior. These were men who had everything taken away from
them, privileges, basic human companionship, for a period of months,
"I also visit men who have been read the warrant of death," he said,
"before they are removed to the Eastern Correctional Center at Bonne
Terre, where executions are carried out. With those men, there is a risk
of spiritual desolation, and praying with them and talking to them can
help. I have witnessed one execution.
"I try to see every man at Potosi as a child of God. It has really changed
my outlook. Underneath the banter, the bravado, there is a real sadness.
It's unarticulated, but it gets under the skin."
Cummins said he had been very moved watching capitol punishment inmates
working in hospice. "Here was this big death row inmate comforting a
fellow prisoner who was dying of cancer," he said. "It was a powerful
By and large, capital punishment inmates accept their sentences, Cummins
said. "It's the law of the state so they feel that they deserve it for the
crime they committed."
On Palm Sunday 2006, Missouri's Catholic bishops issued a statement on the
death penalty. They said that Catholic teaching begins with the
recognition that the dignity of the human person applies to both victims
and offenders. "It affirms our commitment to comfort and support victims
and their families while acknowledging the God-given dignity of every
human life, even of those who do great harm."
While renewing their call to put an end to the death penalty, the bishops
said the church has acknowledged the right of the state to use the death
penalty in order to protect society. However, the church insists that the
state should forego the exercise of this right if other non-lethal options
are available to protect society, such as life without possibility of
"They may feel they deserve the death sentence. However, it's not a
resignation or a giving up," Cummins said. "The men want to make the rest
of their lives rewarding, and they do that by embracing a faith. All
that's left to them is themselves and God.
"We are called to minister to those who are abandoned, forgotten or
despised," he said. "When you're on the fringes of society like men and
women in prison are, you begin to understand that's where the Lord hung
(source: The Catholic Key)
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