[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----TEXAS, WASH.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Sep 27 23:03:29 CDT 2007
TEXAS----stay of impending execution
Texas man who killed parents wins reprieve from Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday halted the execution of a man who
killed his parents 9 years ago.
Carlton Turner Jr.'s lawyers had filed appeals to tie his case to a U.S.
Supreme Court review of lethal injection procedures.
Turner's execution had been seen as an indicator of whether lethal
injections would continue in the nation's busiest death penalty state
after justices agreed earlier this week to consider whether lethal
injections in Kentucky were unconstitutionally cruel.
The high court stopped the execution less than 2 hours before his
execution warrant would have expired.
(source: Associated Press)
State high court backs away from criticism of death penalty
Just last year, the Washington Supreme Court was divided 5-4 over the
death penalty and speculation abounded that prosecutors wouldn't be able
to use that tool much longer.
Foes contend the death penalty is "like lightning, randomly striking some
defendants and not others." They noted that the Green River serial killer,
Gary Ridgway, escaped the needle after killing 48 women, but that other
killers drew the death penalty for killing far fewer.
Scholars and death penalty foes thought the court was edging toward
abolishing capital punishment.
But on Thursday, a strong majority of the court backed away from that
brink, not directly discussing the overarching constitutional debate, but
defending the death penalty from attack on a number of fronts.
In a surprisingly lopsided 8-1 ruling, the state's highest court upheld
the death sentence for serial killer Robert Yates Jr. The court said it
refused to throw out capital punishment just because prosecutors are
inconsistent in how they use it.
Pierce County Prosecutor Gerald Horne hailed the decision and said the
death penalty was designed for heinous criminals like Yates, "the worst of
the worst." Horne once called the state's death penalty a farce and a
charade that should be abolished if the legal system can't really deal
with it. But he said Thursday that prosecutors are happy to retain it as
Yates was convicted for shooting two Tacoma prostitutes and suffocating
them by tying plastic grocery bags over their heads. The smelter worker
and Air National Guard helicopter pilot also received a 408-year sentence
for murdering 13 women in Spokane, Walla Walla and Skagit counties. All
those victims were prostitutes he killed in the same manner as the Tacoma
The author of last year's anti-death penalty dissent, Justice Charles
Johnson, switched to the majority on this case. The majority opinion was
written by another of last year's dissenters, Justice Susan Owens, and
dissenter Barbara Madsen also joined the Yates majority. They essentially
conceded that they'd lost the battle last year and would now stick with
Yates had asked the court to take a fresh look at how capital punishment
is applied here, pointing to Ridgway and to Yates' own experience of
agreeing to a plea bargain in Spokane County and getting life in prison
for slaying 13 women, but death for killing two Tacoma women.
That disparity shows that Washington state allows "disproportionate,
freakish, wanton and random" application of the death penalty, Yates'
lawyers told the high court last fall.
Yates also contested Pierce County's decision to withdraw from what he
called a deal with the Spokane prosecutors to take the death penalty off
the table in exchange for his guilty pleas and information about his
But the high court swept away all of his points, saying prosecutors'
discretion to seek the death penalty as they see fit doesn't pose a basic
constitutional flaw in how the state applies capital punishment.
After Ridgway avoided lethal injection, legal scholars and lawmakers began
debating whether the state could ever actually use capital punishment
The high court answered that question in clear terms Thursday.
Owens, in her majority opinion, quoted from last year's ruling she had
resisted, saying it's on point in the Yates case: "Ridgway's abhorrent
killings, standing alone, do not render the death penalty unconstitutional
or disproportionate. Our law is not so fragile."
Yates' attorney, Gregory Link of the Washington Appellate Project, said he
and Yates were deeply disappointed in the ruling. Link declined to
criticize the court, but other attorneys said the justices have
"The court was deeply divided on the proportionality question, 5-4, and
they've stepped away from that," said Jeff Ellis, an attorney who heads
the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
The court stuck with last year's precedent, a case involving a triple
homicide in King County, and may be waiting for a later case to revisit
the entire issue, he said in an interview.
The Yates' ruling "tells us the court isn't ready to engage in a serious
discussion yet," he said.
State Senate Judiciary Chairman Adam Kline, D-Seattle, who has tried to
persuade his colleagues to study how the death penalty is applied in
Washington, said Thursday it could be years before the courts or lawmakers
"I'll bet the sea change won't happen in my tenure in Olympia or even in
my lifetime," said the 61-year-old attorney.
The case is State of Washington v. Robert Lee Yates Jr., No. 73155-1.
(source: KOMO TV News)
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