[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----S.C., USA, ALA., KY., MD.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed Oct 31 01:50:40 CDT 2007
Death penalty opponent brings message to series at Winthrop
Sister Helen Prejean always writes the words "Choose Life" when she
autographs her book. It's a plea the compassionate woman took to Winthrop
University on Monday night when she discussed the emotional process and
journeys experienced by both sides of the death penalty -- the families of
victims and the death-row inmates and their families.
"I've never thought that I would be drawn into this suffering," Prejean
said earlier in the day about her ministry to death-row inmates and the
families of murder victims that began in 1981.
Prejean, who wears a cross around her crisp, white, collared shirt, has
been talking to audiences of all ages and backgrounds in the Southeast to
help eliminate the death penalty that exists in 38 states. South Carolina
is one of them -- eighth in the nation for executions, she said.
"We just need to take the death penalty off the table and not let the
government be the arbitrator of life and death," said the nun with the
Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille in Louisiana. "The alternative sentence
is life without parole."
The 68-year-old added that some victims' families like the idea of knowing
that the convicted murderer is behind bars without means of returning to
society to kill again.
Prejean was one of the speakers during the Death Penalty Awareness Series
hosted by Winthrop's Peace, Justice and Conflict Resolution Studies Minor
and The Oratory in Rock Hill. The series, which began in September,
includes the Department of Theatre and Dance's production of "Dead Man
Walking" by Tim Robbins, which runs Wednesday to Sunday in the Johnson
"The purpose of the series was not to condemn the death penalty, but to
ask questions and get the answers," said Ginger Williams, a Winthrop
history professor who was instrumental in putting together the series.
The play, based on Prejean's book "Dean Man Walking," is about her
experiences with the prison ministry. The book was nominated for the 1993
Pulitzer Prize and was developed into a movie starring Susan Sarandon and
Sean Penn that was released almost 12 years ago. Her second book, "The
Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions" was
published in December 2004.
Prejean, who educates the nation about the death penalty through lectures
and writing from September to May, has witnessed six executions since
1984. She'll never forget any of them, she said.
She is the founder of Survive, a victim's advocacy group in New Orleans.
She is currently ministering to 2 death-row inmates -- a man in Louisiana
and a woman in Texas. Prejean also is working on her 3rd book, "River of
In 1999, 98 executions were scheduled to take place. Some executions did
not happen, and the number dropped to about 50 in 2001. The majority of
those sitting on death-row are poor and minorities, she added.
Her success in spreading the word doesn't come without criticism. Some
have accused Prejean of taking the side of the death-row inmates over the
families of victims. But she assures that she is not taking anyone's side
because all parties involved have suffered a loss.
Prejean maintains a relationship with some of the murder victims'
families, some she met in the mid-1980s.
She said during a talk Sunday at The Oratory that one victim's father
taught her "what it meant to be plunged into tragedy and to follow the
path of grace." The father taught her about forgiveness when he said he
didn't want love to be overcome by hatred.
Despite the emotional roller coaster of her ministry, she plans to
continue the mission that was laid before her.
(source: Rock Hill Herald)
Holdridge: What can we learn from the death penalty moratorium?----John
Holdridge, DIRECTOR, AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION'S CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
Executions in the United States have essentially been put on hold in the
aftermath of the Supreme Court's announcement in late September that it
would decide the constitutionality of the lethal injection protocol used
by almost all death-penalty states. With Texas leading the way, there is a
good chance that few if any executions will take place until the Court
issues a decision next spring.
This historic suspension of capital punishment across the nation presents
a unique opportunity to ask ourselves a few simple questions: Why does
this matter? What does this de facto moratorium mean for our society? And
what is wrong with the nation's most severe sanction?
For starters, the moratorium means that, for the time being, we can rest
assured knowing that no innocent people will be executed by our
government; It means that, between now and next spring, the U.S. will at
long last be sending the right message to the world that cool, deliberate
and lethal violence cannot be justified and that the condemned are human
beings capable of reformation.
Finally, the moratorium offers some simple truths that illustrate why the
government must not have the power to decide who lives and who dies:
We do not need the death penalty to keep us safe. The inmates whose lives
are now at least temporarily spared do not pose any danger to society -
they will remain in prison, many in solitary confinement. Furthermore, the
moratorium will not increase the murder rate based on credible studies
showing the death penalty has no deterrent effect. That's why a 1995
survey of U.S. police chiefs found that a majority does not believe that
the death penalty is an effective law enforcement tool.
We don't need capital punishment to exact retribution against offenders.
Life imprisonment without the possibility of release is clearly
retributive. More than half the countries in the world have abolished the
death penalty in law or practice; 12 states in the U.S. do not have
capital punishment; and more than 2/3 of the counties in U.S. have never
returned a death sentence. The people living in these places have accepted
that life imprisonment constitutes sufficient retribution.
Capital punishment is an extraordinary waste of taxpayer dollars. An act
of state-sanctioned killing costs far more than life without the
possibility of parole. And that is true even though society is getting the
death penalty on the cheap as a result of woefully underfunded public
defender programs in almost all death-penalty states. Tragically, the
death penalty is often imposed not on the worst defendants, but on the
defendants with the worst lawyers.
Capital punishment is a failed government program and a colossal stain on
our criminal justice system. The administration of capital punishment in
this country is fraught with error. Since 1973, more than 123 innocent
death-row inmates have been exonerated; in addition, eight men have been
executed even though there is a very good chance they were innocent.
Moreover, despite popular myths, DNA testing cannot ensure that only the
guilty are executed because DNA evidence is available in only 10 % of
The death penalty is arbitrary and capricious. Receiving a death sentence
is like being struck by lightning - only 2% of all murders are punished
with the death penalty, even in death-penalty states. Furthermore, the use
of capital punishment is tainted by racial, economic and geographic
discrimination. In general, a defendant is 4 1/2 times more likely to get
the death penalty if he kills a white person than if he kills a black
person. And virtually everyone on death row is poor.
The current de facto moratorium on the death penalty presents a rare
opportunity to reflect on why we remain the only advanced Western
democracy to retain this punishment. If we seize this moment, we will
reach only one conclusion: there is no good reason to have capital
punishment and many good reasons not to.
(source: Editorial, Austin American-Statesman)
In all cases, the death penalty is inherently flawed
In 2004 in Kansas City, MO, Lisa Montgomery, 36, strangled Bobbi Jo
Stinnett, 23, who was 8 months pregnant and then proceeded to cut out the
premature infant from her womb; she was found guilty of kidnapping and
murder. Now, the main issue lies in one question: should she be given the
death penalty? The jury happens to believe so, because late last week,
after deliberating for 5 hours, Lisa Montgomery was sentenced to death. Of
course, the story doesn't end here. There will be appeals, and then some
more appeals, and thousands of dollars will be spent in trying to drop her
sentence to life in prison. Though Montgomery's crime was most heinous in
nature, you must ask yourself this: who are we to take another's life?
Capital punishment has been a hot topic for decades now and many
countries, including Canada, Australia, and all of Europe have gone as far
as to completely outlaw it. Supporters of the death penalty state that it
deters crime, and they believe that, as the Bible states, "Life for life,
eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand" (Ex. 21:23, 24), the
punishment should fit the crime--murder for murder.
Films such as Last Dance, Dead Man Walking, and The Life of David Gale do
an excellent job of portraying the flaws in capital punishment; each film
asks some very pertinent questions regarding matter like the state of mind
of the criminal when the crime was committed and, of course, whether the
accused is actually guilty or not.
For example, Lisa Montgomery was sexually abused repeatedly as a child,
which, her defense attorney states, led to mental illness. It has been
established that Montgomery used to use pregnancy as a way of getting
attention and lied several times through the course of her life about
being pregnant; her attorneys state that this shows a history of mental
illness. Do you still feel that Montgomery deserves the death penalty? By
ending her life, are we serving justice by murdering an extremely ill
woman? Unfortunately, there is no simple black and white answer to the
question; it's all gray.
And what are we supposed to do when we wrongfully put someone to death?
Can we provide the formerly dubbed criminal, now the victim, with any form
of justice? Is there any retribution for the family of the accused? I
think not. "I'm sorry we killed your son for a crime he didn't commit -
here's $20,000, enjoy!" says it all. People that I have spoken to
regarding this matter who support the death penalty tend to beg the
question, "How many times can that possibly happen?" But one wrongful
death is more than enough, and considering the fact that we have convicted
plenty of innocent men and women, some who served 40 years before being
exonerated, carrying out the death penalty on an innocent does not seem
very unlikely. In the cases of the men and women who served days, months,
and even years in prison for a crime they did not commit, the jury, the
lawyers, and the investigators were, more often than not, one hundred
percent sure that justice had been served; if they can be wrong about one
case they can sure as hell be wrong about another.
Personally, I feel murders should be given life imprisonment, preferably
solitary confinement (it gives them ample time to wallow in their misery
and reflect on their wrong doings); they should not be given the luxury of
companionship in the form of an inmate.
If you were to look at capital punishment from the economic perspective,
then the pros of life in prison will most definitely outweigh the pros of
the death penalty. In 1998, Phil Porter studied the costs the death
penalty in states such as Texas, California, and Florida, and upon
examining the results, stated that "sentencing a prisoner to life in
prison is a better allocation of resources than sentencing him to be
executed." To break it down, he states, "The cost of keeping a 25-year-old
inmate for 50 years at present amounts to $805,000. Assuming 75 years as
an average life span, the $805,000 figure would be the cost of life in
prison. So roughly it's costing us $2 million more to execute someone than
it would cost to keep them in jail for life."
Of course, the answer to the complex question regarding capital punishment
cannot be answered in a mere less than 1,000 words article. However, I can
state the following: Do I think kidnapping and murder are wrong?
Absolutely. Do I think one who commits such a crime should also in turn be
murdered? Absolutely not. There is no gray area here; no human on this
earth has the right to take another's life, especially if there is a
possibility that they may be innocent of the crime or they may be mentally
ill. As clich 233 as it is to end something with a quote I feel obligated
to say that Mahatma Gandhi had it right, an eye for an eye will definitely
make the world go blind.
(source: The Retriever Weekly)
ABA calls for halt of executions
The American Bar Association, concluding a 3-year study of capital
punishment systems in 8 states, found so many inequities and shortfalls
that the group is calling for a nationwide moratorium on executions.
In a study to be released Monday, the attorney organization, which has
more than 400,000 members, said that death penalty systems in Indiana,
Georgia, Ohio, Alabama and Tennessee in particular had so many problems
that those states should institute a temporary halt to executions
immediately until further study can be conducted.
They were among 8 states studied that provided the basis for the
association's call to halt executions nationwide.
"After carefully studying the way states across the spectrum handle
executions, it has become crystal clear that the process is deeply
flawed," Stephen Hanlon, chairman of the ABA's Death Penalty Moratorium
Implementation Project, said in a statement.
The study also focused on death penalty systems in Arizona, Florida and
Pennsylvania, but did not find the same serious conditions as cited in the
other five. The ABA says it does not take a position either for or against
the death penalty.
The study found "significant racial disparities" in the imposition of the
death penalty, inadequate indigent defense programs, failures in crime
laboratories, and a lack of uniformity in implementing nationally
recognized best practices in eyewitness identification procedures as well
as the recording of interrogations of suspects.
"The death penalty system is rife with irregularity -- supporting the need
for a moratorium until states can ensure fairness and accuracy," Hanlon
said. Joshua Marquis, district attorney in Clatsop County, Ore., and a
vice president of the National District Attorneys Association, said, "I
think the ABA should drop its pretense of being neutral on the death
penalty. . . . They are being disingenuous by simply declaring that they
want a moratorium. The powers that be in the ABA want the death penalty
Marquis, who supports the death penalty, said, "There is no doubt that you
could always improve on the system. But the things they've cited suggest
epidemics when they aren't.
"It is completely false to say that across the board crime labs are
riddled with problems or that evidence is not retained," Marquis said.
"There were innocent people on death row. There's no doubt about it. But
this idea that the ABA is promoting, that the system is riddled with
errors, is just plain wrong."
Beginning in 1997, the attorney organization called for moratoriums in
states until "a thorough and exhaustive study to determine whether its
system meets legal stan dards for fairness and due process" can be
In 2000, then-Gov. George Ryan, citing the release of several defendants
from death row in Illinois, as well as reports in the Chicago Tribune
about problems in the state's death penalty system, imposed a moratorium
3 years later, Ryan emptied death row, commuting the death sentences of
156 prisoners to life terms, after the state legislature had failed to act
upon recommendations to improve the system.
Subsequently, some of those measures, including videotaping of
interrogations in murder cases, have been passed.
(source: Chicago Tribune)
Attorney General to Speed Up State Executions----Background: All About the
Death Penalty Debate
Inadequate counsel is the dirty little secret of our criminal justice
system. Seventy years after the Scottsboro Boys trials, wealthy murder
suspects can still afford the best lawyers money can buy while low-income
murder suspects get railroaded through cases without adequate
Nowhere is this expediency more costly than in capital cases. Because
these cases tend to be politically charged, with district attorneys
pressured into convicting someone at risk of losing their reelection bids,
the cases are aggressively prosecuted. And because defendants tend to be
poor, they are more often than not inadequately represented. Many of these
fast-track death sentences are overturned on appeal. Thanks to initiatives
like the Innocence Project, for example, 205 people sentenced to die have
been cleared since 1989 due to DNA evidence alone. That's 205 indisputably
innocent people who would have been killed by our government because of
the way our capital punishment system works. When you take into account
the fact that DNA evidence isn't even available for 90% of violent crimes,
it's reasonable to wonder how many of the 1,090 people executed since the
death penalty was reinstated in 1976 actually committed capital crimes.
Most of these cases ultimately boil down to inadequate counsel. The best
qualified prosecutors pursue capital cases against low-income defendants,
and quite often these defendants are protected by the least qualified
attorneys--the sort of attorneys who overlook possible avenues for
exculpatory evidence, do not challenge the credibility of eyewitness
testimony, and have little reason to get their clients acquitted. In
particularly severe cases, these defendants' verdicts are overturned on
appeal, as in one recent 6th Circuit case, Richey v. Bradshaw.
Under new rules established by last year's USA PATRIOT Act revisions,
however, America's chief prosecutor would be given the power to limit
federal appeals based on inadequate counsel. As Richard B. Schmitt writes
in The L.A. Times:
Under the rules now being prepared, if a state requested it and [U.S.
Attorney General Alberto] Gonzales agreed, prosecutors could use "fast
track" procedures that could shave years off the time that a death row
inmate has to appeal to the federal courts after conviction in a state
The procedures would cut to six months, instead of a year, the time that
death row inmates have to file federal appeals once their cases have been
resolved in the state courts.
It would also impose strict guidelines on federal judges for deciding such
inmates' petitions. Federal district judges would have 450 days, appeals
courts 120 days. Proponents say that would prevent foot-dragging by
There are practical arguments that could be used to justify speeding up
the death penalty process. California, for example, has the largest death
row in the country--with 660 people awaiting execution in San Quentin--but
has only actually executed 13 people since 1976. Most of its prisoners
have been sentenced to death by natural causes, and housing these
death-row lifers costs $90,000/year more than housing ordinary prisoners
sentenced to life. This does not even include the astronomical legal fees
involved in California's massive appeals process. The California death
penalty, if it will not be administered, should be abolished. It should
probably be abolished anyway.
But there is an obvious conflict of interest in giving Gonzales the power
to determine whether a client has received inadequate counsel: He
represents the prosecutors. And given how often death penalty verdicts are
overturned on appeal due to inadequate counsel, given the fact that 205
prisoners have been exonerated on DNA evidence alone, it is difficult to
see how this rule will not result in the execution of innocent defendants.
This whole situation is unfortunate, but that doesn't mean that it cannot
Possible legislative avenues might include:
State-level legislation prohibiting prosecutors from appealing to Gonzales
to speed up cases. If this can be done statutorily, it is probably the
most politically viable option.
Federal legislation transferring the new powers given to Gonzales to a
special justice department appointee, or to a member of the judiciary. It
would do no good to pass legislation that simply revokes the powers
altogether, because it would not generate a veto-proof majority in
Congress. But the conflict of interest issue should, at least, be
Whatever the outcome, the new rules highlight 2 seemingly contradictory
problems with our system of capital punishment: The appeals process is so
long and convoluted as to constitute nothing more than an expensive form
of life imprisonment for inmates in some states, and yet an astonishingly
high number of innocent defendants still end up on death row. As the old
joke goes: The food is terrible, and the portions are too small.
(source: Civil Liberty)
Capital punishment is morally wrong and can never be justified
The death penalty is dead wrong.
I reached this conclusion long before the American Bar Association in a
report released Sunday called for a nationwide freeze on executions
because of serious problems that compromise fairness and accuracy in
capital punishment cases.
Florida was one of eight states whose death-penalty operations were
reviewed over the past three years. While the teams that studied Florida
didn't call for a halt to executions, the ABA said every state with the
death penalty should review its procedures before executing anyone.
One of the major and irreversible flaws of capital punishment is the real
possibility that an innocent person could die for a crime he or she didn't
As of May, 124 inmates on death row in the United States had been
Once a person has been executed, there can never be a chance to reverse
sentences or give exonerations, even though the rising number of
exonerations per year shows the need for the ability to reverse
Isn't killing one innocent person worse than setting the guilty free? The
death penalty leaves no room for error, and the courts, as we well know,
are far from perfect.
Sadly, the United States is the only industrialized nation, besides Japan,
to use capital punishment.
The primary reason to oppose capital punishment has more to do with who we
are than who death row inmates are. The death penalty is unbefitting of a
3 years ago, New York determined that capital punishment was
unconstitutional and joined the list of 12 states that have abolished it.
It's time the rest of the nation follows suit.
Capital punishment is too flawed, ineffective and cruel to be continued in
Most of the time, whether someone ends up on death row is correlated
directly with how much money he had to afford a competent attorney. Too
often, it's because of the color of a person's skin.
The death penalty is inextricably bound up with our racist and
class-biased justice system and for that reason alone can never be just.
Some argue that implementing the death penalty protects society because
released criminals can commit crimes again. But sentencing murderers and
rapists to life in prison, without parole, eliminates this risk.
No matter how you defend or support it, capital punishment is morally
wrong. To deliberately kill someone who has been captured and no longer
poses a direct threat to society is murder.
Capital punishment gives the government the legal right to commit
What kind or moral message does that send?
As has been widely documented, with the shortcomings and inequities in our
judicial system, the existence of the death penalty guarantees the
execution of innocent people.
Since its inception, the death penalty has never produced a decrease in
crime. It is not only useless. It is itself a crime. It should be
(source: Reginald T. Dogan, Pensacola News Journal)
Capital punishment is unnecessary
Murder is a horrible thing. The pain and suffering experienced by the
victim and his/her family and friends are beyond description. However, is
capital punishment the proper response of a civilized society to this
The current debate about capital punishment is whether lethal injection is
"cruel and unusual punishment" and, therefore, unconstitutional. No one
knows how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on this issue. Although we are
aware that several executions using lethal injection have been botched
over the years, we have not had anyone return from the dead to tell us
what he experienced during the execution.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment was
unconstitutional in the 1970s, it was because it was being applied in an
arbitrary and capricious manner. Most objective legal scholars would admit
that capital punishment is still being applied in an arbritrary and
capricious manner despite improvements to the death penalty system in the
1970s. In 1994, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun acknowledged
this fact and stated "I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply
to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed. From this day
forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death".
My personal experience with the death penalty is that it is "cruel and
unusual punishment" from many perspectives. First, it inflicts
unbelievable mental anguish on the criminal, as well as his family and
friends who are innocent of the crime. I have observed this pain and
anguish many times when I have visited prisoners on death row, attended
execution vigils and actually witnessed executions. Some may argue that
the suffering of the offender is nothing compared to what he did to his
victim. However, should we as a civilized society take human life and
create more victims when it is totally unnecessary? What sort of an
example does this set for our children and for the rest of the world?
Secondly, the inconsistency with which the death penalty is applied in the
United States is phenomenal. There are not only huge inconsistencies
between states, but also within states because the attitudes, abilities
and resources of the district attorneys vary significantly between
counties. In some counties with unlimited financial resources such as
Harris County, Texas, the district attorney will go for the death penalty
at every opportunity. In rural counties, the district attorney will often
choose an alternative punishment because of the high cost of trying a
Thirdly, we have plenty of evidence that the criminal justice system is a
human system. Mistakes have been made and innocent people have been sent
to death row. Over 120 people have been exonerated and released from death
row in the United States in recent years. Several of these were in Texas.
And there is evidence that innocent people have been executed. If you
execute an innocent person, there is no way to correct the error. Sending
an innocent person to death row is certainly "cruel and unusual
When Pope John Paul II visited St. Louis in 1999, he publicly stated that
the death penalty was "cruel and unnecessary". It is cruel for the obvious
reasons. It is also unnecessary since we can protect society by long-term
incarceration of a dangerous criminal. Many states, including Texas, have
life without parole as an optional punishment for capital murder. As a
civilized society, we no longer have to take human life.
(source: Austin American-Statesman (David Atwood, FOUNDER, TEXAS COALITION
TO ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY)
American Bar Association: Alabama Death Penalty Assessment Report Summary
ALABAMAS DEATH PENALTY
SYSTEM IDENTIFICATION OF PROBLEMS AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR REFORM
Regardless of ones feelings about the morality of the death penalty, we
all understand that, as a society, we must do all we can to ensure a fair
and accurate system for every person who faces the death penalty. When a
life is at stake, we cannot tolerate error or injustice. The Alabama Death
Penalty Assessment Team found a number of problems in the states death
penalty system that undermines its fairness and accuracy. Highlighted
below are proposed areas for reform that would help to improve the system.
Until these reforms are implemented, a temporary moratorium on executions
should be imposed.
1. ALABAMA SHOULD ENSURE THAT ALL POOR DEFENDANTS RECEIVE COMPETENT
COUNSEL AT EVERY STAGE OF THE CAPITAL PROCESS.
In the United States, poor criminal defendants are entitled to attorneys,
and while the availability and quality of defense counsel is central to a
fair and accurate death penalty system, capital defendants in Alabama too
often do not receive the full benefit of this Constitutional guarantee.
The State's failure to provide statewide oversight of its indigent defense
system, combined with the minimal qualifications and non-existent training
required of attorneys who represent capital defendants, leads to a system
where serious fairness and accuracy breakdowns are virtually inevitable.
Alabama should create a statewide indigent defense commission to help fix
these problems. Compounding this problem, Alabama is 1 of only 2 states
that does not even guarantee a lawyer in the state post-conviction portion
of the death penalty process, even if the inmate might have new evidence
2.ALABAMA SHOULD PROTECT INNOCENT DEATH ROW INMATES BY PROVIDING A CLEAR
METHOD TO OBTAIN DNA TESTING.
DNA has proven to be an enormously useful law enforcement tool for proving
both guilt and innocence, but Alabama has failed to pass a law that
ensures access to DNA testing for people convicted of capital crimes.
Additionally, Alabama does not require that biological evidence be
preserved throughout the capital inmate's incarceration, thereby enabling
the potential destruction of evidence that could be used to prove
3. ALABAMA SHOULD ENSURE THAT MENTALLY RETARDED DEFENDANTS ARE PROTECTED
FROM UNCONSTIUTIONAL EXECUTION.
In accordance with United States Supreme Court case law banning the
execution of offenders with mental retardation, 26 states have adopted
statues prohibiting this practice. Alabama is not one of them.
Consequently, and despite repeated pleas from judges in the state, courts
have been forced to cobble together stopgap standards and procedures to
comply with the United States Supreme Court decision. The Legislature's
abdication of its responsibilities in this area has resulted in the
legitimate risk that Alabama might continue to execute mentally retarded
4.ALABAMA SHOULD PROVIDE JURIES WITH RESPONSIBILITY FOR SENTENCING
Alabama should strengthen the jury's role in capital sentencing by
eliminating "judge override," the rule that allows judges to disregard
juries' sentencing recommendations. Judge override diminishes jurors'
sense of responsibility for the enormous life and death decision they must
make, and results in jurors paying less attention to jury instructions and
deliberating for less time. All of this can result in unfairness and
inaccuracy. In addition to eliminating judge override, Alabama should
require juries to be unanimous in recommending a death sentence. Bottom
line: Alabama should respect the ability of juries to "get it right."
5. ALABAMA SHOULD RESERVE THE DEATH PENALTY FOR THE "WORST OF THE WORST."
Meaningful proportionality review is the best method of protecting against
unfairness in capital sentencing. This sort of review should compare the
case under consideration to similar cases in which (1) death was imposed,
(2) death was sought but not imposed, and (3) death could have been sought
but was not. In conducting its proportionality review, however, the
Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals limits itself to cases where the death
penalty was imposed, thereby increasing the likelihood of unfair death
6.ALABAMA SHOULD COLLECT AND STUDY THE DATA NECESSARY TO FULLY UNDERSTAND
HOW ITS SYSTEM IS FUNCTIONING.
It is imperative to have thorough and accurate information when gauging
the health of Alabama's capital system. Unfortunately, Alabama does not
collect and/or make available the data that is necessary to understand
whether the death penalty is being applied fairly and accurately. In fact,
the ABA could not even answer whether Alabama met or failed to meet 14 of
the 80 recommendations contained in the assessment report.
For more information, contact: The American Bar Association Death Penalty
Moratorium Implementation Project 202/662-1030 moratorium at abanet.org
Report finds major holes in use of death penalty
In the 38 states with capitol punishment, more than 3,300 inmates await
Now, there are new questions about the fairness and accuracy of the
justice system that put them on death row.
"Unfortunately we have found serious problems in every state death penalty
system we studied," said Stephen Hunter of the American Bar Association.
The study cited incompetent defense lawyers, particularly for appeals, and
overzealous judges, especially those facing election.
"You don't stand a chance of being elected if you say you are going to be
soft on crime," said Judge Morris Overstreet of the American Bar
The bar association also found no consistent standard for police line-ups.
"75 % of the cases of innocence overturned by DNA testing contained a
witness misidentification," said the bar association's Seth Miller.
And while DNA testing has overturned dozens of convictions, most states
don't require the preservation of evidence until after executions.
Finally, the study found, justice isn't colorblind.
Those who killed a white person were 6 times more likely to face the death
penalty than someone convicted of killing a black person was.
"That, in terms of who gets sentenced to death, matters who you kill and
where you do the killing," said University of Marylands Ray Paternoster.
42 people have been put to death in the U.S. this year, although
executions are essentially on hold as the Supreme Court is now considering
a challenge to lethal injection.
(source: KHOU News)
Death penalty trial comes with a sizable price
The cost of trying to put Daniel Ray Wilkes to death in a triple murder
case is approaching $300,000.
If convicted, Wilkes, 39, faces the death penalty in the April 2006 deaths
of an Evansville mother and her 2 young daughters.
The case was scheduled to go to trial in Clark County, Ind., this week,
but was reset because lead defense attorney Barbara Williams' mother died.
New dates for the trial will be scheduled during a hearing in Vanderburgh
Cir-cuit Court on Wednesday.
Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Stan Levco filed paperwork declaring his
intention to seek the death penalty in May 2006, and bills for the case
have been mounting.
Vanderburgh County's chief public defender Stephen Owens said the court
has approved defense bills totaling $291,000 through the end of September.
The state has already reimbursed the county a portion, and it will likely
cover 50 percent of the total, he said.
"I suspect we'll see substantial numbers yet," Owens said, explaining
trial costs including wages, hotel accommodations and possible travel
expenses for experts still need to be paid.
Until the trial is over, the actual receipts will be sealed to protect
Wilkes' right to a fair trial. Owens explained the bulk of the bills have
covered wages for Williams, co-counsel Kurt Schnepper and two
investigators, as well as fees for experts, office overhead related to the
case and travel.
Paula Sites, assistant executive director of the Indiana Public Defender
Council, said sealing individual receipts before the conclusion of a death
penalty trial is common practice.
"If Mr. Wilkes had hired his own counsel, those expenditures wouldn't be a
matter of public record," she said.
Average cost in Indiana
Sites said the average defense cost for a death penalty case in Indiana is
about $375,000. She said that accounts for expenses through trial.
"So $291,000 at this point, no, I would not say that is unusual," she
said. "There will still be expenditures at trial, but it doesn't sound out
Although Sites does not consider the current tab for the Wilkes' case
remarkable, she explained his case presents a perfect storm for staggering
When the bodies of 38-year-old Donna Lee Claspell and daughters Avery
Pike, 13, and Sydne Claspell, 9, were found April 26, 2006, at the
family's Cumberland Avenue home, police said they believed they had been
dead for 2 days.
The timing and manner of the deaths mean a complicated crime scene,
requiring painstaking forensic research. Also, defense attorneys have had
to investigate Wilkes' mental health history and past drug use.
Levco said Wilkes' case marks the sixth time he's filed for the death
penalty in his 16 years as county prosecutor. He said he considers the
expense when considering whether to file for the death sentence.
"So I was aware that these can be costly, but I personally think it
shouldn't be as costly as it is," he said. "The trial rules are such that
they almost encourage defense attorneys to spend a lot of time and money
on the case."
The steep costs of death penalty cases are documented throughout the
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington, D.C., based Death
Penalty Information Center, said "the more headline-grabbing" a case is,
the more costly it becomes.
Wilkes' trial was moved to Clark County because of pretrial publicity.
"States are realizing counties can't fund these on their own," he said.
"Counties just don't have enough money, and these can easily get to $1
million. For some smaller counties, that can be the whole county's
Reimbursed up to 50 %
In Indiana, the Indiana Public Defender Commission was created in 1989 to
help pay for death penalty cases. Counties can be reimbursed for up to 50
percent of expenses associ-ated with a death penalty case.
But in order for a county to be eligible for reimbursement, a defendant
facing the death penalty must have 2 attorneys and the support services
during the trial must comply with state standards.
Dieter said a case in Georgia is demonstrating what can go wrong if states
don't bail counties out of paying for expensive capital murder cases.
"The case there hasn't come to trial and the costs have reached $1.8
million," he said. "The county has run out of money, and the whole case
Interest of a fair trial
In the interest of providing a fair trial, county officials have little
choice but to back the financial costs of pursuing the death penalty.
Vanderburgh County Council President Marsha Abell credited the state's
policy of reimbursing half of a county's costs in death penalty cases for
relieving some of the burden.
"It will not break our county to fund this case," Abell said. "It's
important that everyone is entitled to a fair defense, and we have to
Dieter said the preparation for a death penalty case accounts for much of
the cost, but even after a trial, the expenses aren't over.
"The appeals will probably be even more expensive," he said.
(source: Henderson Gleaner)
Judge asked to revisit print ruling----Decision to bar evidence in death
penalty case called 'radical departure' from precedent
Likening the court ruling to barring testimony about X-rays because
doctors sometimes misread them, Baltimore County prosecutors asked a
Circuit Court judge yesterday to reconsider her precedent-shattering
decision that fingerprint evidence is too unreliable to be offered in a
death penalty trial.
Prosecutors said that the judge erred in tossing out the evidence and in
her reliance on parts of the federal government's report on the
misidentification of an Oregon lawyer through fingerprints that the FBI
said linked him to the 2004 Madrid train bombings.
Noting that federal investigators attributed the misidentification in that
case to mistakes made in the fingerprint examination process, prosecutors
wrote, "Countless doctors have misread X-rays, yet these errors would
never be seen as a reason to prevent doctors from testifying about broken
bones in court."
The legal filing came 10 days after Judge Susan M. Souder ruled that
prosecutors could not offer at trial fingerprints that they say links a
23-year-old Baltimore man to the fatal shooting of a Security Square Mall
merchant last year.
Scrambling to salvage the murder case against Bryan Keith Rose,
prosecutors successfully sought to have the death penalty trial -
scheduled to begin last week - postponed. With a new trial date in April,
they filed a request asking Souder to reconsider.
They characterized the decision as a "stunning and radical departure" from
not only 100 years of legal precedent but also many recent decisions in
state and federal appeals courts.
"In short," prosecutors Jason G. League and Lisa F. Dever wrote, "this
court stands alone in American jurisprudence in ruling that fingerprint
identification evidence is not reliable enough to be admitted" in court
during a trial.
Attorneys for Rose said yesterday that prosecutors have inaccurately
represented the testimony and legal arguments offered during hearings on
"There simply is no acceptance of fingerprint evidence by the scientific
community," said Patrick Kent, chief of the Maryland public defender's
forensics division and the attorney who led Rose's challenge. "In fact, it
is the absolute lack of even the most basic and rudimentary research that
mandates the exclusion of fingerprints."
In her decision, Souder characterized fingerprinting as "a subjective,
untested, unverifiable identification procedure that purports to be
infallible." She acknowledged the 100-year history of fingerprinting as a
crime-solving tool but concluded that such history "does not by itself
support the decision to admit it."
Prosecutors countered yesterday that the legal test requires only that the
judge determine whether such evidence is generally accepted in the
"It does not matter one whit that there is a significant, boisterous,
determined and persistent dispute among criminal defense counsel and
like-minded judges about fingerprint evidence," the prosecutors wrote.
In an interview yesterday evening, Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott
D. Shellenberger said that jurors hearing a trial - rather than judges
acting as gatekeepers - should determine whether such forensic evidence is
"It doesn't have to be 100 % accurate to come in the courtroom," he said.
"If everything had to be 100 percent accurate, we'd have to close the
courthouse doors tomorrow."
(source: The Baltimore Sun)
More information about the DeathPenalty