[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----TENN., GA., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Sep 30 17:26:04 CDT 2007
Execution issue divides old friends
It is like a Shakespearean play.
2 powerful people, entwined by friendship, politics and social causes, are
now seemingly at odds over a decision that is one of our society's most
fundamental: Is there a constitutional way to execute a murderer?
There are no closer friends than Gov. Phil Bredesen and his wife, Andrea
Conte, and U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger and her husband,
attorney Byron Trauger. They even share Titans seats.
So what must it be like when Trauger has ruled that Tennessee's lethal
injection procedure - a protocol put forth by the governor - is
Those close to the four acknowledge the situation has been tense and
stressful: 2 important people, who believe they are doing the right thing.
The 2 couples haven't had dinner lately, although there are plans in the
works to tailgate soon. They will avoid talking about the elephant under
the table, because it would be improper, and to make sure there is no rift
in a 20-year friendship.
Friendships date to 1987
The 2 couples met in 1987. Since then, they've been to the Super Bowl
together, sat side by side at society fundraisers.
They go out to dinner and shows. They share a passion for preserving
public land and teaching children to read.
Aleta Trauger was Mayor Phil Bredesen's 1st chief of staff.
Byron Trauger is the governor's personal attorney and was chairman of
Bredesen's campaign for governor in 1994.
Bredesen also chose him as the lead negotiator to turn the Houston Oilers
into the Tennessee Titans.
In fact, the 4 were on vacation in Wyoming in 1995 when the deal jelled:
The guys cut the vacation short and flew back to Nashville.
3-drug method is at issue
But how do you grab supper and a show after this?
It will ease the tension now that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to
take a look at the method of lethal injection used by most states,
including Tennessee. It is that method that is in question in Trauger's
The governor told his staff to figure out a protocol that could be done
right. A panel of experts recommended using one lethal injection. But
Bredesen's corrections commissioner opted to stick with the 3-drug method
used by most states. Trauger ruled that the protocol is not constitutional
because it can fail to numb the prisoner before death.
Bredesen said she made the "wrong decision" and he is contemplating an
appeal. Politically, he has been for the death penalty. His wife, Conte,
started a victim's rights group called You Have the Power that also has
advocated for the death penalty.
Trauger's ruling doesn't address executions in Tennessee, just the
protocol that is used. And there is no argument to be made that Trauger is
biased against the death penalty. Cases are assigned randomly in federal
court, and she allowed the execution of Robert Glen Coe.
Shakespeare knew that there is no subject on earth more emotionally laden
than death and justice. Well, perhaps one more.
(source: The Tennessean)
Halt executions until court rules
The landscape of capital punishment in the United States is rapidly
A federal judge ruled that Tennessee's lethal injection method is
unconstitutional. Then, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear a
challenge to Kentucky's lethal injection process - similar to that used in
Until the high court rules, no condemned man or woman should be put to
death using the challenged lethal injection protocol. Virginia Gov. Tim
Kaine and Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen must declare a moratorium pending
the court's decision.
Death is final. The state cannot be too cautious.
States began to abandon the electric chair, firing squads and gas chambers
in favor of lethal injection 25 years ago. The procedure was widely
believed to be a humane alternative to earlier forms of execution that
appeared more brutal and barbaric.
Newer evidence conflicts with that assumption of a humane, peaceful death.
A study of executions in California and North Carolina found that the most
common method of lethal injection can cause excruciating pain prior to
death if it is not administered properly. The study was published in a
peer-reviewed scientific journal of the Public Library of Science, PLoS
Most states use a three-drug method for lethal injection. The 1st drug is
an anesthetic, the 2nd drug paralyzes the body and the final drug stops
If the condemned prisoner receives too little anesthesia, he can be
conscious but paralyzed - unable to cry out or move. In such a scenario,
the 3rd drug that stops the heart might potentially produce considerable
Lethal injection was adopted to put a humane veneer on the taking of a
human life in the name of the state. However, it isn't clear that lethal
injection under the common 3-drug protocol is more humane than the
execution methods that came before it. The high court, guided by science,
should settle this issue.
In Tennessee, meanwhile, there are additional death penalty troubles. An
American Bar Association study found critical flaws in the state's death
penalty process. The state met just seven of 93 benchmark standards.
The ABA study questioned the state's standards for death penalty lawyers
and its safeguards to avoid the execution of an innocent person. Those
condemned to die were found to be overwhelmingly poor; blacks and other
minorities accounted for a disproportionate number of death penalty
State lawmakers responded with a study commission of their own, but didn't
couple that study with a moratorium. The commission will report its
findings in 2008. The state should have halted executions during the study
period, but chose not to do so. Now, the governor has an additional reason
to end the killing - at least until these issues are resolved.
Bredesen appears to be moving in another direction. He is mulling an
appeal of U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger's ruling declaring the
state's execution process unconstitutional.
Trauger ruled that the state should have considered a single-drug
execution protocol rather than the 3-drug method because of the risk of
excessive pain. She also recommended that the protocol be devised, and
potentially supervised, by medical personnel, but that poses a problem.
The American Medical Association and the American Society of
Anesthesiologists forbid their members from participating on ethical
The Supreme Court, if it rules broadly enough in the Kentucky cases, will
determine the future of lethal injection in the nation. We urge Bredesen
and Kaine to wait on the high court's ruling and to suspend executions
until a decision is reached.
If the state is going to continue killing people, it should use a process
that is at least as humane as putting a dog to sleep.
Student gets aid from death row inmates
Sometimes compassion appears in unusual forms and springs from the most
unlikely of sources.
Tammi Maranville, a student at Pellissippi State Technical Community
College, recently found it in the form of a $1,500 scholarship. The
source: a group of death row inmates.
In August, just two weeks before the fall semester was scheduled to begin,
Maranville, a Maryville resident who attends the college's Blount County
Center, was fretting about the possibility that her financial situation
might force her to withdraw from the upcoming term.
Then the phone rang.
At the other end was a representative from a newsletter entitled
"Compassion," written by prisoners from across the country who are
awaiting execution. The proceeds from the publication, raised through
subscriptions and donations, are put into a college scholarship fund for
family members of murder victims.
Maranville's 21-year-old sister was murdered in 1969.
The Pellissippi State student saw an ad for the Compassion scholarship and
applied for it by relating her story. But a year had passed, so the
caller's message that she was the scholarship recipient came as quite a
"It was exactly the amount of money I needed," she said. "It's a God
thing." The money came at just the right time because Maranville did not
want to interrupt an educational journey that took her a long time to
"I drove by the school for 10 years wanting to do something with my life
before I actually came in," she said.
She enrolled at Pellissippi State in the fall of 2004. Among the many
positive effects, her education there has even helped her sort through the
complex emotions caused by her older sister's violent death.
Just 7 years old when her sister died, Maranville says she spent most of
her life repressing the memory.
"I didn't talk about her murder for decades," Maranville said, but she
finally began to confront the anger she felt toward the convicted murderer
as a result of class discussions and assignments.
For one essay in an English course, for example, Maranville chose to write
about the horrific event and its effects on her own life. In the process
of writing, she began to recognize her anger and grief.
"I didn't realize I had all of this hatred inside me," she said.
Attending a 12-step program also helped with the healing process, and
during a trip to a convention in Memphis, she finally visited her sister's
grave with flowers and a letter addressed to her beloved older sibling.
There, she was able to begin feeling the need to forgive the killer and
even to say a prayer for him.
"One of my last memories of my sister was her teaching me the 21st Psalm,"
Maranville said. "I believe it was the night before she died."
George Howard Putt was convicted in 1973 of killing Maranville's sister
and 4 others during a monthlong murder spree. He is currently serving a
The 1st issue of "Compassion" was published in 2001. It was an effort of a
group of death row inmates to "foster reconciliation between prisoners and
the immediate family members of murdered victims."
Now, with the Compassion scholarship, Maranville's education can continue
uninterrupted. And she is determined to make the most of it.
"I feel like I'm a sponge," she said of her opportunity to attend college.
Maranville has also found her classes relevant to her own life.
Topics as varied as domestic violence, the war in Iraq, international
travel and the plight of the poor have caught her interest.
"I feel like you learn 'the truth' in college," she said. "It's a world
that's always been there, and now I have access to it. I would like to
encourage all people, regardless of age or circumstance, to be open to the
wide range of educational opportunities here."
Although she hasn't chosen a major yet, Maranville does know it will be in
a field like psychology or sociology.
"I want to help people," she said, "but first I had to learn to help
Working through her anger and pain and then accepting the financial help
of convicted murderers have been important steps in Maranville's emotional
and educational journey. She said the Compassion scholarship brought to
mind a statement made by Nazi victim Anne Frank shortly before her death:
"In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at
heart." "I learned that at Pellissippi," said Maranville.
(source: The Daily Times)
Ideas vary on death penalty reform----Legislators disagree on what, if
anything, needs to be done to apply the law consistently.
A new execution law that better zeroes in on the most heinous murders. A
state panel to review cases eligible for Georgia's death penalty. More
money and staff support for prosecution. New sentencing options.
These were among the reforms suggested in reaction to an investigation by
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The newspaper's study, published over 4
days last week, found the state's death penalty remains arbitrary 3
decades after an overhaul aimed at making the punishment more uniform.
State Sen. William Hamrick (R-Carrollton) said Friday that the Legislature
might address disparities by narrowing the death penalty law to cover
fewer crimes and focus more on the worst cases. The newspaper found
prosecutors sought death in only 1/4 of the murders in which they could.
"It seemed like one of the ways of going about it that was pretty
obvious," he said. "Just making sure that when the death penalty is
sought, it's in the worst cases."
He also said he's open to other ideas, including creating a central panel
to review cases that are yeligible for the death penalty before
prosecutors seek it. "If you support the death penalty, you want it to be
applied in a way it's meant to be applied," Hamrick said.
But Sen. Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) said in a prepared statement that he's
not convinced any new legislation is needed. Disparities are due to
individual prosecutors and different community standards, he wrote.
The newspaper found wide variation in how often and why prosecutors in
different circuits sought the death penalty. Some district attorneys
rarely or never pursued a death sentence. Others pushed aggressively for
capital punishment even for crimes such as fatal armed robberies, which
many circuits routinely passed over.
As a result, some of the state's most heinous killers avoided a capital
trial, while others with less aggravated cases landed on death row.
The newspaper found other inappropriate factors at work as well.
Statewide, prosecutors were more than twice as likely to seek death if the
victim was white, for instance.
The state Supreme Court is supposed to be on guard for arbitrary
sentencing, but the newspaper found it has repeatedly justified death
sentences by comparing them to other sentences that had already been
overturned, the newspaper found.
Some experts say the state Supreme Court should track overturned cases
more rigorously, so its so-called proportionality review wouldn't consider
them when assessing new death sentences.
But Sen. Seth Harp (R-Midland) said the findings raise the question of
whether Georgia should eliminate the proportionality review. The U.S.
Supreme Court does not require it.
"Given the tenor of this Legislature, I think we would probably look at it
with a view of doing away with the proportionality review," Harp said.
Adopting a federal idea
Another idea for legislative change came from the chief justice of the
state Supreme Court. Leah Ward Sears, in an e-mail to the newspaper
earlier this month, suggested creating a centralized, statewide body to
decide when to seek death, or when to drop death and accept a plea in
exchange for a life sentence.
Legislative action such as that, she wrote, would be "perhaps the most
effective way" to make sure death sentences are in line with punishments
given for similar crimes.
The federal death penalty uses such a process. U.S. attorneys explain why
they are requesting a death sentence. A central committee considers it
before the U.S. attorney general decides whether to sign off on it.
Federal prosecutors' decisions not to seek death are also reviewed.
In the federal system, defense attorneys present their case, too, to the
Justice Department's review committee. Stephanie Kearns, who heads the
federal defender's office in Atlanta, said a state review panel could help
weed out arbitrariness in Georgia.
"One would think you would reduce the number of death cases and the ones
that are prosecuted as death would become more similar factually," Kearns
Certain court circuits in Georgia are "hot spots" with more capital
prosecutions than others, Kearns said, which "very much has the appearance
that it's driven more by the politics of the local community rather than
just the facts of the case."
The federal process tries to balance consistency with deference to the
local U.S. attorney, acting Deputy U.S. Attorney General Craig Morford
said in a recent interview.
"We'd never want to get into a situation where we're taking weaker cases
in Texas but not taking stronger cases in New Jersey," he said.
But Alan Cook, director of the Prosecutorial Clinic at the University of
Georgia's law school, said that because Georgia district attorneys are
elected, they probably wouldn't like reporting to a central panel. They
view themselves as best representing their communities' interests, Cook
Prosecutors would see such a move as suggesting they cannot make good
choices, he said. Legislators would also face a challenge deciding who to
put on the committee, he added.
"I'm not saying that it couldn't be done," he said. "I foresee problems
pushing that through."
James Acker, a professor and death penalty expert at the State University
of New York at Albany, said a review panel would ruffle feathers more in a
state system than in the federal one.
"But the other perspective is it's a state law that ought to be
administered consistently throughout the state," he said. "If there are
problems, this is the only way to straighten that out."
The newspaper's analysis found 56 % of all murders more than 1,300 from
1995 through 2004 were eligible for the death penalty. Only 4 % of
convicted killers who were eligible landed on death row.
Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter said he'd oppose any attempt to
supplant district attorneys' decision-making role with a review committee.
But he said the state court system should make changes to address the
public's concerns about fairness. He said he would support requiring
district attorneys to provide more explanation for why they seek death in
"I think there is a perception of unfairness that is probably not entirely
warranted," he said. "I think more willingness by D.A.'s to make decisions
and justify those decisions in some sort of transparent way would be
better for the system."
One option likely to come up in the 2008 Legislature is allowing
prosecutors to seek life without parole without seeking the death penalty.
Now, life without parole isn't an option unless a prosecutor seeks death,
or the defendant has an earlier conviction for a serious violent felony.
Some prosecutors say they sometimes seek death when they believe life
without parole is more appropriate. They also say they use the death
penalty to persuade defendants to plead guilty in exchange for a life
sentence with or without parole.
A bill adding the sentencing option passed the state Senate this year but
not the House. Rick Malone, executive director of the Georgia Prosecuting
Attorneys' Council, said his group will push for the change again in 2008.
Some prosecutors, who say juries are a reason for the inconsistency,
support allowing a death sentence with only 10 of 12 jury votes if a judge
permits it. Such a bill passed the House this year, but did not reach the
full Senate for a vote.
Dennis Sanders, district attorney in the Toombs circuit in eastern
Georgia, said he'd like to see specialized teams of prosecutors, defense
attorneys and senior judges created to handle death penalty cases.
He said the state should make more money and resources available to
prosecute death cases. Such a move would cut down on errors and reversals,
he said, and ultimately save money.
Overall, he said "there'll never be perfect consistency."
Cook, at UGA, said major change will be difficult because fixes that
represent a middle ground often get less attention.
"The polar extremes, I think, are in control right now," he said. "Both
are afraid of the other and neither is willing to compromise."
(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Hanging tree still stands at old mine ---- BRANCHES BORE WITNESS TO ROUGH
BRAND OF JUSTICE
Hanging has always resonated in San Jose history. In 1875, the famous
bandit Tiburcio Vasquez went to his death at the gallows by saying
"Pronto." And in 1933, two white men were lynched in St. James Park for
the kidnapping and killing of department store heir Brooke Hart.
So when I heard from historian Art Boudreault about a hanging tree in the
Almaden Quicksilver County Park south of town, I had to see it, however
ghoulish it made me feel.
Few things offer a better prism of San Jose history than the New Almaden
mine, the vast works south of town that - in today's money - produced more
than $1.4 billion worth of mercury ore, a.k.a. cinnabar, one of the
crucial ingredients in mining California's precious metals.
And nothing reveals the mine's rough brand of justice more clearly than
the hanging tree, an old oak with a branch almost made for the purpose.
At least a century after its last execution, the oak still stands, a
lonely sentinel on the hill, not far from an old furnace used to process
the mine's red ore. At least, we think that's the hanging tree; I'll
Winding roads On a hot afternoon recently, Boudreault and two other
history buffs, Kitty Monahan and Mike Boulland, took me in a van up the
winding roads of the park to see the tree, near the ruined settlement
known as Spanishtown.
It's a huge, once-majestic oak, a bit sicker now, but easily understood
for its mission. One branch juts out for at least 25 feet, a dozen or so
feet off the ground. And the other side - a bit higher, ending in a double
upward branch - might serve as well.
We owe much of what we know about the hanging tree to Leonard Espinosa, a
retired educator whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather worked in
the mines, which opened in 1846 and lasted more than a century.
Espinosa, 74, told me that more than 60 years ago, he was walking with his
father on the Mine Hill-Guadalupe Road when the latter pointed to a tree
and said, "That's the hanging tree."
As his father told the story, 1 memorable execution occurred in the late
1800s, when a man raped - or killed - a girl and was hanged from the tree.
After a hanging, it was customary for passers-by to toss a small rock
under the tree to show their distaste for the crime.
In March 2005, Espinosa went hiking in the same area with his son, Leland,
in search of the tree. As they walked south on the Mine Hill-Guadalupe
Road, just north of the Rotary Furnace, his son said, "Look at that tree.
It looks like a perfect tree to hang someone from."
After closely inspecting the tree, Espinosa was "99.9 percent" sure it was
the tree his father had shown him. And it's generally been accepted as
part of the lore of the mines.
That the tree has survived is suggestive evidence. Historian Boudreault
says the miners were burning 700 cords of firewood a month, which rapidly
denuded the hills of oak trees.
How often was the tree used? "It's very hard to tell," Boudreault says.
"The data we have from that period is from people who were writing about
the glories of the West. They wrote that in the late 1850s, there were a
lot of murders. But they became much less common after 1863." (See the
attached list of some of the major New Almaden crimes).
Stories of the past Nonetheless, the hanging tree offers an intriguing
window into life and death at the New Almaden mine, which began in 1846
with the discovery of cinnabar by a Spanish soldier, Andres Castillero.
One famous story concerns a miner named Acero - a 250-pound behemoth - who
earned the name of "Cherry Pie." Acero liked to filch food from the lunch
boxes of his fellow miners. He was particularly fond of cherry pies.
To cure him of the habit, another miner, Jack George, got his wife to make
a cherry pie with jalap, a fearsome, laxative-like drug: Lore has it Acero
spent 2 days underground in the men's room.
Later, when Acero died of blood poisoning after being shot in a San Jose
bar, a man named Ramirez, who went by the nickname of Beetle, was hanged
for the crime in 1887 before a crowd of 250 in San Jose. Asked whether he
preferred to die in slippers or shoes, Beetle quipped, "I like shoes for a
As I say, hanging resonates in San Jose history. At Easter in the mining
camp of Spanishtown, the miners would hang an effigy of the disciple
Judas, filling it with fireworks and a live cat. As the fireworks were
lit, the cat was released, symbolizing the release of Judas' soul.
Maybe you find all this too morbid. If so, I understand. I loathe the
death penalty. But if you really want to immerse yourself in local
history, get your own look at the hanging tree. Cast a stone or 2 while
you're there. There's still a little pile.
(source: San Jose Mercury News)
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