[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----PENN., N.Y., IOWA, CONN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Oct 27 19:20:34 CDT 2007
Deadlocked Jury Spares Mollett's Life
The man convicted of shooting to death State Police Corporal Joseph
Pokorny in 2005 will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Earlier this week, the same jury convicted Leslie Mollett of 1st-degree
murder. The prosecution was seeking the death penalty.
Jurors spent 8 hours over the past 2 days trying to reach a decision, but
were hopelessly deadlocked.
"It's not a question of how I feel about it. They had a job to do, theyre
a part of the system. The system wouldn't work without them," Prosecutor
Mark Tranquilli said. "The fact that they worked as hard as they did shows
that the system works and I think that everybodys faith in the system
should be reaffirmed by that."
After learning the jury's sentence, Pokorny's sister told reporters that
it has been a bittersweet time for her family and that the past month has
"We are pleased with the guilt phase of the verdict and now it's time for
us to heal and celebrate Joe's life," she said.
A spokeperson for the Pennsylvania State Police says that they are
disappointed that Mollett did not get the death penalty, but respect the
work of the jurors.
Meantime, the defendants family was relieved that the jury spared his
"All praises to God. He's in control. That's all I got to say," Brenda
Banks, Mollett's mother, said.
According to his trial attorney John Elash, Mollett cried when he learned
Lisa Middleman represented Mollett during the death penalty phase.
"It's very gratifying when at least one person on a death qualified jury
does see that allowing another human being to live does not diminish or
demean in any way the memory of the person that was lost," she said.
Mollett will not be eligible for parole.
(source: KDKA News)
Killing the death penalty----States highest court rightly rules that
capital punishment is fatally flawed
New York took a large step toward membership in the civilized world
Tuesday when it effectively and, with luck, permanently abolished the
It is, perhaps, too bad that the action came on a technical ruling by its
highest court rather than as an expression of an enlightened popular will.
But the democratic process can still ratify this correct ruling simply by
failing to heed any calls to return blood vengeance to the penal code.
Neither New York nor any other jurisdiction of the United States is
obligated to make its laws in accordance with what the founders called "a
decent respect to the opinions of mankind." The fact that the moral
leadership on this matter has passed from the United States, if we ever
had it, to the European Union enforces no duty on us as it does on
members of the EU, where abolition of capital punishment is considered a
minimal standard for any nation claiming to be a fit partner for modern
But we should pay heed to the fact that forswearing capital punishment is
increasingly seen as proof that a nation is properly governed, governed by
men and women who are not so arrogant as to claim for themselves the right
to decide who lives and who dies and not so full of themselves that they
think even the best-intended criminal justice system is incapable of
error. There has been plenty of evidence lately that errors do occur, even
in death-penalty cases.
The fact that the United States stubbornly clings to the death penalty
actually inhibits our ability to protect ourselves. It seriously
discourages judicial systems in other countries from cooperating with
Just last week, a report released by the Innocence Project at New York's
Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law noted that New York leads the nation in
the number of wrongful convictions 23 that have been reversed by DNA
evidence in recent years. Yet the state has also lagged its neighbors in
efforts to improve the fairness of its criminal justice system through
such measures as establishing an independent commission to review errors
that lead to wrongful convictions, and setting higher standards for the
handling and preservation of evidence.
The state has suffered not at all for the fact that it has not executed
anyone since 1963. And the states Court of Appeals finished off the
existing death penalty statute by ruling, as it had before, that it was
worded in such a way as to push judges and juries toward ordering the
death of dangerous convicts by dangling before them the largely unfounded
fear that, unless they ordered the killer to die, he might soon again be
among us. The fact that at least one judge had tried to tell a jury
otherwise was not enough, the states top court ruled. The statute remains
fatally flawed and is, finally, swept aside.
There will be calls to write another death penalty law, one that closes
that loophole. But with even the conservative U.S. Supreme Court
questioning whether lethal injection, the currently favored means of
execution, flunks the cruel-andunusual test, and with public opinion polls
slowly but surely moving away from death and toward life sentences as the
proper penalty for even the most heinous crimes, New York would be well
served to leave the unavoidably capricious and inhumane death penalty in
its well-deserved grave.
(source: Editorial, Buffalo News)
Iowans Against the Death Penalty marks 45th anniversary
The group "Iowans Against the Death Penalty" is holding an event Saturday
evening to mark its 45th anniversary. Spokesman Shawn Sherman says the
group continues the fight the reinstatement of the death penalty in the
Sherman says Iowans Against the Death penalty has a firm belief that any
civil society does not punish individuals within the society by killing
them. Sherman says the group believes life without parole is a more civil
sentence. Sherman says four people will be honored with the Harold Hughes
award, named for the former Iowa Governor who pushed to end the use of the
This year's recipients are University of Iowa Law School Professor David
Baldus, Des Moines attorney James Benzoni, former governor Tom Vilsack,
and former state legislator John Ely. Sherman says each of the recipients
had a handing in fighting to end the death penalty, or keep it from being
Sherman says the group feels confident for now that the death penalty
won't return. He says the current leadership in the statehouse has assured
them that a bill reinstating the death penalty will not make it out of
committee in either 2007 or 2008. Sherman says the last time the death
penalty came close to be reinstated was 1995. The 45th anniversary event
is Saturday evening at 6:30 at the Catholic Pastoral Center in Des Moines.
The last person put to death in Iowa was hanged in 1963.
(source: Radio Iowa News)
Death Penalty Tests a Church as It Mourns
The United Methodist Church here is the kind of politically active place
where parishioners take to the pulpit to discuss poverty in El Salvador
and refugees living in Meriden. But few issues engage its passions as much
as the death penalty.
The last 3 pastors were opponents of capital punishment. Church-sponsored
adult education classes promote the idea of "restorative justice,"
advocating rehabilitation over punishment. 2 years ago, congregants
attended midnight vigils outside the prison where Connecticut executed a
prisoner for the 1st time in 45 years.
So it might have been expected that United Methodist congregants would
speak out forcefully when a brutal triple murder here in July led to tough
new policies against violent criminals across the state and a pledge from
prosecutors to seek capital punishment against the defendants.
But the congregation has been largely quiet, not out of indifference, but
anguish: the victims were popular and active members of the church
Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and her 2 daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela,
11. On July 23, 2 men broke into the familys home. Mrs. Hawke-Petit was
strangled and her daughters died in a fire that the police say was set by
The killings have not just stunned the congregation, they have spurred
quiet debate about how it should respond to the crime and whether it
should publicly oppose the punishment that may follow. It has also caused
a few to reassess how they feel about the punishment.
At the heart of the debate are questions about how Mrs. Hawke-Petits
husband, William, who survived the attack, feels about the death penalty.
The indications are conflicting. Sensitive to his grief, many of the
churchs most ardent capital punishment opponents have been hesitant to
speak against the capital charges brought against 2 parolees charged with
the killings, Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes.
"I'm treading lightly out of respect for the Petit family," said the
churchs pastor, the Rev. Stephen E. Volpe, a death penalty opponent. "I do
not feel we, in this church, ought to make this tragedy the rallying cry
for anything at this point."
At the same time, there is a widespread belief that Mrs. Hawke-Petit was
opposed to capital punishment. Having her killers put to death would be
the last thing she would want, many say.
"It'd be so dishonoring to her life to do anything violent in her name,"
said Carolyn Hardin Engelhardt, a church member who is the director of the
ministry resource center at Yale Divinity School Library. "That's not the
kind of person she was."
At least two church members say they think that Mrs. Hawke-Petit endorsed
an anti-death-penalty document known as a Declaration of Life. The
declaration states a person's opposition to capital punishment and asks
that prosecutors, in the event of the person's own death in a capital
crime, do not seek the death penalty. The documents have been signed by
thousands of people, including Mario M. Cuomo, the former governor of New
York, and Martin Sheen, the actor.
"She was a nurse and she would not cause harm to anyone," said Lucy
Earley, a congregant who notarized at least a dozen declarations during an
appeal at the church and said she thought Mrs. Hawke-Petit's was among
Declarations of Life are often kept with a person's will or other
important papers; sometimes they are filed with registries. But it could
not be independently determined whether Mrs. Hawke-Petit had signed one.
Although the family's home was heavily damaged in the fire and no
independent copies have surfaced, death penalty opponents both inside and
outside the church have kept trying to find one. A clear indication that
Mrs. Hawke-Petit rejected capital punishment could help them mobilize,
they say, not only in the Cheshire case but also on behalf of the nine
people on Connecticuts death row in Somers.
The opponents also say that a signed declaration by Mrs. Hawke-Petit
opposing capital punishment could help counter the public outrage to the
killings outrage that has pressured state officials to suspend parole for
Still, if proof of Mrs. Hawke-Petit's sentiments did surface, it would
have little standing in court, lawyers and prosecutors say.
"Our job is to enforce the law no matter who the victim is or what the
victim's religious beliefs are," said John A. Connelly, a veteran
prosecutor in Waterbury who is not involved in the Cheshire case. "If you
started imposing the death penalty based on what the victims family felt,
it would truly become arbitrary and capricious."
Michael Dearington, the state's attorney who is prosecuting the suspects
in the Petit killings, said he did not know whether Mrs. Hawke-Petit had
signed a Declaration of Life. Asked if he knew Dr. Petit's views on the
death penalty, he replied, "I have a no comment on that."
Not surprisingly, there has been much speculation within the church about
whether William Petit, a physician, supports capital punishment. Though he
has participated in tributes to his family and has attended church in
recent weeks, Dr. Petit has not granted interviews since the killings.
"He's just not ready," his mother, Barbara Petit, said recently.
A friend and member of United Methodist, Dr. Phil Brewer, said he came
away from a recent meeting with Dr. Petit with the impression that his
friend "was strongly in favor of executing these guys, once they were
Dr. Brewer said that Dr. Petit had no quarrel with individuals from United
Methodist speaking out against the death penalty. But he would "not take
it kindly if our congregation as a whole took a position against the death
penalty," Dr. Brewer said.
"It would be seen as an effort to force him into choosing between being
part of the congregation or wanting to have the death penalty," he added.
At a memorial service in September for his family, Dr. Petit read from the
Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, which included the passage, "Where there
is injury, pardon."
Some members took that as a sign that he was grappling with his feelings
about capital punishment.
"What really took my breath away when he cited the Prayer of St. Francis
and either lingered on the word 'pardon' or got stuck on the word
'pardon,'" Dr. Brewer said. "There was a long pause after he spoke the
word, and to me, that signaled that this was on his mind."
Dr. Brewer's wife, Dr. Karen Brown, said, "I think it's what he wants to
feel, but it's hard to get there." The killings have prompted the church
to slow down in other ways. Because of sensitivities about Dr. Petit's
feelings, church members called off plans to invite a prominent death
penalty opponent to address the congregation. The killings have even
caused some congregants to reconsider their personal views.
"I think we've all rethought it because it's pretty easy to believe
something when it's far away and then when something happens and it's a
real situation you have to examine what you believe," said Dr. Brown. She
said she remained opposed to capital punishment.
The Rev. Diana Jani Druck, who led the Cheshire congregation from 2001 to
2005, said the Petit case would be an interesting test for the
congregation and the state.
The case, she said, lacks some of the factors that make some people object
to the death penalty as patently unfair, like race. (The suspects are
white, as were the Petits.) Because both defendants were caught fleeing
the crime scene, there may be fewer questions about mistaken identity. And
the gruesome nature of the crime, combined with the kinship many
congregants felt for the Petits, may stir feelings of vengeance even in
death penalty opponents, she said.
United Methodists have a long tradition of embracing those on the fringes
of society, and concern over the death penalty has long found a home on
the denomination's social agenda. Dissent is permitted, but those who
agree with the policy are encouraged to work to end capital punishment.
Mrs. Hawke-Petit was raised in that tradition. Her father, the Rev.
Richard Hawke, led 6 Methodist congregations in western Pennsylvania and
was the district superintendent in Pittsburgh before retiring in 1994. He
is an opponent of capital punishment.
4 years after Jennifer and William Petit married in 1985, they bought a
house in Cheshire and began to attend the local Methodist church
regularly. Though William remained a Roman Catholic, "he was a member in
everything but name only," said the Rev. George C. Engelhardt, who was the
congregations pastor for 29 years before becoming superintendent for
several churches in the region.
Mrs. Hawke-Petit taught Sunday school. Michaela played the flute and sang
in the church's musical programs. Hayley learned how to wield a drill
while doing home improvements for the disabled with the churchs summer
All 4 Petits participated in the churchs annual Living Nativity pageant,
posing as human statues in the parking lot for 20-minute shifts in support
of local charities. Mrs. Hawke-Petit often played Mary or a shepherdess.
The girls were angels and Dr. Petit often played a king.
These days, when Dr. Petit attends church, his daughters friends sit by
him and take turns placing a hand on his shoulder.
Many congregants expect the congregation's strong anti-death-penalty
sentiments to become more public as the Petit case develops.
"Eventually, it's something that has to be talked about," said Carol
Wilson, a death penalty opponent who leads several church community
projects. "We're just not there yet."
(source: New York Times)
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