[Deathpenalty] death penalty news------USA, CONN., WASH., OKLA., MO.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Sep 30 17:22:48 CDT 2007
Providing some substance
Speaking recently at Syracuse University, U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts
seemed to offer truisms about judicial independence.
"Without an independent judiciary to give substance to the constitutional
text as law, the words are nothing but empty promises," he told an
audience at the Newhouse School of Public Communications.
Though he was referring to the First Amendment, his words apply with equal
force to all the substantive constitutional guarantees.
And though it almost surely was unintentional, they foreshadowed a
fundamental question about the court term that opens Monday: Will the
court act as an independent check on the Bush administration's
authoritarian ways and Congress' capitulation to them?
On Tuesday, the justices announced that they will use the cases of two
Kentucky Death Row inmates to decide this term whether the three-drug
combination used for lethal injection in 36 states violates the
Constitution's ban on "cruel and unusual punishments" because a less
painful chemical mix could be used. And the court soon will decide whether
to hear arguments in emotionally charged cases involving the District of
Columbia's handgun ban and Louisiana's death penalty for the rape of a
But the cases of Guantanamo Bay prisoners -- which the justices already
have agreed to hear -- could have the most long-lasting impact. Will the
court continue to put the brake on war-on-terrorism excesses?
Twice in recent years, the court has reminded George W. Bush that the
Constitution doesn't give the president a blank check in waging war.
In 2004, the court ruled that terrorism suspects held at the U.S. naval
base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have a right to challenge their confinement
in court. After the administration decided that those petitions could
proceed only through special military tribunals, the justices last year
ruled that Bush lacked the authority to set up the system.
Bush then persuaded Congress to pass hastily crafted legislation revamping
the military commission process in a way that limited federal court review
of detainees' petitions already pending in the courts.
The prisoners claim that the system set up by the 2006 Military
Commissions Act wrongly denies them a meaningful way to contest their
confinement, allowing the administration to hold them indefinitely without
basic due process. They say that they aren't terrorists at all but have no
way of proving it.
In most cases, military panels upheld the detainees' designation as enemy
combatants during hearings at which the prisoners weren't represented by
lawyers and couldn't see classified evidence being used against them to
One group consists of Bosnians who were cleared by authorities there but
nevertheless were rearrested and handed over to U.S. military personnel in
Bosnia. Other detainees say they were picked up by warlords and turned
over for bounties. Most have languished at Guantanamo Bay for 5 years.
They've drawn support from retired military lawyers, former U.S.
diplomats, Canadian and American law professors, human rights groups and
The administration has argued all along that the commissions and the law
setting them up are valid. Justice Department lawyers had urged the court
not to take up the cases because an appellate court is sorting through
other detainee cases and could require changes that would address some of
the detainee complaints.
Former U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey, the nominee for attorney
general, warned in a Sept. 22 Wall Street Journal column that a Supreme
Court ruling for the detainees could result in dangerous terrorists
insisting on lawyers and trials, or in terrorism suspects, rather than
being kept in U.S. custody, being killed or sent to countries that would
treat them more harshly.
That wouldn't be a welcome outcome. And those concerns might be reason to
not give "enemy combatants" the full array of protections that criminal
But fairness and due process demand that detainees with legitimate claims
that they are being wrongly held have a meaningful process by which to
show that and, if justified, win their freedom from endless detention. The
current system doesn't provide that.
Boumediene v. Bush, 06-1195, and Al Odah v. United States, 06-1196.
Arguments not yet scheduled.
Other cases to watch
Oct. 10: Medellin v. Texas, 06-984. Jose Ernesto Medelln, a Mexican
citizen who spent most of his life in the United States, was sentenced to
die for taking part in a brutal, callous crime: the 1993 rape and murder
of Houston teenagers Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena. While his appeals
were working through the courts, the International Court of Justice ruled
that Medelln and 50 other Mexican nationals on U.S. death rows should get
new hearings because, upon arrest, they weren't told of their right under
an international treaty to contact the Mexican consul.
Bush didn't like the ruling but said in a memo to then-Attorney General
Alberto Gonzales that state courts should follow the ICJ decision. But the
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals balked, saying Bush had overstepped his
authority and intruded on the independence of state courts.
The case abounds with competing interests. Medelln's guilt isn't in doubt,
and he waited until late in his appeals to raise the issue of his right to
contact the consul. But imposition of the death penalty has to follow
proper procedures, even in the most egregious cases. The president is
obligated to enforce treaties, but he ordinarily can't interfere with the
operation of state courts.
In a case last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the treaty at issue, the
Vienna Convention, must be enforced in compliance with state procedural
laws. That limits the president's authority, according to the Texas
attorney general and a group of former Justice Department officials who
usually support strong executive power in foreign affairs.
If Medelln wins, it could expand presidential authority; if he loses,
states' rights will have superseded international law.
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Prisons rife with mentally ill
One of the major problems facing the state's prison system as it struggles
to deal with issues of parole and overcrowding is what to do with the
increasing number of mentally ill inmates behind bars.
According to a recent legislative research report, more than 20 % of the
state's approximately 19,000 inmates have moderate to severe mental
Lawmakers say there is a shortage of trained psychiatric nurses and a need
for more training of corrections officers who must deal with mentally ill
There is also a debate about whether the state needs a new prison
Several legislators also are raising questions about how the University of
Connecticut's Medical Center is handling its $100-million-a-year state
contract to provide inmate medical services. They claim expensive
medications for mentally ill inmates have been restricted in recent years
in an effort to cut costs.
Earlier this month, state Corrections Commissioner Theresa C. Lantz warned
legislators that she is already "running out of space" and cited the
growing number mentally ill inmates as one key reason.
Lantz said the option the state should consider is construction of a $150
million, 1,200-bed prison medical facility. She said there are already
1,000 inmates with mental illnesses and chronic diseases that could be
housed in such a facility and that it probably would be at capacity by the
time it could be built.
But Gov. M. Jodi Rell sent a letter to the legislature's Judiciary
Committee last week saying "there are no current or expected plans to
construct any new facilities" for the prison system.
"I don't need it right now," Lantz said, concerning a new prison medical
facility. "I wouldn't say we're in a crisis."
Yet Lantz acknowledges there are shortages of nurses within the state's
inmate health care system as there are in hospitals all across the state.
She said UConn's Correctional Managed Health Care operation is now filling
some of the vacancies in its mental health staff for inmates.
According to corrections officials, there are 190 authorized mental health
staff positions for the prison system, with 16 vacancies for full-time
positions and four vacant part-time positions.
The 2006 General Assembly responded to the increase in the number of
mentally ill patients by passing a bill to require additional psychiatric
training for corrections officers, a move Lantz says she supports.
But Lantz said she isn't aware of any complaints that the medical center
has attempted to cut costs by restricting the medications given to
mentally ill patients.
"I think UConn is providing appropriate care," said Lantz.
Officials at the UConn Medical Center declined to comment on the shortage
of psychiatric nurses for inmate care or on the allegations of efforts to
cut costs by restricting medications for mentally ill inmates.
Kristina Goodnough, a spokeswoman for the medical center, referred all
questions to state officials.
Rell has declined an invitation to meet with the legislature's Judiciary
Committee Monday to discuss her decision to revoke parole for violent
offenders and place new restrictions on other parolees. But Lantz is
scheduled to appear in place of the governor and is likely to face
questions about potential prison overcrowding and inmate care issues.
State officials have been struggling with issues involving sentencing,
parole and potential prison overcrowding since the Cheshire home invasion
and triple homicide in late July. Prosecutors are seeking the death
penalty for the 2 paroled burglars charged with the killings.
Rell has said violent offenders should be kept in prison longer and that
overcrowding can be avoided by sending as many as 1,200 nonviolent inmates
to halfway houses or other forms of alternative sentencing.
Separating mentally ill prisoners could help
Many lawmakers, corrections union officials and advocates for the mentally
ill argue the prison population could be dramatically reduced if there
were someplace else to care for the mentally ill.
"We've become society's mental health provider," said Steve Curran, a
longtime corrections officer at the Garner Correctional Institution in
Newtown, where the most seriously mentally ill inmates are housed.
Lantz said she designated Garner as a facility to house mentally ill
inmates after becoming commissioner. She said that about 450 of the 554
inmates incarcerated at Garner are classified as having mental health
But, insists Lantz, "I'm not running a mental-health hospital."
Curran, who also is secretary of the American Federation of State, County
and Municipal Employees, Local 1565, said corrections officers must regard
mentally ill inmates as prisoners first, while the nurses "are treating
them as clients and patients."
Curran believes prosecutors and judges are constantly sending mentally ill
people to prison for minor offenses because there is no place else they
can receive care.
State Rep. Patricia Dillon, D-New Haven, said the increase of mentally ill
people in prisons has become a national phenomenon.
"Everybody calls the police when someone becomes disruptive, and those
people are often mentally ill," said Dillon.
One former prosecutor-turned-lawmaker, state Rep. Michael P. Lawlor,
D-East Haven, agrees. He said homeless individuals who trespass, urinate
in public or cause other disturbances, are often sent to prison as a last
"Because there seems to be no other options, they end up being dumped in
jail," said Lawlor, who is co-chairman of the legislature's Judiciary
"If you want to free up prison beds (to keep violent offenders behind bars
longer), then get these mentally ill people out of there," Lawlor said.
"I question whether we're incarcerating the right people for the right
reasons," said Deputy House Majority Leader Toni Walker, D-New Haven.
Inmate Mental Health Costs are soaring
A study by the Office of Legislative Research found that between 2002 and
2007, the number of Connecticut inmates with moderate to severe mental
health problems increased by more than 6 %.
One of the factors involved in the increase of mentally ill inmates is
that Connecticut, like many states, closed down its institutions for the
mentally ill in the 1980s. The intent was to halt institutional
"warehousing" of people with mental health problems, but one side-effect
was that many of those who were released ended up homeless.
Connecticut's costs for caring for mentally ill people in its prisons have
been rising steadily.
The state's budget for overall inmate medical care rose from $77.4 million
in 2003-04 to $99.7 million for the current fiscal year, and Walker says
care for the mentally ill has played a significant role in that increase.
UConn's Correctional Managed Health Care took over inmate health care
during the administration of former Gov. John G. Rowland and it has now
become the state's largest single medical care provider.
Walker is chairwoman of a legislative subcommittee that deals with
appropriations for the corrections agency and said she has been concerned
by the rapid increase in costs for the state corrections contract with the
UConn Medical Center.
The UConn Medical Center has encountered major financial problems in
recent years and sought additional funding from the legislature this year.
According to Walker, the state's prison population has remained relatively
stable during the same period that has seen a 22 % increase in inmate
health care costs. Increasing costs for health care in general have become
a massive national issue, but Walker said inmate mental health costs have
become extraordinarily expensive.
In the most recent state budget, officials explained the $9.6 million
increase in allocations for inmate care in part because of a 7 % rise in
spending on pharmaceuticals.
According to Lawlor, UConn Medical Center officials have become "very
stingy about the services they provide" to state inmates because of their
concerns about rising expenses.
Dillon said she was involved two years ago in one case involving a
mentally ill woman from Branford. The woman had been living on the streets
and had been receiving medication for 5 years when she was arrested on a
misdemeanor charge and sent to prison.
When the female inmate was refused any medication, her family contacted
Dillon for help. "There was a lot of resistance (from UConn officials)
because of the cost of pharmaceuticals in their budget," said Dillon.
According to Dillon, the woman was eventually discharged to a halfway
house and her medications were resumed. But Dillon said that might not
have been the best possible solution.
"She started drinking again and doing drugs and ended up back on the
streets," recalled Dillon.
Both Lawlor and Dillon said they are wary of suggestions the state needs
to build a costly new prison facility for the mentally ill.
Lawlor said he's worried construction of a prison hospital for the
mentally ill would side track efforts to get those people out of the
system. "They'll send everybody there," he said.
Dillon believes it makes no sense to build a new hospital when the state
corrections system can't attract or keep enough psychiatric professionals
"We have to make decisions about who we let out of prison," Dillon said of
the dilemma posed by mentally ill inmates. "But how can we make those
decisions if we don't have the staff we need?"
(source: New Haven Register)
Sentenced to Death
Spokane serial killer can't get off with life just because other killers
The Washington Supreme Court made the right call Thursday when it upheld
the death penalty against serial killer Robert Yates Jr. in an 8-1
Yates, of Spokane, was a 47-year-old Army veteran, active National
Guardsman, aluminum worker and married father of five when he was arrested
in 2000. Like the Green River Killer before him, Yates preyed on
prostitutes. He eventually pleaded guilty in 13 slayings in Spokane, Walla
Walla and Skagit counties in return for a sentence of 408 years.
But Yates had cut no similar deal with the prosecutor in Pierce County
(Tacoma), where he had killed two other women by shooting them and tying
plastic grocery bags over their heads. In that jurisdiction, he was
convicted and sentenced to death.
Pierce County Prosecutor Gerald Horne said the death penalty was intended
for criminals such as Yates, who are "the worst of the worst."
Later, in defense of the death sentence, the state argued, "Given the
brutal, calculated nature of the crimes, the motivation of financial gain,
and the lack of mitigating circumstances ? the sentence was neither
excessive nor disproportionate."
The high court ruled that the Pierce County trial had been legally solid
and that Yates' death penalty stands. Not only was the process OK, in the
court's judgment, but another argument by Yates' lawyers was, to put it
delicately, not persuasive.
"Preposterous" might be a more apt descriptive for it.
They argued that because the Green River Killer, Gary Ridgeway, had killed
48 women beginning in 1978 and escaped the death penalty in a deal with
the King County prosecutor, then certainly Robert Yates shouldn't be
executed for killing 13.
Yup. The Pierce County death sentence, Yates had argued to the court, "was
disproportionate, freakish, wanton and random."
That sounds like a pretty good description of Yates' crimes against the 13
women. That argument also is about as valid as that of a child who asks
his parents to ease off on punishment for some misbehavior on the grounds
that the neighbor kid who did the same thing didn't get punished by his
The court was spot on when it deflected that argument, saying that
prosecutors have that kind of discretion on a case-by-case basis and, as
The Associated Press reported, their exercise of that discretion doesn't
pose a constitutional flaw in how the state applies capital punishment.
In the court's words, "Ridgeway's abhorrent killings, standing alone, do
not render the death penalty unconstitutional or disproportionate. Our law
is not so fragile."
Despite this ruling, there will continue to be valid questions about the
efficacy and fairness of the death penalty, and there will be attorneys
and organizations watchdogging its application. Those questions and
efforts are legitimate and even necessary.
But in its ruling in this case, the state Supreme Court also did the
legitimate and necessary thing.
(source: The Columbian)
Reverse death penalty
The U.S. Supreme Court announced it will review the cases of 2 men
convicted of murder and sentenced to die by lethal injection in Kentucky.
The men claim lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment.
Whatever the court decides will affect Oklahoma because lethal injection
is used here, although the state does have a "backup" method, by firing
squad. Our editorial board has long supported capital punishment, but
developments in recent years have changed our position.
Whatever the U.S. high court decides, we believe Oklahoma should join with
the 12 states in our nation that outlaw capital punishment.
Many will disagree, of course. This country has lived with capital
punishment except for four years in the 1970s.
Death penalty stats
- States with death penalty, 38.
- States with death penalty but no executions since 1976, 4.
- Most executions 1976 to present, Texas, 401.
- Oklahoma executions 1976 to present, 86, 2nd in nation.
- Oklahoma death row population, 88.
[source: The Economist, Sept. 1]
The arguments for and against the death penalty should be familiar to all.
But those arguments against it that we feel the most strongly about are
Our justice system is not perfect. Since 1973, doubts about the guilt of
124 inmates released them from death row. If our justice system fails, a
life sentence can be commuted, but a death sentence, obviously, is final,
and life without parole is an appropriate sentence for murder.
The death penalty does not appear to deter murder. If it did, we would see
a dramatic decline in murders in the United States and a rise in European
countries where capital punishment does not exist. That is not happening.
We should not let economics dictate justice, but there's no question a
death sentence with its lengthy appeals has become much more costly than
life imprisonment. But we cannot have the death penalty without the
opportunity for appeals.
Unfortunately, the scales of justice are tipped in favor of the more
fortunate. Those who can afford high-dollar attorneys fair better than the
We realize capital punishment is a very emotional issue, and the
historical notion of justice, an eye for an eye, is an understandable
response. However, a life sentence without parole exacts just as much
justice. Americans seem to be adopting that view, too.
Polls cited in this month's "The Economist" show that a plurality of
Americans (48 to 47 %) prefer life without parole over the death penalty.
The magazine also cites a study that only 2/3 of Americans support the
death penalty today, compared to 4/5 13 years ago.
(source: Muskogee Phoenix)
Professor discusses death penalty, personal experiences
On Sept. 24, 1997, the state of Missouri executed death row inmate Samuel
McDonald, exacting legal justice for his crime of murder.
On Sept. 24, the 10-year anniversary of McDonald's death, Dr. William
Trollinger stood before a packed auditorium and articulated his personal
experience of this execution, an execution which robbed him of his friend
and heightened his personal convictions against the death penalty.
Trollinger, professor of history and religious studies at UD, hosted the
lecture in conjunction with Campus Ministry's Center for Social Concern.
The lecture was held in the Science Center Auditorium, and by the 7:30
p.m. start time it was apparent that interest exceeded seating capacity as
students and professors found themselves seated on the floor and lining
the walls. The heart of Trollinger's lecture was an anti-death penalty
message. Instead of bombast or pure academic research, however, Trollinger
adopted a casual storytelling approach, providing minute details of, and
personal reflections on, the events prior to and immediately surrounding
Though he remained composed throughout the lecture, at times his voice
betrayed the personal and emotional nature of the subject.
Trollinger noted that from an early age he had been opposed to the death
penalty. His Christian upbringing had convinced him that Christ taught his
followers "to choose mercy over revenge, to love our enemies and to
forswear all violence." In the death penalty, Trollinger could not see any
of these principles at work.
Yet it wasn't until he received his first job as a professor at the
College of the Ozarks in Missouri in 1984 that Trollinger felt compelled
to put his convictions into practice. At that time, Missouri was a
pro-death penalty state, a reality that bothered Trollinger because these
executions are done in the name of the state's residents. Even then, he
only desired to do "the smallest thing possible," which turned out to be
initiating a correspondence with a condemned prisoner.
Trollinger received Samuel McDonald's name and soon after sent his first
letter. Though he knew nothing of his crime at the beginning of their
correspondence, Trollinger was able to determine that McDonald was a
Vietnam War veteran who returned home mentally unstable and addicted to
drugs, a result of post-traumatic stress disorder. In 1981, he was
convicted for the shooting death of Robert Jordan, a well-respected and
high-ranked St. Louis police officer, whom McDonald, "sky high" on a
heroin substitute, shot after robbing him in a liquor store parking lot.
Jordan's daughter watched from inside the store.
For nearly 12 years, the two would exchange hundreds of letters and
frequent telephone calls. They even met on two occasions at the Missouri
State Penitentiary. Sports was a common theme of their discourse as was
"We spent a lot of time laughing, joking and making fun of each other,
your typical display of male affection," Trollinger said. "We also
discussed daily life in the prison and the state of his appeals."
It was this latter point which highlighted Trollinger's second argument
against the death penalty. Trollinger explained that often the decision
between a violent offender receiving life in prison or the death penalty
is determined by the initial trial. At these trials, the accused is often
too poor to obtain council and so receives a public defender who is all
too often "underexperienced and overworked."
Should the defense be lax in its efforts or worse, the trial heard by a
biased judge, as Trollinger said it was in McDonald's case, the accused
will almost certainly receive the death penalty without hope of appeal. If
appeals are made, their success or failure relies entirely on the
disposition of the judge.
"The death penalty is unjust simply because it is governed by the
arbitrary and capricious nature of the American judicial system,"
As McDonald's execution date approached, Trollinger was forced to come to
terms with the impending death of a man who had truly become his friend.
This involved mustering the courage within him to acquiesce to McDonald's
request that he be among his 6 witnesses.
After a 48-hour preparation period, which involved a final visit with his
friend, Trollinger watched his friend's death via lethal injection at
12:01 a.m. on Sept. 24, 1997.
"The entire time I was watching from the observation room, I just kept
mouthing, 'I love you,'" Trollinger said.
The memory of the event, the feeling that he had "witnessed an obscenity"
and needed to be cleaned, is still very much present for Trollinger,
though it has been nearly eight years since he last spoke of his
Ten years of reflection, however, has given him a new insight on his
experiences. Instead of feeling just the loss of his friend, he said he
now realizes that every party involved experienced a tragedy which needs
to be appreciated.
For Trollinger, the tragedy, however, was not alleviated by McDonald's
execution, nor does the ongoing practice of capital punishment in the
United States bring the country credit. The effect is quite the opposite:
"Just as I cannot escape what one has done to me, America cannot escape
what 1,000 have to it," he said, referring to the 1,000 executions that
have taken place in the U.S. since the 1970s.
(source: Flyer News (University of Dayton) )
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