[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----KY., ALA., MD., TENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sat Sep 22 22:21:41 CDT 2007
Execution on hold; community remembers pain of lawmen's slaying
As Ralph Baze awaits decisions on appeals for his life, a quiet community
along the foothills of Appalachia is still waiting for his death.
His execution would be the only way, some say, of bringing peace to Powell
Baze - condemned to death for killing Sheriff Steve Bennett and Deputy
Arthur Briscoe in an ambush - is hated by most, forgiven by few here.
Bennett and Briscoe were serving warrants on Baze when he shot them. Baze
has said the shootings were the result of a family dispute that got out of
hand and resulted in the sheriff being called.
The execution, which had been scheduled for Sept. 25, recently was halted
by the Kentucky Supreme Court to hear arguments about whether his trial
was properly moved from Powell County to Rowan County.
It's at least the second time the courts have held off Baze's execution,
putting off closure once again for those who lived and worked alongside
Bennett and Briscoe.
"You don't know anything about it until you've lived it for 15 years,"
says Rose Bennett, the sheriff's widow and sister to the slain deputy. "I
can't move on because of Ralph Baze."
All was quiet at the bottom of the hill, where Police Chief Ray Ashley sat
in his cruiser. He had just watched Bennett and Briscoe drive up the
gravel road to the cabin to serve an outstanding warrant on Baze, who
already dodged the deputy once that day.
If Baze took off again from his cabin, Ashley would be there to block him,
he thought as he scanned the trees and waited.
"Then all hell broke loose," says Ashley.
Gunshots broke the silence, leaving Ashley to only imagine what happened
to Bennett and Briscoe.
He grabbed the radio, desperately seeking a response from the men who were
only 100 yards uphill from him.
"When I got on the radio and couldn't raise Steve and Arthur," Ashley
says, "I knew something bad had happened."
He soon found out that during that brief moment of gunfire, Bennett took
three bullets to the back and another shot had torn through Briscoe's
Baze had disappeared into the dense woods along the mountain ridge.
On a recent afternoon, Ashley retraced the crime scene at Baze's abandoned
log cabin. Now retired at 72, he thinks of that grim day often.
Maybe, he says, he should have been on that hill with his 2 pals.
"If I had my shotgun on me, I would have liked to have been up there with
them," he says. "But, you know, hindsight's 20-20."
With her husband at work, Rose Bennett went about her day as usual, taking
care of the house and tending to the couple's 4-month-old son. As in most
homes in this everybody-knows-everybody community, her scanner was on in
the background, offering staticky tidbits of cop talk, public
announcements and, admittedly, fodder for gossip.
But one short, vague dispatch froze her in fear: 2 officers down.
She grabbed them phone and pleaded with the dispatcher for details: "Is it
Steve and Arthur?"
She got no confirmation, though folks began arriving at her doorstep -
some seeking details, others offering their condolences. Word quickly
spread that the victims were Bennett and Briscoe, but "at this point I
thought they were still alive," she said.
Amid the confusion, Rose Bennett made her way to a nearby airstrip where
she heard helicopters would pick up the victims and head to the University
of Kentucky hospital in Lexington.
That's where she saw 2 empty ambulances arrive from the scene of the
"I was expecting my husband and my brother to be taken out of the
ambulance and transferred into a helicopter," she says. "That's not what I
saw. ... They were already dead."
He had Ralph Baze in handcuffs just a few months before, but Deputy Robert
Matthews let him go.
It was Thanksgiving 1991, and Matthews pulled over Baze on the highway,
responding to a call from angry relatives who said the man was armed and
Matthews knew there was a warrant from Ohio on Baze anyway.
But it was a holiday, he couldn't get a copy of the warrant and he didn't
find any guns on Baze.
So he turned him loose.
And now, on this January evening, he was peering into the back seat of a
state police cruiser, looking at a sweaty, worn-down Baze right in the
Matthews was asked to identify him after an 8-hour manhunt.
Was this man, who had calmly surrendered with his hands up on a porch in
the neighboring county, Ralph Baze?
"Yes it is," he told the troopers.
Matthews kept his composure, not allowing his thoughts of revenge get the
best of him.
He had spent the better part of the day at the crime scene, where he saw
the bloody body of his buddy Steve - a man known around here for his
strength and integrity - slumped face forward over the back seat of the
He couldn't get the image of Arthur Briscoe - a sharp cop, always "10-8"
(in service, on duty) - out of his mind.
"I wanted to kill him," Matthews recalls about identifying Baze.
Baze was taken to the jail in Montgomery County, for his own safety. "He
knew everyone in Powell County wanted to kill him."
Baze contends he never got a fair trial or appeal, but doesn't deny his
"I've never tried to hide - good or bad - any of it," Baze said in a
recent interview. "I'll take my punishment."
3 years ago, Rose Bennett received a letter from death row. Baze was
asking for forgiveness.
She didn't respond directly to Baze, but she pardoned him in her heart.
"That's when I forgave him, when he asked for it," says Rose Bennett, a
deeply religious woman who credits her faith for getting her through much
of the past 15 years.
But her patience with Baze and the system is wearing thin. After preparing
her family emotionally for the 2nd time to make the 265-mile journey to
the Eddyville prison, Bennett got word of the stay of execution.
"This execution here, I was confident it was going to go through," she
Kentucky's heavy caseloads for attorneys representing indigent defendants
is taxing the public defense system and possibly jeopardizing clients'
access to justice, the Department of Public Advocacy's top official said.
Public defense attorneys in Kentucky on average are juggling about 436
cases per year, according to the agency's annual report released Friday.
Public defenders in urban areas, however, are facing even fiercer
caseloads, as high as 651 in Lexington, the report found.
Still, caseloads are down from an average of 468 per attorney during the
2006 fiscal year, the report found.
The numbers reflect an agency budget crunch that has been years in the
making, said Ernie Lewis, who heads the state public defender system. And
it could lead to systemwide problems, Lewis said.
"My lawyers are working as hard as they can work, lots of overtime, trying
to do the best they can do on individual cases," Lewis said. "When
caseloads get above the national standards, you're risking systemic
problems at that point."
During the past seven years, there has been an increase of more than 50 %
in caseloads, the report said.
(source for both: Associated Press)
King, DAs spar
Alabama's top prosecutors have been at odds this week.
30 district attorneys gathered in Montgomery to protest Attorney General
Troy King's decision to take over a case from the Shelby County district
King earlier this month removed District Attorney Robby Owens from a death
row case in Shelby County.
Owens won a conviction and death sentence against LaSamuel Gamble and
Marcus Presley for the 1996 murder of 2 people during a pawnshop robbery.
However, Presley's death sentence was vacated when the U.S. Supreme Court
ruled people could not be executed for crimes committed when they were
younger than 18.
Afterwards, Owens argued it would be wrong to execute Gamble if Presley,
who shot the victims, could not be executed. A Shelby County judge moved
Gamble off death row.
On Sept. 12, in announcing that he was taking over the case, King said it
was "incredible and outrageous" for Owens to testify that Gamble should
not be executed.
30 of Alabama's district attorneys gathered in Montgomery this week to
demand an apology from King. He refused and, in a statement Thursday, said
defense lawyers who have made "excuses" for criminals have "been joined by
those who claim to be ministers of justice."
King's office customized news releases for the counties represented by
district attorneys on Owens' side, including Marshall County District
Attorney Steve Marshall.
"Steve Marshall and other DAs stood together Monday to support each other
to complain that one of their own had been attacked," King said. "I take
my stand with the law and with the victims of crime. Together, we say that
there is still right and there is still wrong.
"And we make no apology for it."
Marshall said his criticism of King comes from his disappointment over the
attorney general's "personal, unprofessional and vindictive attack" on
"We should expect more of our attorney general than to engage in political
grandstanding and name-calling," Marshall said in a statement. "Instead,
Troy King has demonstrated immaturity and a lack of professionalism in his
"This fact is not surprising, however, from an attorney general whose
tenure has been marred by ethical lapses and shortcomings."
Steve Marshall gave this statement:
"Troy King continues to misunderstand me and 41 other district attorney's
disagreement with him. My opposition is not as to his decision to continue
to seek the death penalty in the Shelby County murder case. If I were
responsible for the case, I would strongly consider taking a similar
position. My criticism, as well as my colleagues, is related directly to
the personal, unprofessional and vindictive attack he has launched against
a well-respected district attorney.
"We should expect more of our Attorney General than to engage in political
grand-standing and name calling. Instead, Troy King has demonstrated
immaturity and a lack of professionalism in his comments. This fact is not
surprising, however, from an attorney general whose tenure has been marred
by ethical lapses and shortcomings.
"I made a commitment to the people of Marshall County that I would perform
my job in a professional and ethical manner without succumbing to
political pressure. I have maintained that promise, a statement Troy King
(source: The Sand Mountain Reporter)
Life & Death----Author of 'Dead Man Walking,' others speak out against
Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking," recounts her
experiences with an audience Friday evening inside St. John the Evangelist
Roman Catholic Church.
After her 1st child was born, Vicki Schieber wrote a list to God asking
for certain qualities in her newborn daughter Shannon.
"She was the light of (my) life," Schieber said.
While at college in Philadelphia, a man broke into her home and raped and
murdered 23-year-old Shannon.
"There are no words to explain the insurmountable tragedy," Schieber said.
"Nothing prepared me."
After police caught the man they believe committed the crime, prosecutors
told the family they would seek the death penalty.
"We said, 'Not in our name,'" Schieber said. "By executing him, it would
not bring our daughter back."
Schieber was one of four speakers at the St. John the Evangelist Roman
Catholic Church on Friday evening. The event was sponsored by the
coalition Maryland Citizens Against State Executions.
The keynote speaker was Sister Helen Prejean, best known for her Pulitzer
Prize-nominated book "Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death
Penalty in the United States." The book was later turned into an Academy
Award nominated film starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon. Sarandon won
for best actress.
"Look me up on Google," she said. "I'm the death penalty nun."
Prejean, 68, began doing prison ministry in 1981 and became pen pals with
Patrick Sonnier, an inmate on death row convicted of murdering 2 teenagers
She told the standing room only crowd Friday that prior to meeting
Sonnier, she was nervous and clutched her cross.
"I thought, 'He writes nice letters but everybody writes nice letters,'"
she said. "My plan as a nun did not include going to death row but we
don't plan these things."
When she first saw him, it struck her how human his face was, Prejean
"The time flew by," she said. "I didn't have to say much."
She became his spiritual adviser and he helped teach her the road of
healing and forgiveness.
Prejean's face was the last one Sonnier saw as he was electrocuted in
"I threw up," she said. "I had never seen anyone killed before my eyes."
While Prejean maintains that she abhors Sonnier's crime, that horrible act
should not have resulted in his death.
The U.S. culture tells families that the death penalty will give them
justice for their loved one's murder, she said. Jurors sometimes feel it
would dishonor the victim's family or the victim if they do give the
accused the ultimate penalty.
Kirk Bloodsworth, 46, told the crowd Friday about his brush with the death
He was convicted twice of raping and murdering 9-year-old Dawn Hamilton
near Baltimore in July 1984 and spent nearly 10 years in jail, including
two years on death row.
All the while, he proclaimed his innocence.
"Nobody listened," he said. "All those days sitting in a metal box."
While serving his time, he read "The Blooding" by Joseph Wambaugh, a
former police officer, which discusses DNA evidence.
Bloodsworth suggested the small amount of DNA found on the girl's panties
be tested. The results eliminated him as a suspect and he became the 1st
person on death row exonerated by DNA evidence. He was freed in July 1993.
Bloodsworth is a vocal opponent of the death penalty and tried to persuade
state lawmakers in the past legislative session to repeal the death
penalty. The repeal failed, but the issue could be introduced in the
upcoming 2008 session.
Maryland has had the death penalty since 1978.
Bloodsworth told the crowd that if being accused of a crime happened to
him, an honorably discharged U.S. Marine with no criminal history, it can
happen to anyone.
(source: Frederick News-Post)
Rulings may change lethal injection process
Since a federal judge ruled Tennessee's method cruel and unusual, states
may reconsider the three-drug cocktail they use for execution.
A federal judge's ruling Wednesday that Tennessee's lethal injection
procedure could cause excruciating pain is another blow to the 3-drug
cocktail used by every state that executes by lethal injection.
Federal judges reached similar conclusions in Missouri and California last
year, and now states have to decide whether to defend the 3-drug method or
find a new way to put inmates to death by injection.
Death penalty opponents were heartened that three federal judges in 3
different states made similar findings.
"It's definitely encouraging to know they're looking at this," said John
Holdridge, director of the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project. "I think
there will be a general consensus one day soon" that the method is
But Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information
Center, said that the rulings represented only temporary delays, and that
executions could resume if states were able to fix their protocols.
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen said Friday that he had not decided whether
to appeal U.S. District Judge Aleta Arthur Trauger's ruling that the
state's procedure was cruel and unusual because of the "substantial risk
of unnecessary pain."
The 37 states that perform lethal injections use the cocktail.
The three drugs are an anesthetic, a muscle paralyzer, and a substance to
stop the heart. Death penalty foes have argued that if the condemned was
not given enough anesthetic, he could suffer excruciating pain without
being able to cry out.
The ruling came for death row inmate Edward Jerome Harbison, scheduled to
be executed for killing an elderly woman in 1983. Trauger said he could
not be put to death until the state adopted a valid method of execution.
(source: Associated Press)
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