[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----N.C., FLA., USA, MICH.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Oct 18 12:10:08 CDT 2007
Phillips gets death sentence
A Moore County jury decided Wednesday that Mario Lynn Phillips should die
for murdering 4 men in December 2003.
The jury deliberated nearly 4 1/2 hours before sentencing Phillips for the
murders of Eddie Lynn Ryals, Carl C.J. Justice Jr., Joseph Allen Harden
and Daryl Hobson.
They were shot and stabbed to death during a robbery in Ryals home in the
Carolina Lakes mobile home park in Moore County.
Ryals girlfriend, Amanda Cooke Varner, was shot and stabbed but survived.
Renee Yvette McLaughlin and Sean Maurice Ray have been charged with
helping Phillips commit the murders and robbery. They are awaiting trial.
As he has throughout the trial, Phillips showed little reaction. He has
told the judge he is taking Prozac, an anti-depressant, and Haldol, a drug
used to treat psychotic symptoms.
When Judge James Webb had Phillips stand so he could formally give him the
4 death sentences, Phillips listened for a few moments, then reached down
to the table, poured himself a cup of water and drank it while the judge
announced the punishments.
The death sentences pleased relatives of the victims.
"I think they all 3 deserve the death sentence," said Harvey Hobson,
father of Daryl. "All 3 could have stopped at any time. Either one of them
could have persuaded him not to do it, and they didn't and I think they
ought to be put to death."
Harvey Hobson attended the trial daily since testimony began Sept. 12.
"There ain't no winners here," said Belinda Hobson, who was Daryl's
stepmother. "Everybody has lost, including Mario's mother. And it's just
sad that this happened and we can't turn back time. We'd love to have our
Phillips' mother, Bertie Phillips, also attended every day of the trial.
She left the courtroom just before the sentence was announced. In the
hall, she leaned heavily on a railing and said she was having trouble
breathing. She declined an interview request after the sentencing.
The death sentences disappointed Libby Barnes, a woman who knew Phillips
when he was a boy. She testified on his behalf.
"Mario's a victim, too, of the system. The system that failed him as a
child," Barnes said. She said Phillips and one of his brothers grew up in
horrible conditions of neglect and abuse as family members spent most of
their time drinking and fighting.
"Not only did those children not have a bed to sleep in, a room to call
their own, they had no where to get away from all this adult mayhem that
was constantly going on," Barnes said.
Phillips received 4 death sentences for the murders. He was also sentenced
to a minimum of 54 years, 10 months in prison for:
Attempted 1st-degree murder of Varner.
Assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, inflicting serious
bodily injury on Varner.
1st-degree kidnapping of Varner.
Robbery with a firearm of Ryals.
Phillips admitted to the crimes.
His lawyers argued he did not deserve the death penalty.
They said his ability to control his actions was impaired by the childhood
of abuse, by drugs and alcohol in his system, by his low IQ and by rage
and anguish from another, unrelated shooting. His brother Julian was shot
in the head that day in Fayetteville.
After learning his brother was shot, Phillips went from Fayetteville to
Moore County to tell his mother what happened, according to trial
He was with McLaughlin and Ray. The 3 met Hobson at a trailer in Carolina
Lakes then went to Ryals home nearby.
There they met Ryals, Varner, Justice and Harden.
The 8 people sat in the living room and talked for about 30 minutes.
Phillips jumped up, pulled a revolver and started shooting and demanding
drugs and money.
According to testimony, Phillips shot and beat the victims, Ray stabbed
the victims and McLaughlin kept the victims under control while the other
two searched the home. The ordeal went on between 1 and 2 hours.
Finally the house was set afire.
Varner, bleeding from 2 gunshot wounds and 22 stab wounds, lived. She
crawled out of the burning home to get help, she testified, but was caught
by Phillips, McLaughlin and Ray. She said they put her in a pickup and
drove her to a burn pile. She thought they would finish killing her there.
Instead, they abandoned her for dead after their truck got stuck and they
heard firetrucks coming to put out the burning home.
(source: Fayetteville Observer)
State to seek death penalty in Bonita Springs murder case
Prosecutors will push for the death penalty against Richard Elkins, the
18-year-old accused of killing a Bonita Springs man earlier this year
behind a pool hall, the state attorney's office said.
The state filed paperwork earlier this month announcing its plans to ask
for the death penalty if Elkins is convicted. He has pleaded not guilty to
1st-degree murder and sexual battery with a deadly weapon, and is
scheduled to go to trial in December.
Elkins is accused of beating to death Obed Flores, a 22-year-old Honduran
man, after a night of drinking in February at Warehouse Billiards on
Bonita Beach Road.
(source: Naples Daily News)
Attorneys uncertain of precedent ----Capital defense lawyers' views vary
about how Supreme Court ruling could influence lethal injection executions
Statewide attorneys who have defended death-row inmates are unsure how the
U.S. Supreme Court's review of a Kentucky ruling will influence how lethal
injections are administered in Florida.
"It's potentially significant," Sarasota County Public Defender Adam
Tebrugge said. "Legally, it appears there will be a moratorium on
executions in Florida and, maybe, the country, until this case is done."
There are 385 men on Florida's death row, including 8 from Lee County, 6
from Sarasota County, and 5 from Charlotte County.
Florida used lethal injection for executions since 2000, but has imposed a
de facto moratorium since December after it took 34 minutes for inmate
Angel Diaz to die during the procedure.
Tebrugge has represented 12 capital defendants since 1980, including
Joseph Smith, sentenced to death for the 2004 murder of 13-year-old Carlie
He said the fact that lethal injection is on the docket "means there were
at least four votes in the court interested in hearing the issue."
"It could grind capital punishment to a stop -- change the protocol or
think of another way to do it," said Todd Doss, a Lake City attorney who
has argued against lethal injection before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Doss secured a stay of Clarence Hill's 2006 execution when the Court ruled
Hill could file an Eighth Amendment claim of "cruel and unusual
punishment" against lethal injection.
In subsequent rulings, the claim was dismissed. The Supreme Court voted
5-4 on Sept. 20, 2006, to deny another stay. Hill was executed four days
Now, Doss represents Diaz's family.
"Depending how it is administered, you can end up with an excruciating
death," he said.
Marty McClain, who has worked death-row appeals in Florida for 22 years as
a state Capital Collateral Defense attorney, is uncertain what precedent,
if any, the case could set.
"It's hard to anticipate because the case is so broad, virtually
everything is included," McClain said. "It could impact Florida greatly,
or not at all. At this point, the answer to the question is nobody knows."
Others doubt the ruling will prove significant.
"The cynical part of me thinks the Court is tired of all these cases
coming from all circuits and directions and will say lethal injection is
just fine and dandy," said Harry Brody, a Sarasota attorney who
successfully challenged the constitutionality of the electric chair "not
that long ago." "I'm suspicious," said Dr. Brooke Butler, an assistant
University of South Florida professor of psychology who has researched
death penalty issues extensively. "I don't think they will do anything
about it -- that would be admitting they were doing it wrong all along."
Punta Gorda attorney Paul Sullivan, who defended Stephen Smith during his
trial in the murder of a Charlotte Correctional Institution guard, said
the ruling could have wider implications. "I think it will serve as a
useful barometer of the humanity of this Court as it is now composed," he
Regardless what the Court rules, Brody said it won't be "that simple."
After all, he added, "If they strike this down, what happens next?"
That would pose a conundrum, agreed Larry Byrd, a former chief prosecutor
and Sarasota defense attorney.
"Whether you agree with the death penalty or not, the United States
Supreme Court, since its inception, has held you cannot execute someone in
an inhumane way," Byrd said. "We tried the electric chair and caught
people's heads on fire. We tried lethal injection and it took 30 minutes
for someone to die. Maybe the answer is gas -- oh, we tried that. The only
thing left is the guillotine or public hanging. We're going backward." "I
think anytime we're going to talk about how to kill people, it's really
splitting hairs," Butler said.
Mukasey Promises to Review Death Penalty Cases
When a U.S. attorney tried to get Alberto Gonzales to reconsider the
Department's decision to seek the death penalty for a defendant, he was
told that Gonzales had already spent a "significant amount of time" on the
issue -- meaning "5 to 10 minutes." When Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) asked
Gonzales about that case, he couldn't remember it. That USA, Arizona's
Paul Charlton, was among the nine fired U.S. attorneys, and this instance
of "insubordination" was cited as justification.
So today, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) asked Michael Mukasey what his
approach to the death penalty would be. And he promised to "review every
such decision" to seek the death penalty "in excruciating detail."
Presumably that means more than 5-10 minutes.
But when pressed as to whether he would promise to speak to U.S. attorneys
who disagreed with the Department's decision to seek death, Mukasey
refused. He'd want to have that U.S. attorneys' views "made known" to him,
he said. But he's concerned, he said, about similar cases getting
"different treatments in different jurisdictions."
So it's unclear if Charlton's view that "if a government seeks to take
another person's life it should do so on only the best of evidence" would
get a more sympathetic hearing from Mukasey.
Case against capital punishment grows
The late Rod Serling might have made this case the opening episode of the
Twilight Zone, punctuated by that eerie theme music that is still so
identified with otherworldly experiences. Or maybe the better vehicle
would be "Catch 22," where there is no way out of a dilemma.
A death row inmate makes an appeal for staying his imminent execution on
grounds that the chemicals used in lethal injections often cause such pain
they constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Four justices of the U.S.
Supreme Court vote for granting the stay. But hold on, it takes five. So
the execution of Luther Williams in Alabama takes place on schedule, even
though there is a clear indication that the court is interested in dealing
with the question of torture in executions.
Last month, in another case, where the central issue was the same, the
court voted to take up the claim of unconstitutionality. In that instance
only four votes were needed.
Fade to the end of this nightmare with a curse. "May he haunt their nights
forever." That comes from Williams' lawyer who accuses the five justices
who voted against the stay of deliberately letting a man die when they
knew they were about to put the issue on the docket.
Now with the court set to determine whether the chemicals used in lethal
injection are often so painful that they should be banned, arguments for a
nationwide moratorium on the death penalty seem more than a little
reasonable. A number of states already have taken that step and several
more seem ready to do so, including even those that have been among the
most aggressive in carrying out capital sentencing.
The court's decision to determine the constitutionality of a certain
method of execution might seem just another step toward an eventual ban of
capital punishment. While those who oppose the death penalty no matter how
administered might see this as enhancing their crusade, it would be too
optimistic on their part to believe that might happen anytime soon. The
court's conservative make-up assures at least four votes against
abolishing state and federal executions and at least one other justice
could be counted to do the same.
But there has been a shift in public sentiment away from capital
punishment despite the fact that there are crimes so heinous that anything
less than that seems unsuitable. The use of modern technology, mainly
improved DNA testing, has heightened concern about the possibility of
mistaken executions. A few years ago, the governor of Illinois put a
moratorium on the death penalty after it was disclosed that DNA had proved
that a number of convicts on death row actually were innocent. Since then
other states have followed suit or have slowed the process.
The fact is, despite the current make-up of the court, that pressure from
the states might result in the modification of capital punishment. The
United States has become more and more isolated internationally in this
matter - almost standing alone in the use of the death penalty. There have
been instances where other nations refuse to extradite those accused by
U.S. authorities of a capital crime because of this country's execution
And in a recent case similar to that of Williams, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine
stopped the scheduled execution of a man after four justices voted at the
last minute to stay his death. The execution was to take place on June 13
even though the court had decided to take up his appeal after returning
from the summer recess. Kaine's reasoning was that "basic fairness"
demands that inmates be allowed to exhaust all appeals before execution,
which he said was of course irreversible, even if the appeal has merit and
is later accepted. He said that the fact 4 justices of the Supreme Court
voted to stop the execution was more than enough justification for his
It is too bad the governor of Alabama did not take the same stance in the
Williams case. The debate over the constitutionality of capital punishment
has been one of this nation's thorniest issues since the penalty was
reinstated several decades ago. That is not likely to change. But the fear
that any number of innocent people have been put to death is never more
real than today. For that reason alone, those convicted of capital crimes
often spend decades on death row before the sentencing is carried out,
living in an inescapable twilight zone where ultimately it may be one vote
that finally decides the issue.
(source: Ocala Sentinel; Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps
Howard News Service)
Americans Reassert Support for Death Penalty
Support for the use of capital punishment remains high in the United
States, according to a poll by Gallup released by USA Today. 69 per cent
of respondents are in favour of the death penalty for a person convicted
of murder, up four points since May 2006.
Since 1976, 1,099 people have been put to death in the United States,
including 42 this year. More than a third of all executions have taken
place in the state of Texas. 12 states and the District of Columbia do not
engage in capital punishment.
Earlier this month, Arthur Alarcon, a veteran judge in a Court of Appeals
in Los Angeles, proposed an overhaul of the death penalty system in
California that would require amending the U.S. Constitution. Alarcon
criticized the backlogged system in the statewhere 667 inmates are waiting
on death rowas "inefficient", and blamed it partly on local legislators
and current governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for not putting money into the
Alarcon said his proposal seeks to avoid that the inefficient application
of capital punishment give a reason to the Supreme Court for ruling
against the death penalty, and declared: "There may be no interest on the
political side in doing something. They may be comfortable with a de facto
abolition of capital punishment."
Are you in favour of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder?
Oct. 2007 May 2006 Oct. 2005
In favour 69% 65% 64%
Opposed 27% 28% 30%
Not sure 4% 7% 6%
[source: Gallup / USA Today ]
Methodology: Telephone interviews to 1,010 American adults, conducted from
Oct. 4 to Oct. 7, 2007. Margin of error is 3 %.
(source: Angus Reid Global Monitoring)
Court Review Slows Number of Executions
The Supreme Court's decision to review the constitutionality of lethal
injection procedures has slowed the annual number of executions to the
lowest level in a decade amid renewed concerns about whether it's too
On Wednesday, the high court blocked Virginia's plans to kill Christopher
Scott Emmett, 36, hours before he was to die by lethal injection. Courts
in Nevada and Texas this week also postponed executions scheduled before
the end of 2007, making it one of the quietest years so far for executions
since the mid-1990s.
"Some courts are being prudent by waiting to see how the Supreme Court
will go," said Lisa McCalmont, a consultant to the death penalty clinic at
the University of California at Berkeley law school.
Fewer than 50 executions will take place this year, even if several states
pushing ahead with lethal injections defeat legal efforts to stop them.
The last time executions numbered fewer than 50 was in 1996, when there
Since executions resumed in this country in 1977 after a Supreme
Court-ordered halt, 1,099 inmates have died in state and federal execution
chambers. The highest annual total was 98 in 1999, according to the Death
Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment.
So far this year, 42 people have been executed. Texas, where 26 prisoners
have been executed this year, plans no more executions in 2007 after
federal and state judges stopped 4 death sentences from being carried out.
Executions also have been delayed in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas and
Oklahoma since the court announced Sept. 25 it would hear a challenge to
Kentucky's lethal injection method. Courts in California, Delaware,
Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee have previously cited problems with
lethal injections procedures in stopping executions.
The last person executed in this country was Michael Richard, 49, who died
by lethal injection in Texas the same day the Supreme Court agreed to
consider the constitutionality of lethal injection procedures in Kentucky.
A Texas state judge refused that day to accept an appeal from Richard's
lawyers, saying it had arrived after office hours.
Kentucky's method of lethal injection executions is similar to procedures
in three dozen other states. The court will consider whether the mix of 3
drugs used to sedate and kill prisoners has the potential to cause pain
severe enough to violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual
"The U.S. is clearly in what amounts to a de-facto death penalty
moratorium," said Bridgers' attorney David Dow, who runs the Texas
Innocence Network out of the University of Houston Law Center.
Josh Marquis, the district attorney in Clatsop County, Oregon, and a death
penalty supporter, said executions should continue even while the Supreme
Court looks at lethal injection.
Marquis distinguished the lethal injection issue from court reviews that
led to banning execution of the mentally retarded and people younger than
18 when they committed their crime. "The court's response is not going to
be ban all lethal injections. At most, it's going to be reformulate the
protocol," Marquis said.
The reprieves for the dozen or so men whose dates to die had been set are
likely to be only temporary. Even the lawyers for the Kentucky inmates
concede that there are alternative drugs and procedures available that
lessen the risk of pain.
Justice Antonin Scalia also has suggested that people are reading too much
into the court's decision to take up the Kentucky case. Scalia said
Tuesday night he would have allowed Arkansas to proceed with the execution
of Jack Jones.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had earlier put off Jones' execution
because of the high court review. That decision "was based on the mistaken
premise" that the high court wants state and federal judges to intervene
every time a defendant raises a court challenge to lethal injection,
Scalia said in a statement accompanying the Supreme Court's order that
kept the appeals court ruling in place.
State officials in Florida, Georgia and Mississippi are continuing with
plans to carry out death sentences despite the high court's review.
Georgia has an execution scheduled for Friday and the Supreme Court again
could be asked to step in on behalf of Jack Alderman, sentenced to die in
the 1974 killing of his 20-year-old wife, Barbara.
The state Supreme Court and pardons and paroles board have so far turned
down Alderman's pleas to be spared. Another Georgian, Curtis Osborne, also
is scheduled to die this month.
In Florida and Mississippi, state high courts are considering pleas for a
delay from condemned inmates.
Lawyers for Mississippi are arguing that there is no reason to wait for
the Supreme Court lethal injection ruling. Earl Wesley Berry has an Oct.
30 execution date for the 1987 killing of Mary Bounds, who was beaten to
death after leaving her weekly church choir practice.
In Florida, Mark Dean Schwab, 38, is scheduled to die Nov. 15 for the rape
and murder of 11-year-old Junny Rios-Martinez. Executions had been
suspended since December after it took twice as long as usual - 34 minutes
- for a convicted killer to die. Gov. Gov. Charlie Crist lifted the
moratorium in July by signing Schwab's death warrant.
(source: Associated Press)
Should they die?----Feds push for capital punishment in Michigan cases
Michigan, the first state to abolish capital punishment, has one man
awaiting execution ordered by a jury in Grand Rapids and three more facing
possible death penalties in Detroit.
The apparent contradiction stems from the fact Michigan, which banned the
death penalty in 1847, is subject to capital punishment for certain
Marvin Gabrion has awaited execution at an Indiana prison since 2002, when
a federal jury in Grand Rapids sentenced him to death in the murder of
Rachel Timmerman. Gabrion gagged and bound her with tape, handcuffs and
chains, weighted her with cinder blocks, then dumped her in Oxford Lake.
In Detroit, the federal government is seeking the death penalty for 3 men
awaiting trial in the 2001 murder of security guard Norman "Anthony"
Stephens during an armored truck robbery at a federal credit union in
Dearborn. A hearing in the case is set for today.
Critics say the cases fit a national pattern in which the Bush
administration has broken with past practice by pushing harder for the
death penalty in states that oppose executions.
"There's an insensitivity to ... states that through their legislative
processes do not have a death penalty," said Richard Dieter, executive
director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., a
nonprofit organization that analyzes death penalty cases and statistics.
In addition to Michigan, federal death penalty verdicts have been returned
since 2000 in Massachusetts, Vermont, North Dakota, Iowa and West Virginia
-- all states without the death penalty.
In contrast, no death penalty was imposed in a nondeath penalty state
between 1988, when the federal death penalty was reinstated, and 2000,
when President Bush was elected.
The former U.S. attorney in Grand Rapids, Margaret Chiara, fired along
with seven other U.S. attorneys early this year, clashed with the Bush
administration over capital punishment. Chiara did not recommend
prosecutors seek death in the Gabrion case and flew to Washington to argue
against the death penalty in a 2nd western Michigan murder case.
The Justice Department gave no detailed reason for Chiara's departure, but
former U.S. Attorney Michael Dettmer said he believes Chiara, who once
studied to be a nun, was axed by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
because of her opposition to capital punishment.
Local U.S. Attorney Stephen Murphy said both John Ashcroft, Bush's 1st
attorney general, and Gonzales, Ashcroft's successor, strove for
uniformity in the way federal law is applied.
"We should be able to reassure the public that a set of circumstances that
lead to a person being eligible for and perhaps getting the penalty of
death in California or Texas should get the same penalty in Michigan,"
Death penalty guide changed
Critics say the facts of almost all murders can be construed in such a way
to make them eligible for the federal death penalty and the U.S. Justice
Department is arbitrary in deciding what murders it will pursue as capital
In 2001, Ashcroft made 2 changes to the U.S. Attorney's Manual, which
guides federal prosecutors on when to seek the death penalty, said David
Bruck, a clinical professor of law at Washington & Lee University in
Lexington, Va., and an attorney in the Death Penalty Resource Council,
which represents defendants in capital cases.
The most significant change was the addition of a passage that said the
adequacy of punishment available under state law is a factor the feds
should consider when weighing whether to seek the death penalty.
"The idea that an issue as controversial and emotionally charged as the
death penalty should be taken away from local state control and put under
the discretion of government functionaries behind a desk in Washington is
the kind of Washington-knows-best thinking that conservatives usually lay
at the door of liberals," Bruck said.
Dieter said that all other facts being equal, the federal government
should show deference to residents in a state such as Michigan who have
done away with capital punishment.
Still, former Attorney General Janet Reno, who served under President Bill
Clinton, also sought the death penalty in federal cases in Michigan,
though she never had a death penalty verdict returned. Notably, Reno
sought the death penalty in 1998 for Detroit gang member and killer Efraim
Garcia, again in 1998 for accused Oakland County ATM robber and killer
Antonio McKelton, and for drug trafficker and killer John Bass, who was
convicted by a Detroit jury that rejected the death penalty in 2003.
Dieter said it's true that Reno sought the death penalty in federal cases,
but not nearly as often nationwide as Ashcroft and Gonzales did. Also, the
fact Reno never obtained a death penalty verdict in a nondeath-penalty
state and Bush has obtained 8 such verdicts, including 1 in Michigan,
partly demonstrates a harder push for death when it has been sought, he
Support for death rises, falls
According to the Gallup Poll, national support for capital punishment has
waxed and waned, peaking at 78 % in the early 1990s, dipping to 66 % in
2000, rising again to 71 % following the 2001 terrorist attacks, and most
recently, in a June poll, standing at 65 %.
Numerous attempts to amend Michigan's constitution to restore the death
penalty have died in the Legislature, most recently in 2004 and 1999.
Larry Julian, a former state legislator and police officer who has
championed unsuccessful efforts to restore the death penalty in Michigan,
said he sees no sign of a change on the horizon. Until then, the federal
government should continue to seek the death penalty in Michigan in true
federal cases, he said.
Murphy, a Roman Catholic, said he struggles with death penalty cases but
does not let his personal or religious views interfere with his official
duties as the U.S. prosecutor representing Eastern Michigan.
Murphy will not say whether he recommended the death penalty for Norman
Duncan, Timothy O'Reilly and Kevin C. Watson, three men indicted for a
Dec. 14, 2001 armored car robbery and murder at the Dearborn Federal
Credit Union. Whatever Murphy's recommendation, seeking the death penalty
was approved by Gonzales.
Murphy does not dispute suggestions the Bush administration has sought the
death penalty more frequently than past administrations but rejects the
idea the administration has expanded the range of cases that are eligible.
Rather, "in those cases where the death penalty is legally justified, this
administration seems to authorize the seeking of it."
Already costly, death penalty cases are even more expensive in states such
as Michigan which are not accustomed to handling them, defense lawyers and
Murphy agree. That's because lawyers with experience handling death
penalty cases must be brought in from other states to represent the
(source: Detroit News)
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