[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Feb 5 22:44:40 CST 2008
4 Travis candidates lay out their views on death penalty----3 of Earle's
assistants say they would seek ultimate punishment infrequently; former
assistant says he would never seek death.
3 of the 4 candidates for Travis County district attorney told a packed
room of potential voters in East Austin on Monday that, if elected, they
would continue to seek the death penalty for the worst killers.
Outgoing District Attorney Ronnie Earle's assistants Gary Cobb and
Rosemary Lehmberg, who are hoping to replace him, said that some people's
crimes are so heinous that the public's safety is served by seeking their
execution. Candidate Mindy Montford, another Earle assistant, said that
because the death penalty is on the books in Texas, she must consider it
Candidate Rick Reed, who resigned from Earle's office last week, said he
would not seek the death penalty under any circumstances. Reed also said
he wouldn't seek death warrants for the 5 condemned killers already on
death row from Travis County. Death warrants, issued by a trial court at a
prosecutor's request when the killer's appeals have run out, set dates of
"I believe it is a mistake ... to seek the death penalty," said Reed,
citing his moral opposition and the cost of prosecuting such cases.
The candidates spoke at a forum that drew about 50 people to Gene's New
Orleans Style Poboys & Deli, a restaurant on East 11th Street. The
gathering was sponsored by the Texas Moratorium Network, which advocates a
death penalty moratorium in the state, and the Austin chapter of the
American Civil Liberties Union.
The candidates are running in the March 4 Democratic primary. Because
there is no Republican candidate, the winner of the primary is expected to
become the next top prosecutor in Travis and have the sole discretion on
whether or not to seek the death penalty.
Cobb, 46, has worked in Earle's office since 1990; Montford, 37, has
worked there since 1999; and Earle's first assistant, Lehmberg, 58, has
been in the office since 1976. Reed, 52, had worked there since 1999.
In questioning the candidates, Scott Cobb, president of the moratorium
group and no relation to the candidate, noted that Texas accounted for 62
% of all executions in the United States in 2007 but that Travis County
rarely seeks the death sentence.
Montford, who in the 1990s served 2 years as general counsel to state Sen.
Eddie Lucio Jr., said she drafted legislation, finally passed in 2005, to
institute life without parole.
"I am entitled to have my personal opinion on a bunch of laws," she said,
"but as the DA, I take an oath, and I am charged with following the law."
Lehmberg noted that she helped Earle develop the system used in evaluating
which cases deserve the death penalty.
Under that system, a committee of Earle's top deputies, which includes
Lehmberg and Cobb, evaluates cases and makes a recommendation to Earle.
"I think that anyone who has a conscience and who has been a prosecutor
for a while has struggled with the death penalty," Lehmberg said. "In the
end, the DA makes that discretionary call."
Cobb, the only one on the panel to argue a case that sent someone to death
row, said the death penalty is necessary to protect society, including
those in prison.
Cobb said that until he was about 30, he opposed the death penalty. Then
he heard of a case from Houston in which some gang members raped and
strangled some girls and then returned to a party.
"I thought maybe those people, maybe they didn't deserve to keep living,"
Cobb argued the case against Guy Allen, who was sentenced to death in 2004
for fatally stabbing his former girlfriend, Barbara Hill, and her
daughter, Janette Johnson.
Judge must decide whether death row inmate's delusions prevent his
execution----U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks must decide whether Scott
Panetti understands why he received a death sentence.
A hearing is being held today in federal court to determine whether a man
who killed 2 people understands why he received the death penalty.
The U.S. Supreme Court blocked Texas on June 28 from executing Scott
Panetti, 49, saying that he was improperly denied the chance to prove he
is mentally unfit for execution. The ruling returned his case to U.S.
District Judge Sam Sparks in Austin, who must decide whether Panetti's
delusions make him unable to understand why he received the death
Convicted of killing his in-laws in 1992, Panetti believes satanic forces
are seeking his execution to keep him from preaching the Gospel, his
defense lawyers have testified.
The U.S. Supreme Court, according to the majority decision, ruled that the
constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment means that inmates
must understand why they are being put to death. The ruling did not
provide a precise standard for assessing Panetti's claims.
A psychiatrist from the Rusk State Hospital testified today that Panetti
is schizophrenic. Dr. David Self said he interviewed Panetti for five
hours in November and asked him if he knew why he was on death row. "He
said to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ," Self said.
The doctor said he did not think Panetti was faking mental illness because
of Panetti's frequent hospitalizations before the killings. Panetti showed
signs on mental illness during his interview, Self said, including showing
emotions that were more intense than normal, Self said. "His anger would
flare and his happiness was just too great," Self said.
Sparks said at the beginning of the hearing that he feels that no matter
what decision he makes, the case will be appealed and land back in his
court. He said he also has to determine what would happen if Panetti was
declared incompetent. "Does that mean he can't be punished at all,?"
It was not know when the judge would reach a decision. The hearing is
scheduled to last until at least Thursday.
Panetti shot and killed Joe Alvarado, 55, and Amanda Alvarado, 56, with a
sawed-off shotgun at their Fredericksburg home in front of his estranged
wife and their 3-year-old daughter. He then took his estranged wife and
daughter to a cabin, where he held them hostage before putting on a suit
and turning himself in. He had previously been hospitalized 14 times for
schizophrenia and multiple other mental problems.
He represented himself in his 1995 trial in which he received the death
penalty for capital murder.
During the trial, he insisted on representing himself and claimed he
suffered from multiple personality disorder, blaming the murders on "Sarge
Ironhorse." He also tried to call Jesus Christ, Anne Bancroft and John F.
Kennedy as witnesses. His case was upheld by state and federal appeals
courts before it reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
(source: Austin American-Statesman)
Book gives disturbing death penalty view
"Texas Death Row: Executions in the Modern Era" (Plume. 432 pages. $16),
edited by Bill Crawford: In the state where everything is bigger, the
death penalty is practically supersized.
Four of every 10 people executed in the United States since 1976 have been
put to death in Texas.
More people - 102 - have been executed for crimes committed in a single
Texas county - Harris, the home of Houston - than any other state during
The last execution in the United States before the nation's current de
facto moratorium was in Texas on Sept. 25, 2007, when a judge refused to
keep her court open to hear a late appeal.
Total Texas executions to date: 405. Total across the country: 1,099.
Crawford, an Austin, Texas-based writer, set out to document the state's
prodigious death penalty data in book form. Tapping state records and
working with officials at the prison system's Huntsville unit, he's
compiled a 400-page plus volume that gives one page to every inmate
executed since the state resumed executions in 1982.
The result is a cross between the neutral facts of an encyclopedia and the
compelling tidbits of a true crime expose.
"Convicted of capital murder in connection with the stabbing-bludgeoning
slayings of three people in a Houston townhome in November 1985," reads
the beginning of the entry for Richard Drinkard, executed May 19, 1997.
"The victim's daughter confronted Hernandez as he attempted to flee the
scene and managed to wrestle the bat from him and strike him with it,"
reads the entry for Adolph Gil Hernandez, executed Feb. 8, 2001.
On page after page, we encounter coldly documented details.
Many inmates order T-bone steak for their last meal. Many ask for
cigarettes, which are denied because of prison policy. A few fast before
Several, like Charles Bass, executed March 12, 1986, apologize for their
"I deserve this," Bass said as he prepared to die for killing a Houston
city marshal in 1979. "Tell everyone I said goodbye."
Several others, like Leonel Torres Herrera, executed May 12, 1993, say the
state has made a mistake.
"I am innocent, innocent, innocent," Herrera said before dying for the
1981 shooting death of a Los Fresnos, Texas, police officer. "Make no
mistake about this, I owe society nothing."
It's hard to figure out who the book's audience will be. At first glance,
it appears to be a gold mine for those who oppose capital punishment. What
better argument against the death penalty than a chilling compilation of
the victims of state-sponsored killing?
Not very many pages into the book, however, the details of horrible crime
after horrible crime start to take their toll. Sympathy for the condemned
killers fades as their body count grows.
Crawford's accomplishment is remarkable, yet substantially flawed in at
least one way: The book lacks any context for the information it contains.
Such a collection cries out for an essay of some sort that would explain
the history of capital punishment in Texas, however briefly, and how the
state came to lead the country in executions.
That kind of information would be useful whether you support or oppose
capital punishment. Yet all we get is this single paragraph of explanation
in a one-page introduction:
"In the past few years the debate over the death penalty has increased in
volume and vehemence. It is our hope that the information presented in
this book will assist readers in framing informed opinions about the
It's clear Crawford tried to be neutral. But a little extra information
would have made an important if disturbing book all the more relevant.
(source: Associated Press)
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