[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----N.Y., USA
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Oct 24 23:56:11 CDT 2007
News from NEW YORKERS AGAINST THE DEATH PENALTY ---- Statement by David
Kaczynski - Court of Appeals Ruling in People v. Taylor
The Court of Appeals made the right decision in overturning NY's last
remaining death sentence in People v. Taylor. Today's decision is entirely
consistent with the Court's 2004 ruling in People v. Lavalle, which found
the state's 1995 capital punishment statute unconstitutional because of a
flawed and coercive jury deadlock instruction.
Today's ruling is also in step with a marked change in public attitudes
toward the death penalty in New York, as measured by public opinion polls.
Over 10 years, the death penalty in New York wasted $200 million in
taxpayer dollars, could not be imposed fairly or reliably, and created an
unacceptable risk that innocent people would be executed. There has
emerged a consensus among the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers that a
maximum sentence of life imprisonment without parole effectively protects
the people of New York at a fraction of the cost of the death penalty.
Ending the death penalty frees up millions of dollars in public resources
that can now be redirected to effective crime control measures, including
increased support for law enforcement and crime victims.
Today's decision by the Court should in no way be interpreted as
minimizing the harm caused by homicide. It merely underscores what the
state Assembly discovered in 2004 and 2005 when it held a series of public
hearings to study the issue of capital punishment - that the death
penalty, despite its high cost, unfairness, and serious risks, benefits no
one. On the contrary, it subjects surviving family members to years of
re-victimization and uncertainty. In reflecting on the Court's decision,
we must also remember the victims and their surviving family members and
resolve, in their memory and honor, to oppose violence by every reasonable
and rational means.
As documented in last week's report on wrongful convictions in New York by
the Innocence Project, our state is a national leader in the negative
category of wrongful convictions, right up there with Texas. It would be
truly unconscionable to impose the death penalty on the innocent. The
Court's ruling effectively eliminates wrongful execution of the innocent
as a possible outcome in New York's legal system - an enormous protection
considering New York's shameful record of wrongful convictions as well as
the 124 innocent people who have been exonerated from death row
The Court has found, along with a majority of New Yorkers, that we can
live without the death penalty.
(source: ReadMedia. Oct. 23)
Death knell for death penalty----State's highest courtfinds defect in law
The state's death penalty law, which has not resulted in a single
execution since its passage in 1995, met its demise Tuesday when the
state's highest court struck down the capital sentence of the state's last
remaining death row inmate.
In the last judicial test of the death penalty statute, the Court of
Appeals, in a 4-3 decision, overturned the death sentence given to a man
convicted in the executionstyle killings of 5 workers in a Queens
fast-food restaurant. The decision was tied to a constitutional defect in
the law's sentencing provisions.
"We believe the death penalty is over in New York," said Kevin Doyle, the
head of the state's capital defenders agency, which after the decision
will now start making plans to close down its offices, which were created
in the wake of the 1995 law.
The ruling by the Court of Appeals effectively means the State Legislature
would have to pass a new law addressing the sentencing concerns the court
has raised in several cases in which it has overturned capital punishment
sentences. That is, for now, considered impossible, given the shift in the
Democratic- led Assembly away from embracing the death penalty and toward
a reliance on a system that provides for life without parole in the worst
kinds of murder cases.
"Some people are going to die," State Sen. Dale M. Volker, R-Depew, the
co-author of the 1995 death penalty law, said of his belief that capital
punishment deters murders.
Critics, including members of the high court, said Tuesday's decision
signals that the Court of Appeals has no intention of ever siding with a
death penalty law.
"Fair-minded citizens will be forgiven for wondering whether the Court of
Appeals is simply unwilling ever to uphold a death sentence, no matter how
the law is written [or may be rewritten], no matter how carefully the
trial judge and the jury carry out their responsibilities," said the
opinion of 3 judges, including Judge Eugene F. Pigott Jr. of Erie County,
who dissented in Tuesday's decision.
The case involving John Taylor, convicted of killing five Wendy's workers
in 2000, was unusual. The court three years ago ruled that the sentencing
provisions of the state's 1995 death penalty law were unconstitutional
because they could sway a jury to choose a death sentence out of fear that
a nondeath sentence eventually could lead a killer to be released on
The judge in the Taylor case, aware of the sentencing concerns, changed
how he instructed the jurors, telling them that he would "almost certainly
impose" a sentence of 175 years to life for Taylor if they did not give
him the death penalty.
But a majority of the Court of Appeals said that the "death penalty
sentencing statute is unconstitutional on its face, and it is not within
our power to save the statute."
The majority centered its decision on a 2004 case, People v. LaValle,
which saw a death penalty sentence rejected by the same court because of a
provision in the law the judges said could coerce jurors to select the
Death penalty critics say society's attitude toward the death penalty has
changed - and polls back them up.
"It is crucial to appreciate that the death penalty has come to an end not
simply because of the Court of Appeals. It has come to an end because
there's been a fundamental change in the thinking of New Yorkers," said
He said the public has come to believe that life without parole is a
better alternative to the death penalty, especially in an era when DNA is
exonerating hundreds of people convicted of crimes.
"The death penalty proponents prior to 1995 blocked life without parole
because they correctly anticipated that once New Yorkers had it, their
desire for the death penalty would wane. That's what happened," Doyle
The death penalty was enacted following prodding by former Gov. George E.
Pataki during his 1st year in office. Over the years, the Court of Appeals
chipped away at the law in a half-dozen cases involving technical
problems. The court, in all of the cases, shied away from the larger
question: Is the death penalty itself not legal under the State
Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer, a former prosecutor, supports the death penalty but
has limited that backing to cases involving those convicted of killing
police and certain horrendous murders that he has not fully defined. But
the Assembly has moved solidly away from supporting capital punishment.
Taylor was convicted of robbing a Wendy's restaurant and, with an
accomplice, tying up and gagging 7 workers. The robbers tied plastic bags
around their heads and then shot them in their heads as they huddled on
their knees in a freezer; 5 of the victims died.
Taylor, 43, was the last individual on New York's death row in Clinton
Correctional Facility's Unit for Condemned Persons. The court ordered a
new sentence be imposed on Taylor by a lower court.
The Innocence Project, a national litigation group, last week reported
more cases in New York in the past decade being overturned following
conviction by DNA evidence than any other state.
Volker said death penalty critics "don't understand anything" about the
future of the issue. "It's not the death of the death penalty," he
The conservative lawmaker predicted the political heat will be too much to
bear on the Democratic-led Assembly not to enact a more-defined death
penalty bill for cop killers.
(source: Buffalo News)
USA:------NOTE-----the following is from The ONION, a satirical lampoon
Lethal Injection Ban Leads To Rise In Back-Alley Lethal Injections
To all outward appearances, "Kevin" is a typical Southern state governor.
He enjoys vetoing bills, attending ribbon-cutting ceremonies, and hanging
out with friends. But the recent suspension of lethal injections in 10
states has put Kevin's political life in serious jeopardy. Unable to wait
for the U.S. Supreme Court to determine whether the practice constitutes
cruel and unusual punishment, Kevin, like many young governors who find
themselves saddled with an unwanted death row inmate, has been forced to
take desperate action and obtain an illegal back-alley lethal injection.
As safe and professional execution facilities like this one in Tallahassee
shut their doors, governors are forced to obtain capital punishment on the
"It was awful," said Kevin, who still suffers from nightmares after
witnessing the prisoner die in horrible agony without any anesthesia. "We
did it on an old card table. All the equipment was really rusty and dirty.
I just closed my eyes and prayed for it to be over."
"I had my whole political career ahead of me," Kevin continued through
tears. "If I didn't do it, the voters would have left me. I couldn't see
any other way."
Lethal injection has long been a polarizing issue and, according to
proponents of the banned procedure, Kevin's story is becoming all too
common. Dr. Daniel Blecker, a professor at the University of California,
Berkeley, School of Law, and expert on capital punishment, said that the
illegal back-alley execution trend will only intensify if the ban is
"Every day more and more governors find themselves in dank basements or
filthy garages with a retinue of prison guards and a convicted killer,"
said Blecker, referring to testimony he has gathered from more than a
dozen politicians who have participated in illegal lethal injections. "In
extreme cases, the inexperienced executioners will inject the prisoners
with cheap, common household poisons, such as oven cleaner and bleach,
instead of the suggested sodium thiopental, Pavulon, and potassium
chloride cocktail that a state-licensed executioner would use."
Blecker also cited reports of back-alley injections performed so hastily
that no last meal was provided.
"The reality of the situation is that you can't legislate lethal
injections away," Blecker said. "If governors can't inhumanely execute
prisoners legally in prisons, they're going to turn elsewhere for the
procedure. More often than not with tragic results."
Governor "Kevin" discreetly disposes of his "terrible, shameful secret" in
a Tallahassee Dumpster. Since early last year, a growing number of states
have indefinitely postponed the termination of prisoners by lethal
injection until the Supreme Court rules on the matter. According to a
recent study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, an estimated 14
inmates have been killed monthly by botched illegal injections since the
ban took effect, compared with an average of 12 killed each month in
successful illegal executions.
Karen Walton, a therapist who counsels distraught governors following
traumatic illegal lethal injections, said that pressure from constituents
and the stigma of being seen as soft on crime often contribute to the
"Many of these poor gentlemen find themselves in situations like this
again and again," Walton said. "I've even heard stories of governors
performing crude, life-threatening euthanasia themselves."
Proponents of the ban, however, have dismissed cases such as Kevin's as
isolated incidences. Some antilethal injection advocates believe that
removing the option of legal lethal injections will force state
politicians to consider alternatives for dealing with death row inmates,
such as life imprisonment, rehabilitation, or the gas chamber.
"Governors have consistently abused state-sponsored euthanasia, using it
as a sort of barbaric crime-control method," said Lillith Tinsely, a
spokesperson for Amnesty International, the organization responsible for
convincing the Supreme Court to reexamine lethal injection. "Ethically,
the procedure should only be used as a last resort, such as in the case of
rapists or convicts who have committed incest. Otherwise lethal injection
is murder, any way you look at it."
Regardless of the outcome of the Supreme Court inquiry and the continued
debate over how a life on death row should end, it is in some ways too
late for politicians like Kevinwho will be forced to live forever with the
memory of standing in a windowless, dimly lit room as a serial killer
draws his last tortured breath.
"What did I do to deserve this?" Kevin said, choking back sobs. "I can't
eat, I can barely sleep at night. Sometimes I feel like just ending it
all. I don't know how I'm ever going to go through this again next
(source: The Onion)
Experts Explain Why the Death Penalty Does Not Deter Murder
Following the release of a new study published in the Journal of
Adolescent Health concerning the failure of deterrence in drug use,
medical experts commented that deterrence also fails in the area of
capital punishment. "It is very clear that deterrents are not effective in
the area of capital punishment," said Dr. Jonathan Groner, an associate
professor of surgery at Ohio State University College of Medicine and
Public Health who researches the deterrent effect of capital punishment.
"The psychological mind-set of the criminal is such that they are not able
to consider consequences at the time of the crime. Most crimes are crimes
of passion that are done in situations involving intense excitement or
concern. People who commit these crimes are not in a normal state of mind
-- they do not consider the consequences in a logical way," Groner
observed. Deterrents may work in instances where the punishment is obvious
and immediate, neither of which are true for the death penalty.
Experts suggest that criminal behavior and the nation's murder rate may
best be curbed by addressing the environmental and social factors that
contribute to violent crime. Groner explains, "The murder rate is most
closely associated with the socioeconomic health of the country. The
murder rate in the U.S. was highest during the Depression. Also, the
majority of people on death row are from the most blighted parts of the
U.S. They are very poor and very impoverished. A very high percentage have
mental health problems. Good access to health care and improving the
socioeconomic health of our country's cities would reduce the murder rate
more effectively than executions." Dr. Carlyle Chan, a professor of
professional development at the Medical College of Wisconsin, adds that
many people believe they can cheat the system and get away with their
illegal behaviors, which lessens the deterrent impact of a specific
The youth-study's author, Dr. Diane Elliot, is a professor of medicine at
the Oregon Health and Science University. She examined the deterrent
impact of random drug testing in high school athletes.
At Legal Ethics Conference, Disbarred Attorney Stewart Bemoans Erosion of
An unapologetic Lynne Stewart, disbarred and convicted for providing
material support to a terrorist client, urged an audience at a Hofstra
School of Law ethics conference last week to "stand up" against government
infringement of attorney-client privilege.
Stewart, 68, is appealing her conviction for helping the blind Sheik Omar
Ahmad Ali Abdel Rahman communicate with his supporters in violation of
governmental regulations she had pledged to follow. She has been sentenced
to 28 months in prison.
Her appearance at Hofstra generated considerable controversy, with critics
arguing she was not an appropriate choice to give lessons about legal
Stewart maintained her innocence throughout her presentation and a
question-and-answer session, which closed the conference on "Lawyering at
the Edge: Unpopular Clients, Difficult Cases, Zealous Advocates." She
began by referencing an article in which she was labeled as a "cautionary
lesson" by Hofstra law professor and ethics expert Monroe Freedman.
"Are we cautioning people or are we twisting the function of criminal
defense lawyers?" asked Stewart. "[There is] no lawyer that does not bond
in some way even with the worst clients."
"Governments have been wrong ... will be wrong ... and have been proven
wrong," continued Stewart. "We cannot accept this definition of what our
function [as defense lawyers] must be."
And she said, "I would probably do it again ... but do it differently and
insulate me in a greater way."
Sheik Rahman is serving a life sentence for helping orchestrate the 1993
World Trade Center bombing and a plot to blow up other New York City
The government secretly taped Stewart faking a conversation with her
client to fool prison guards while an interpreter spoke with him in
Calling the sheik a "remarkable man," Stewart said she was convinced of
her former client's innocence.
That prompted Nathan Samuel, a second-year-student, to walk out.
"I could not sit there and listen to her call Sheik Rahman a great man,"
said Samuel, who later returned. "She said she would not defend cops who
killed children, but she defends a foreign person who brought terror to
Samuel said he found it ironic that Stewart mentioned being convicted by a
jury near ground zero during a trial that showcased images of Osama bin
Laden and terrorist acts.
"I think it's poetic justice," he said. "If it wasn't for people like Ms.
Stewart to defend terrorists we may not have had a post-9/11 to begin
Roy D. Simon, a Hofstra law professor who along with Freedman organized
the conference, asked Stewart whether she could reconcile her actions with
the Code of Professional Responsibility's emphasis on "honesty."
Stewart acknowledged that she went outside the bonds of the code.
"My intent was not to defraud the government, my intent was to defy them,"
she said. "I interpreted the [communication restrictions] to allow us to
do the legal work. That doesn't make it right."
Freedman asked Stewart if her recorded comment that she should get an
award for tricking the prison guards amounted to disservice to criminal
defense lawyers who seek to effectively represent their clients. She
responded that she has a tendency to "wisecrack" but maintained she
trusted her interpreter not to talk about anything but the case.
Overall, the questions were civil. A rumor of protests by some
undergraduate students did not materialize. A few hundred people heard
Stewart speak, either in the lecture hall or over monitors set up in the
student lounge and faculty conference room.
After the conference, Freedman said students should have walked away with
a "great deal of skepticism" regarding Stewart's legal position.
"Her answer to my question was not a substantive answer. She said she knew
what they were talking about and she could not understand a word," said
Freedman said Stewart's talk was valuable learning experience for
"As I predicted at the outset, I don't think there was one student who
thought, 'I can't wait to get my law degree so I can emulate Lynne
Stewart, so I can get disbarred and get sentenced to two years in
Freedman also praised the students who asked questions, calling them
"intellectual and impressive."
Students seemed to echo Freedman's thoughts.
"At the end of the day, I don't agree with her," said Jen Kurman , a
first-year student. "I see her point about having to look at the bigger
picture, but I don't think what she did was right."
(source: Vesselin Mitev, a reporter for the New York Law Journal, is also
a student at Hofstra School of Law)
The Legacy----The execution of Rachel Meeropol's grandparents in 1953
resonates in her work as a lawyer today
Her last year at New York University law school, Rachel Meeropol spent a
semester working at a legal clinic in Alabama that represented prisoners
on death row. Her client, she says, was typical: poor black man,
borderline retarded, convicted of killing a white woman, represented by
incompetent trial counsel. With Meeropol's help, the inmate is now serving
a life sentence without parole.
"Given my background, it's not surprising I would be anti-death penalty,"
she says. "When the state executes anyone, it's simply perpetrating
another crime. It doesn't create any justice. I think what happened to my
grandparents is criminal."
Meeropol is the youngest grandchild of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, who
were executed in 1953 for conspiracy to commit espionage for the Soviet
Union. Rachel's father, Robert, was 6 when his parents went to the
electric chair at Sing Sing prison, becoming the first US civilians to be
executed in a spy case. History has cast serious doubts on Ethel's
conviction, which was based largely on the perjured testimony of her
brother. According to declassified Russian documents, Julius may have been
The 2 orphaned boys - Robert and his older brother Michael - were adopted
by Abel and Anne Meeropol, and grew up in comfortable anonymity. As
adults, both settled in Springfield, Mass., where their own children were
taught to fight injustice and question authority.
Rachel was born in 1975, shortly after the brothers went public in a book
titled "We Are Your Sons." Now 31, she is a staff attorney at the
nonprofit Center for Constitutional Rights, founded during the civil
rights movement. She's been named one of the best "40 Under 40" lawyers by
the National Law Journal, one of the "Fab Fifty" top young litigators by
American Lawyer magazine, and is co-editor of "The Jailhouse Lawyer's
Handbook," for prisoners without an attorney.
On a recent day in the center's lower Manhattan office, Meeropol, dressed
in jeans and sneakers, spoke about the family legacy that led her to
social justice law. Her office is a clutter of books, files, and a
photograph of the 2004 Red Sox celebrating their World Series win. Given
her family history, one of her legal projects is an irony her grandparents
might appreciate: She is suing President Bush, the FBI, CIA, and others,
alleging that they are spying on her and fellow attorneys at the center.
Specifically, the suit states that the government's use of warrantless
electronic surveillance in its war against terrorism has curtailed
communications with clients.
"This has huge implications for attorneys here at CCR," Meeropol says. "We
have to depend on the confidentiality of communications with our clients.
If you can't use the telephone or e-mail, it makes communications,
especially in a foreign country, very hard."
Because of the fear of eavesdropping, she says she's flown to Egypt to see
her clients a couple of times - an expensive and time-consuming task.
Those clients include Muslim non-Americans who were picked up in the
post-Sept. 11 security frenzy and held at the Metropolitan Detention
Center in Brooklyn. Meeropol is the lead attorney in Turkmen vs. Ashcroft,
which alleges that the men, who had overstayed their visas, were the
victims of racial and religious profiling.
"They took people off the streets and disappeared them," says Meeropol,
who specializes in prisoners' rights, immigration, and First Amendment
law. "No one knew where they were being held, and they weren't allowed
contact with the outside world."
Her clients, she says, were beaten and taunted, shackled, locked down for
23 hours a day, subjected to strip searches, and denied contact with the
outside world. "They came here to make better lives for themselves and to
send money back home," she says, adding that they worked as cab drivers,
in delis, and other small businesses.
The government has since acknowledged that they were not terrorists and
deported them. A federal judge dismissed the challenge to the roundup and
detention but allowed the claims of abuse, poor prison conditions, and
profiling to go forward. Both sides are appealing, and arguments are
expected to be heard by spring.
Meeropol sees discomfiting parallels in what happened with her
grandparents and "the repressive targeting" of Muslims a half-century
"A lot of people have drawn comparisons between the 1950s and today, and
certainly I think that the repression being visited on 'suspect'
communities - then communists, now Muslim non-citizens - is closely
analogous," she says. "With my grandparents specifically, as compared to
the 9/11 detentions, you can see how in both situations, the government
relied on public fears to justify extremely harsh treatment."
An early start
Rachel and her sister, Jennifer, 34, were brought up in a liberal
household in Springfield, where as youngsters they accompanied their
parents to political demonstrations. Their father runs the Rosenberg Fund
for Children, which helps children whose parents have been persecuted for
their activism. Jennifer, who wrote her senior thesis at Harvard on Ethel
Rosenberg, works for the foundation; Rachel is on the board.
"It's something that's important to the whole family," Rachel says. "I
think what my father does is amazing. He's taken the legacy of what
happened to his parents and turned it around. He calls it his form of
constructive revenge." Her mother, Elli, is a nurse who writes fiction,
often about the intersection of politics and family life.
Their daughter attributes her own politics to both her grandparents'
legacy and her parents' example. "I think you can say my passion for
social justice grew out of a profound sense of injustice," she says.
Sometimes that injustice was writ small. As a child, whenever she'd object
to a parental edict, Rachel would dress in blue pants, blue sweatshirt,
and a blue blanket tied, cape-style, around her neck. She'd grab a
homemade sign and picket outside her parents' bedroom: "Unfair to
Pre-Teens!" Her self-imposed nickname was "The Blue Avenger."
Meeropol always had a flair for the dramatic, with lead roles in
Shakespeare productions at Springfield Central High School: "heroines,
villains, and jokers," as she puts it. It was, she says, good practice for
her courtroom career.
"She always had a very well-developed sense of what was fair," her mother
says. Their home included framed photos of the Rosenbergs, and an artist
friend was once so struck by the strong resemblance between Rachel and her
grandmother that he painted a portrait of the girl standing near Ethel's
Robert Meeropol believes his daughters learned two things from their
family history: "The first one is be very skeptical of what the government
tells us because they often lie, and the other is to have a strong sense
of social justice not only in the big political sense but also in the
repercussions all those big social issues have on individual lives."
A tenacious spirit
Meeropol lives in Brooklyn with her boyfriend of 8 years, Tomas Hunt. They
met as counselors at Camp Kinderland, a leftist "red diaper" camp in
Tolland, Mass., where the cabins are named after activist heroes such as
Emma Lazarus and Paul Robeson. She spent seven summers there and included
it in her senior thesis at Wesleyan University, "Playing With Politics:
The Transformation and Appropriation of Politics and Social Belief From
One Generation to the Next." Hunt, who is from New Hampshire, works in
education policy at the New York State Public Advocate's Office.
At work, her boss says that her passion for political cases, her courage
and tenacity have been a boon for the center. "Her work embodies a spirit
of justice, a spirit of accountability that was sorely missing with the
way that her grandparents were handled, and I think Rachel's commitment to
social justice stems in very large part to righting the wrongs that the
government is making," says CCR executive director Vincent Warren.
Still, "as radical as her politics are - and happily so," Warren says,
Meeropol is a careful, measured litigator. "She will only put her name on
something she knows will be able to stand up in court."
Meeropol says her grief and anger over the Rosenbergs' fate have largely
dissipated, replaced by her passion for civil liberties. "I think I'm
doing work my grandparents would have been proud of," she says.
(source: Boston Globe)
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