[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----USA, S.DAK., MINN., ALA., NEB.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Feb 11 16:03:16 CST 2008
6 detainees may face death penalty
Military prosecutors will seek the death penalty for 6 Guantanamo
detainees who are to be charged with central roles in 9-11, government
officials who have been briefed on the charges said Sunday.
The officials said the charges would be announced at the Pentagon as soon
as today and were likely to include numerous war-crimes charges against
the men, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the former al Qaeda operations
chief who has described himself as the mastermind of the attacks, which
killed nearly 3,000 people.
A Defense Department official said prosecutors were seeking the death
penalty because "if any case warrants it, it would be for individuals who
were parties to a crime of that scale."
The officials spoke anonymously because no one in the government was
authorized to discuss the case.
The decision to seek the death penalty will increase the international
focus on the case and present new challenges to the troubled military
commission system, which has yet to begin a single trial.
"The system hasn't been able to handle the less complicated cases it has
been presented with to date," said David Glazier, a professor at Loyola
Law School in Los Angeles and a former Navy officer. "It certainly seems
impossible to get this done by the end of the Bush administration,"
One official who had been briefed on the war-crimes case identified the
others to be charged as Mohamed al-Kahtani, whom officials have labeled
the 20th hijacker; Ramzi bin al-Shibh, said to have been the main
intermediary between the hijackers and leaders of al Qaeda; Ali Abd
al-Aziz Ali, known as Ammar al-Baluchi, a nephew of Mohamed, who has been
identified as Mohamed's lieutenant for the 2001 operation; al-Baluchi's
assistant, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi; and Walid bin Attash, known as
Khallad, who investigators say selected and trained some of the hijackers.
A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment Sunday.
But some of those briefed on the case have said the prosecutors view their
task in seeking convictions for 9-11 as a historic challenge. A special
group of military and Justice Department lawyers has been working on the
case for several years.
Even if the detainees were convicted on capital charges, any execution
would not be carried out for many months or years, lawyers said, in part
because civilian appeals courts would have to scrutinize the sentence.
Tom Fleener, an Army Reserve major who was until recently a military
defense lawyer at Guantanamo, said bringing death penalty cases in the
military commission system would bog down the untested system. "Neither
the system is ready, nor are the defense attorneys ready to do a death
penalty case in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba," Fleener said.
(source: New York Times)
High court should rethink executions, not just means
The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing arguments heard recently in Baze vs.
Rees, which challenges the constitutionality of execution by lethal
While the court wrestles with technical issues concerning the Eighth
Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, there's a much
larger reason our country is rethinking the death penalty: the possibility
of sentencing to death and executing an innocent human being.
Unlike almost any American, I speak from experience.
I spent more than 10 years in Arizona prisons for a crime I didn't commit,
including nearly three years on death row. In 1992, I was sentenced to
death for killing a Phoenix bartender, even though I was at home, asleep,
when the murder was committed.
In 2002, through the tireless work of my attorneys, I was the 100th person
to be exonerated and released from death row since the death penalty was
reinstated in the United States. Despite DNA evidence that exonerated me,
it took years before the prosecution grudgingly acknowledged they had no
case against me. If it had been up to Arizona, I'd be dead today.
Who knows how many more innocent people sit on death row today, guilty of
nothing more than the fact that they couldn't afford a lawyer? And can
anyone honestly say that of the nearly 1,100 people who have been executed
in the past 30 years, not a single one wasn't innocent?
As my story illustrates, even with DNA testing - which is available in
fewer than 20 % of murder cases - there will always be a chance an
innocent person will be sentenced to death and executed.
Last month, about the same time a bill to abolish the death penalty was
successfully making its way through the New Jersey Legislature, three more
former death-row prisoners were released. Michael McCormick (Tennessee),
Jonathon Hoffman (North Carolina) and Kenneth Richey (Ohio) had spent a
combined total of more than 40 years on death row before being freed.
New Jersey state Sen. Ray Lesniak summed up the problem best when he said,
"It's impossible for human beings to devise a system free of the risk of
The last time I checked, our criminal-justice system was devised and run
by human beings.
And instead of equal justice under the law, in far too many capital cases
we see incompetent legal representation, racial discrimination and
prosecutorial misconduct. In any courtroom, all of these blemishes to our
justice system are problematic, to say the least. But when a human life is
at stake, such potentially fatal flaws are an embarrassment to a nation
that considers itself the standard bearer for human rights.
So as the Supreme Court contemplates whether killing a person with a
particular combination of chemicals is cruel and unusual punishment, all
of us should recognize a much larger, more obvious fact. If sentencing to
death and possibly executing an innocent person isn't cruel and unusual
punishment, nothing is.
Quite literally, I'm living proof of that.
(source: Opinion, Arizona Republic--Ray Krone---The writer is director of
communications for Witness to Innocence (www.witnesstoinnocence.org), an
organization of exonerated former death-row family members and their loved
ones. He lives in York, Pa.)
Man charged in beating death has bail set at $1 million
A 7th Circuit judge set bond Monday in the case of a Rapid City man in
jail since November for charges he beat a woman to death.
Tad Blackburn, 22, is charged with 1st-degree murder in connection with
the death of Tamara Magic, 44. Magic was found dead Nov. 8 at her
residence on East St. Charles Street. Autopsy results showed she was
beaten and stabbed to death.
Judge Thomas Trimble set Blackburn's bond at $1 million cash or surety.
Trimble said a trial date in the case will be set at a March 3 status
Ken Varns, deputy state's attorney for Pennington County, said he will
announce at that hearing whether he has chosen to pursue the death
First-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence upon conviction of either
life in prison without parole or the death penalty.
Prosecutors decide whether or not the death penalty will be pursued.
Varns objected to bond being set in the case. He said with a capital
offense, defendants are not entitled to bond as with other cases.
Varns said Magic was killed by blows of 2 rocks to the head. Varns said
Blackburns finger prints were found on 2 rocks with blood on them at the
Varns said Blackburn then pawned Magic's television and attempted to pawn
some of her jewelry.
Blackburn's attorney, Paul Winter, requested prosecutors provide him with
the Magics mental health records.
Varns did not object to providing those records to Winter and said he
would when they are available.
Blackburn remains in custody at the Pennington County Jail. To meet his
bond with a surety, he must pay $100,000, 10 % of the $1 million bond.
(source: Rapid City Journal)
Botched hanging led state to halt executions
A small item in the Wednesday Feb. 7, 1906 edition of the Minneapolis
Tribune reads, "Sheriff Miezen has arranged to test the rope and gallows
upon which William Williams is to be executed next Tuesday at midnight."
Ramsey County Sheriff Anton Miezen's test seems to have been successful,
but it didn't keep the execution of Williams at 12:31 a.m. on Feb. 13,
1906, from being a hideously botched affair that resulted in him being the
last person executed in Minnesota.
Williams was a 28-year-old British itinerant miner and steamfitter. In
1904 he befriended young Johnny Keller when they were both hospitalized
with diphtheria. Keller subsequently roomed with Williams in several
places around St. Paul, and in the summer of 1904 they traveled together
to Winnipeg, Manitoba. In 1905 Keller was back home in St. Paul, and was
receiving a mix of love letters and threatening letters from Williams, who
insisted the then 16-year-old come back to Winnipeg with him.
On April 13, Williams was found in the Keller home in St. Paul, smoking
gun in hand, having shot Keller's mother and then Johnny in the back of
the head and neck as the teen lay in bed. Keller's mother died a week
Despite Williams' defense of "emotional insanity," he was convicted on 2
counts of premeditated murder, which was upheld on appeal.
Sheriff Miezen was confident of his rope's strength, and the proper
functioning of the trapdoor of his gallows, but his math was faulty in
calculating both the height of Williams and the gallows platform.
As the condemned man dropped, his feet hit the floor.
A lurid description in the next day's issue of the St. Paul Daily News
said that William's "neck stretched four and one-half inches and the rope
nearly 8 inches."
So deputies quickly grabbed the rope and pulled it upward, then took turns
holding Williams' feet off the ground for almost 15 minutes while the life
was choked out of him.
The death certificate stated that the cause of death was strangulation.
The debacle, and the newspaper coverage of it, gave ammunition to those in
the state Legislature who opposed the death penalty.
House member George MacKenzie, R-Gaylord, had tried to abolish capital
punishment in Minnesota in 1905 and again in 1909. He succeeded in 1911
when Republican Gov. Adolph Eberhart signed the legislation into law.
(source: Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Fix death penalty now
THE ISSUE: State legislators should call a temporary halt to executions
and fix the glaring flaws with Alabama's use of the death penalty.
You don't have to oppose the death penalty to want to make sure it's
applied fairly and accurately.
That being the case, support for a temporary halt to executions is not
incompatible with support for the death penalty. If only the state
Legislature recognized that.
Lawmakers already are offering dim chances for state Sen. Hank Sanders'
perennial bill calling a three-year halt to executions, a moratorium that
would allow time to fix some of the most grievous problems with death
penalty cases. Even Sanders, who tries to sound optimistic, admits the
measure faces "an uphill climb."
The reason is obvious. Lawmakers fear being branded soft on crime. But
that's shortsighted thinking.
Sanders' proposal would tackle some of the weaknesses that make many
reasonable people squeamish about the death penalty - including people who
otherwise support the death penalty. Even the most ardent defender of
capital punishment doesn't want to see the wrong person put to death for a
crime, a possibility that has become far more conceivable as DNA science
revealed the fallibility of our court system.
Among other things, Sanders' proposal would use the moratorium period to
require the state to begin following American Bar Association guidelines
to ensure that appointed defense lawyers have the right experience and
training to handle death-penalty cases. This provision alone would go a
long way to preventing miscarriages of justice in capital cases.
Importantly, Sanders' bill also calls for some kind of safeguards to
ensure race doesn't play a role in who gets the death penalty. As it
stands, the race of the victim in particular seems to play a big role in
determining who receives the ultimate punishment. While most murder
victims are black, the overwhelming number of cases that end with a death
sentence involve white murder victims. When you strip away all other
variables, the only conclusion that can be reached is that the system
places a higher value on white life than black life.
To fix these flaws is not to endorse abolishing the death penalty
(although this newspaper is in favor of both). A poll in recent years
demonstrated that Alabamians understand the distinction. While most
Alabamians supported the death penalty, according to the Alabama Education
Association poll, a solid majority favored a temporary halt in executions
to address the kinds of issues covered in Sanders' bill.
Still, Sanders' moratorium bill has never gathered much steam in the
Legislature. For at least two years, it made it out of a Senate committee.
That is farther than some good bills went, but is still not far enough.
Lawmakers as a whole need to recognize they can support the death penalty
and still want to fix some of its worst features.
(source: Editorial, Birmingham News)
BRUNING TO ASK SUPREME COURT TO RECONSIDER DEATH PENALTY RULING
NEBRASKA ATTORNEY GENERAL, JON BRUNING, SAYS THE STATE MUST MOVE QUICKLY
TO CHANGE THEIR METHOD OF EXECUTION AFTER FRIDAY'S STATE SUPREME COURT
DECISION, WHICH DEEMED THE ELECTRIC CHAIR UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
IN THE RULING, THE COURT SAYS ELECTROCUTION IS CRUEL AND UNUSUAL
PUNISHMENT UNDER NEBRASKA'S CONSTITUTION.
BRUNING SAYS HE'S SURPRISED AND DISAPPOINTED BY THE COURT RULING, CALLING
THE COURT'S RULING STRIKES DOWN THE STATE'S ONLY METHOD OF EXECUTION.
BRUNING SAYS THAT NEBRASKA CITIZENS HAVE SHOWN TIME AND TIME AGAIN THAT
THEY SUPPORT THE DEATH PENALTY AND THE STATE NEEDS TO MOVE QUICKLY TO
ENSURE THAT JUSTICE IS CARRIED OUT.
"WHILE WE'RE DISAPPOINTED IN THE DECISION TODAY, WE'LL NOW MOVE TO THE
LEGISLATIVE PROCESS TO GET A NEW METHOD OF EXECUTION," BRUNING SAID.
"NEBRASKANS OVERWHELMINGLY SUPPORT THE DEATH PENALTY AND JUSTICE DEMANDS
OUR STATE HAS A CONSTITUTIONAL METHOD OF EXECUTION."
BRUNING SAYS THAT HE WILL FILE A MOTION, ASKING THE COURT TO RECONSIDER
THE DECISION WAS MADE IN THE CASE OF CHILD KILLER RAYMOND MATA OF
SCOTTSBLUFF. THE SUPREME COURT UPHELD THE DEATH PENALTY IN MATA'S CASE,
BUT SAYS THE METHOD OF EXECUTION MUST CHANGE.
(source: KDUH TV News)
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