[Deathpenalty] death penalty news------TEXAS, MISS., N.J., N.Y., USA, PENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Jan 1 20:53:37 CST 2008
Abolish the death penalty
Texas continues to lead the nation in execution numbers, now more
spectacularly than ever. This year marks the 1st time that our state's
execution total exceeds half the national toll. Texas must stop the
ghastly practice of killing people, especially considering the flaws that
DNA has exposed in the criminal justice system.
What needs to happen next: Change ultimately must come about in the
Legislature, a major obstacle. Last year lawmakers expanded use of the
death penalty to cover sex offenders against children. The law is of
dubious constitutionality but reflects pro-death penalty sentiment in
That places responsibility on citizens to pressure lawmakers after
examining the facts and their consciences. They should reflect on recent
polling that suggests Texans overwhelmingly think innocent people have
been executed but believe the death penalty should remain on the books.
That's a moral outrage.
Faults in the criminal justice system have been highlighted in Dallas
County, where 14 wrongly convicted people have been discovered through DNA
testing. As a step in the right direction, the state House should join the
Senate in support of a proposed state innocence commission that would
examine wrongful convictions and propose fixes.
Lawmakers should also follow the lead of states like New Jersey and form a
special commission to examine application of the death penalty, including
whether the practice should continue. And the state should impose a
moratorium on executions until the commission's work is done.
(source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)
State has no fallback plans on executions
Mississippi doesn't have a fallback plan if the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008
bans lethal injection as a method of executing condemned prisoners.
Hanging? Dropped in 1940. Electric chair? Plug pulled in 1954. Gas
chamber? Mothballed in 1998.
Executions in many states have been put on hold pending a Supreme Court
decision expected no sooner than June - on whether the standard lethal
injection procedure can cause pain severe enough to violate the
constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
In Mississippi, Earl Wesley Berry's execution was one of those halted by
the nation's high court.
The Supreme Court has arguments scheduled for early January.
Advocates on both sides of the debate say it's likely the high court will
offer some pathway for states to resume executions.
That belief is shared by Donald Cabana, a former Mississippi corrections
commissioner and a criminal justice professor.
"I don't think it means that executions would go by the wayside. I think
what it means is that the court is going to look at the method in which
it's administered and if they don't find any constitutional crisis there
in terms of violating the cruel and unusual process, I think it will pass
muster and still be OK.
"I'm not nearly as convinced as some people seem to be that the court is
going to use this instance to outlaw capital punishment. I don't think
that's even in the ball park," said Cabana, now warden at the Harrison
County Detention Center.
Tara Booth, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, said the
state would follow whatever remedy the Supreme Court orders.
This isn't the 1st hiatus for executions. The Supreme Court declared
capital punishment unconstitutional in 1972, but 4 years later cleared
the way for executions to resume.
"If the U.S. Supreme Court were to do an across-the-board ban on lethal
injections, what they're going to do is state what their objections to the
methods are. I don't think that necessarily means that lethal injection
couldn't be used. You have to look at what the court finds objectionable,"
After that, Cabana said the states could correct whatever flaws the court
found and then go back before the court with a request to reinstate
"That's what happened when the Supreme Court banned the death penalty in
1972," he said.
There have been 1,099 executions nationwide since 1976, with a peak of 98
in 1999. The numbers have ebbed in recent years - there have been 42 this
year - while more than 3,300 inmates populate death row units across the
Mississippi's last execution was Oct. 18, 2006, when Bobby Glen Wilcher
was put to death.
Attorney General Jim Hood said he doesn't foresee any case reaching the
point of setting an execution date before the Supreme Court reaches a
decision on lethal injection.
(source: Hattiesburg American)
New Jersey boosts national move to end death penalty
Opponents of the death penalty say last month's historic repeal in New
Jersey could boost similar movements across the nation.
"I think they felt they did something important, and I think that's
right," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty
Information Center. "It's something that could be a precedent-setting
Gov. Jon Corzine enacted legislation Dec. 17 making New Jersey the 1st
state since 1965 to repeal its death penalty law. It joined 13 other
states that ban death as a form of punishment for a crime. Dieter said
legislation repealing the death penalty made some headway in several
states last year, and laws in other states are under study to see if they
should be scrapped.
"There is already activity in other states considering the death penalty.
I think the fact that it passed in the Legislature and was signed into law
shows this is quite possible," he said. "Given that other states were
already involved in this process, it might be an extra impetus to bring
these resolutions to a vote."
Celeste Fitzgerald, director of New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the
Death Penalty, said her office has been contacted by people "all over the
country and all over the world" saying they draw inspiration from the
Garden State's repeal. During the several years her group has pushed for
elimination of the death penalty here, she has been in regular contact
with similar activists in other states.
She said New Jersey's decision is part of a growing movement nationally to
abolish the death penalty. The number of executions dropped to a 13-year
low in 2007, several states are mulling repeals, and even Texas, which has
far more executions than any other state, recently added life without
parole as an option for judges. "I really think it is part of a national
rethinking of capital punishment," Fitzgerald said.
Efforts to repeal the death penalty fell short in Maryland, Nebraska, New
Mexico and Montata last year but opponents plan to renew their efforts
Repeal bills are pending in several other states, including Arizona,
Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois and Kansas. Tennessee is considering a
moratorium as it studies the issue.
Death row Scot 'free in a week' ---- Kenny Richey has spent two decades
on death row
A Briton who has been on death row in the US for 21 years is expected to
be freed in one week, his lawyer has said.
Kenny Richey has agreed a plea deal which will allow him to walk free and
fly home to Scotland once a court hearing has taken place on 7 January.
It had been scheduled for 20 December, but was postponed after a heart
Richey, who has come within an hour of execution, was convicted in 1987
for a fire which killed a toddler, but last August that conviction was
His lawyer, Ken Parsigan, said the 7 January hearing would take place at
1pm in Ohio - about 6pm in the UK.
"The only reason that will not take place is if he winds up in hospital
again. He will leave to fly back to Scotland on 8 January," Mr Parsigan
At the earlier hearing, Richey had planned to plead no contest to
attempted involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and breaking and
The plea would see him being sentenced to time already served.
A no contest plea is not an admission of guilt, but a statement that no
defence will be presented.
Richey, originally from Edinburgh, was put on death row in January 1987
after being convicted of starting a fire in which 2-year-old Cynthia
Prosecutors claimed he began the fire as a jealous attack on his former
girlfriend and her new lover, who lived in the flat beneath.
The Scot, who has always protested his innocence, refused a plea bargain
which would have led to an 11-year sentence for arson and manslaughter.
(source: BBC News)
Appeals court rules jurors' death penalty views should be probed
A judge's failure to question jurors who indicated they oppose the death
penalty is not enough to overturn the convictions of 2 men in the 1999
killing of a police informant, a federal appeals court says.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan was considering the
appeals of 2 men convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the
capital murder of Eddie Santiago. During the penalty phase, jurors
unanimously decided not to impose death.
In a decision dated Friday, the appeals court upheld the convictions of
Alan Quinones and Diego Rodriguez, rejecting defense arguments that their
convictions should be reversed because the trial judge did not orally
question jurors who indicated on questionnaires that they were opposed to
the death penalty.
While the appeals court encouraged judges to question potential jurors
orally about opposition to the death penalty, it said such questioning is
not required on constitutional grounds.
The men were convicted in 2004 of racketeering, drug trafficking and the
murder of Santiago, an informant for the New York Police Department.
The 3-judge appeals panel noted that other trial judges in Manhattan
have routinely questioned jurors who wrote in questionnaires that they
oppose the death penalty.
"The practice is commendable," the 2nd Circuit panel said. "The bluntness
or hesitancy, confidence or discomfort, displayed by prospective jurors as
they respond to questions about the possibility of returning a capital
verdict often reveals as much about bias as the actual answers given," the
appeals court said.
The Supreme Court has held that prospective jurors can be excluded from
jury service in capital cases if they indicate that they will
automatically vote for or against the death penalty in every case.
In federal court judges conduct voir dire, the process of questioning
jurors about their background and potential biases.
The appeals decision came in a case in which U.S. District Judge Jed S.
Rakoff ruled six years ago that the federal death penalty was
unconstitutional. The 2nd Circuit overturned his findings before the
(source: Associated Press)
Falling out of love with death----Though a majority of Americans back
capital punishment, surveys find growing unease over it.
The media are abuzz over the 40th anniversary of 1968, the year that saw
so much change in this country. But one of the most extraordinary of those
changes has been almost completely forgotten: 1968 was the 1st year in
the history of the United States that not a single prisoner was executed.
Today, we're getting closer than we have in decades to matching that
40 years ago, the death penalty was dying off. With the injustices
highlighted by the civil rights movement prominent in the public
consciousness, polls found that more Americans opposed capital punishment
than supported it. Several states had banned the practice starting in the
early 1960s, and prominent leaders, from then-presidential candidate
Robert Kennedy to local politicians, were denouncing it. Even the U.S.
attorney general at that time, the nation's top law enforcement official,
called for its abolition. In a 1968 ruling, a Supreme Court justice
dismissed death penalty advocates as a "distinct and dwindling minority."
That year, the number of annual executions, which had been slipping into
the single digits, hit zero. Finally, in 1972, the Supreme Court
effectively banned executions.
But just a few years later, the nation began an astonishing about-face.
The Supreme Court reopened the door to capital punishment in 1976,
launching an era in which the U.S. didn't just bring back the death
penalty, it feverishly embraced it. By the 1990s, a record majority of
Americans favored capital punishment. Opposing it had become political
suicide for any major candidate. Courts were handing down hundreds of
death sentences every year, and dozens of new crimes were being made
capital offenses in state after state. By the start of the new millennium,
thousands of men and women were languishing on death row, and the number
of executions shot up to nearly 100 a year.
What happened? By the mid-1970s, much of middle America was deeply uneasy
about how the very fabric of society seemed to be unraveling. Drug use and
crime were rising; minorities, women and homosexuals were demanding more
power and respect. And the mighty United States was humiliated, first in
Vietnam and later by Iranian hostage-takers.
In this milieu, politicians increasingly learned that crime could pay --
for them. From federal candidates to county sheriffs, would-be
officeholders began vying to out-tough each other on law-and-order issues.
One result was the extension of the death penalty to dozens of new crimes,
along with cutbacks on appeals and other protections for capital
Today, however, the nation is again losing its enthusiasm for capital
punishment. Executions nationwide are effectively on hold until the U.S.
Supreme Court takes up a case later this month on whether lethal injection
is unconstitutionally inhumane. If the court rules that it is, states can,
of course, find some other way to end convicts' lives. But Americans are
increasingly queasy about doing so, no matter how it's done.
Although about two-thirds of all Americans still support capital
punishment in principle, that number is considerably lower than what it
was just 5 years ago. In practice, we're ever more reluctant to impose
it. That's largely because of the more than 100 men and women who have
been freed from death row in recent years, thanks to DNA testing and other
advances. That shocking proof of the system's fallibility also has made
juries, judges, prosecutors and politicians much more wary about pushing
for the ultimate punishment. In 1996, courts handed down 317 death
sentences; last year, that number plummeted to 110, according to the Death
Penalty Information Center. And in December, New Jersey became the first
state in 40 years to abolish its death penalty. At least 2 other states
are considering doing likewise.
According to Amnesty International, 133 countries have abolished the death
penalty. Last month, the United Nations voted for a worldwide moratorium
on capital punishment.
As far back as the 1960s, almost every industrialized nation had abandoned
the death penalty as a barbaric and pointless anachronism. The U.S. in
1968 was on track to do the same -- not because the Supreme Court forced
it on us, but because we as a nation had decided it was a bad idea.
Support for the death penalty hasn't always been a fact of American life.
That's something worth remembering in this new year.
(source: Opinion, Vince Beiser is a California-based writer who often
writes on criminal justice issues; Los Angeles Times)
Most candidates wrong on death penalty
The death penalty is a ridiculously ineffective and even more ridiculously
expensive tool for fighting crime. It is a permanent punishment, yet it is
applied unevenly and unreliably. It is dramatically racist in its
application. It is even more dramatically biased along class lines.
It is cruel, and it is unusual. It has been banned by the civilized world.
And, of course, there is the matter of it being immoral when weighed
against any moral code that can see beyond the "eye for an eye" fantasy
that Mahatma Gandhi correctly observed "leaves the whole world blind."
Yet, for the most part, the candidates for the 2008 Democratic and
Republican presidential nominations are death penalty supporters -- or,
perhaps even more objectionably, they are death penalty apologists.
One candidate, Mike Huckabee, is a death penalty practitioner. Huckabee
notes that, as governor of Arkansas, he had to "carry out the death
penalty more than any governor in the history of my state." This is,
Huckabee claims, "not something I'm proud of."
Yet Huckabee's embarrassment was not so great as to cause him to follow
the lead of a fellow Republican, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, by
calling a halt to executions.
Huckabee's hypocrisy is writ large across his every action, so it is not
surprising that the self-defined "Christian leader" continues the ancient
Roman custom of state-sanctioned slaying of prisoners.
But Huckabee's no worse than proponents of expanding the death penalty.
Republican Mitt Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, drafted legislation
to reinstate the death penalty. Democrat Joe Biden, the senator from
Delaware, authored the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of
1994, which expanded the federal death penalty to cover 60 new offenses.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is a death penalty advocate who,
as first lady, lobbied for expanding the list of federal crimes for which
a prisoner could be killed.
Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani is another longtime fan of capital
punishment, and he has even gone so far as to urge federal prosecutors to
seek the death penalty in specific cases.
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, Clinton's closest competitor for the
Democratic nod, is embarrassingly hypocritical on the issue. With death
penalty abolitionists, he cites his work as an Illinois state senator to
reform that state's capital punishment system. With death penalty
supporters, he says allowing executions is a way of saying that "the
community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage."
John Edwards, who has made a strong play for progressive votes, also
favors the death penalty. But Edwards at least says "we need reforms in
the death penalty to ensure that defendants receive fair trials, with
zealous and competent lawyers, and with full access to DNA testing."
That's similar to the stance taken by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. And
it's a whole lot better than another Democrat, Connecticut Sen. Chris
Dodd, who opposes the sort of moratorium on capital punishment -- in order
to ensure that innocents are not executed -- that even some Republicans
The leading Democratic contenders are no more responsible or humane when
it comes to the death penalty than mainstream Republicans such as Fred
Thompson, the senator-turned-actor who played a tough prosecutor on TV, or
Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Indeed, of the 16 men and women actively seeking the nominations of the
2 parties this year, only three have sided with death penalty
abolitionists. Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, a Democrat, has argued for
35 years in favor of ending capital punishment. Similarly, Texas
Congressman Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican who is at odds with his
party's leaders on so many fronts, is an across-the-board foe of
executions whose campaign says he always has and always will vote against
Once again, that aligns Paul with Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a
steady and passionate foe of the death penalty, who says, "Morally, I
simply do not believe that we as human beings have the right to 'play God'
and take a human life -- especially since our human judgments are fallible
and often wrong."
(source: Opinion; John Nichols is associate editor of The
(Madison, Wis.) Capital Times)
Pa. committed to death penalty----The state Supreme Court has affirmed
4 sentences. Prosecutors are trying to get executions carried out.
While New Jersey has just abolished the death penalty, a series of
year-end rulings by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court underscored that
capital punishment is still on the books in that state even if executions
are hardly ever carried out.
The state's high court affirmed 4 death sentences over the last 5 days,
and ordered new hearings for 2 other death-row inmates - Willie Cooper of
Philadelphia and George Banks of Luzerne County, the state's most
notorious mass killer.
Pennsylvania Senior Deputy Attorney General Jonelle H. Eshbach said
prosecutors across the state are trying hard to get death sentences
"I don't think the death penalty is going away in Pennsylvania," said
Eshbach, who handled the Banks appeal and said she was pleased by the
court's ruling. In the Cooper case, the high court said a new sentencing
hearing must be held because of "egregious and bizarre" remarks made by
his attorney during the 2003 trial that essentially sanctioned the death
penalty for Cooper.
Banks, now 65, has been awaiting execution since 1983. He was convicted of
a 1982 shooting rampage that killed 13 people, including five of his own
children. The court ordered a new hearing to determine whether he is
mentally competent to be put to death.
Cooper and Banks are among 228 inmates awaiting execution in Pennsylvania,
which has the 4th-largest death row in the nation. Just 3 inmates
have been executed since the state reinstated the penalty in 1978, and all
three essentially asked for execution after giving up their appeals.
The appeals pipeline remains clogged as remaining death-row inmates seek
new trials or sentencing hearings. Many of these prisoners have won
significant victories in state and federal courts because of legal errors
in their trials, often because of poor defense representation.
Since 2000, about 50 inmates who had been facing execution have been
resentenced to life in prison.
Among those now awaiting a pivotal ruling is Philadelphia's best-known
death-row inmate, Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose case has been followed around the
He was sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of Police Officer Daniel
Faulkner. His appeal is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third
Circuit, and a ruling could come early in the new year.
The U.S. Supreme Court will also hear arguments this month on a major
death penalty issue - whether lethal injections are a form of cruel and
In the Cooper case, the defense lawyer, who was not identified, told the
jury that while most people are familiar with the biblical phrase "an eye
for an eye," not many knew that the Bible reserved the punishment of death
for a person who kills a pregnant woman.
The victim in the case, Sherita House, was pregnant when she was strangled
in the Germantown home she shared with Cooper's brother.
In an opinion posted Sunday on the court's Web site, Justice James J.
Fitzgerald 3d wrote that the lawyer "unwittingly presented the jury with a
compelling and independent basis for imposing the death penalty on his own
Fitzgerald underscored the inappropriate nature of religious remarks,
whether by prosecutors or defense lawyers. "We have not hesitated to find
that religious references are improper and irrelevant when intended to
persuade jurors to follow their religious beliefs, as opposed to the law
of this commonwealth," he wrote.
The court agreed with a ruling by a Philadelphia trial judge, who upheld
Cooper's conviction but granted the new penalty hearing.
In 2 other Philadelphia cases, the court upheld the death sentence for
Mikal Moore, convicted in 1999 of a West Philadelphia shooting death, and
for Ricardo Natividad, convicted in 1997 of shooting to death a
It also affirmed the Erie County death sentence of David Copenhefer and
the Lehigh County sentence of Edwin Rios Romero.
Though the court affirmed the sentences, none of the 4 is in imminent
danger of execution because all have more appellate avenues to pursue.
Banks came within a day of execution in late 2004. His was the worst
killing rampage by one person in state history.
His mental condition is an issue because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in
1986 that it is unconstitutional to execute the insane and that a
condemned inmate must understand why he or she is facing execution.
A Luzerne County judge in 2006 found Banks mentally incompetent. But the
state Supreme Court has ordered a new hearing, saying the prosecution was
unfairly barred from presenting the testimony of a psychiatrist. Defense
lawyers had objected that the psychiatrist had spoken with Banks on one
occasion outside their presence.
(source: Philadelphia Inquirer)
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