[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, FLA., OHIO, ALA., IDAHO
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Jan 10 21:59:02 CST 2008
Man has execution date as high court reviews method
Despite the informal nationwide moratorium on executions while the U.S.
Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of lethal injection, a Texas
death row inmate has an execution date set for next month, and no appeals
on his behalf are pending before the courts and no clemency application
has been filed with the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Karl Eugene Chamberlain, condemned for the 1991 rape and murder of a woman
who lived in the same apartment complex as he, is scheduled to die Feb. 21
in Huntsville. A spokeswoman for Dallas County District Attorney Craig
Watkins said the prosecutor's office will ask that the date be set aside
if no one files an appeal on the inmate's behalf.
"This office has made the decision not to go forward with any executions
[of inmates from Dallas County] until the Supreme Court makes its
decision," spokeswoman Jamille Bradfield said. "So if Mr. Chamberlain's
date arrives before the ruling comes down, we will withdraw our
application for execution."
Chamberlain, 37, is the only prisoner in the nation facing an active
execution date. On Wednesday, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland commuted the death
sentence of John Spirko, who had been facing execution Jan. 24, after DNA
testing could not conclusively tie him to the 1982 murder for which he was
condemned. Spirko will now serve a life sentence without parole.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a Kentucky case on
whether the lethal injection process used by most states, including Texas,
that impose the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel
and unusual punishment.
The high court's decision is not expected until summer, but when justices
announced in September that they would hear arguments on lethal injection,
they effectively put the brakes on all executions in the United States.
The one exception occurred in Texas after attorneys for Houston-area
killer Michael Richard were unable to persuade the state's Court of
Criminal Appeals to remain open after hours to consider the application to
stay his execution on Sept. 25, the same day the high court agreed to
examine the lethal injection process.
If the Dallas County district attorney withdraws its request that
Chamberlain be executed next month, it is unlikely that Texas will add to
its nation-leading tally of 405 deaths by injection since 1982.
Chamberlain's date was set after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in
May rejected his appeal that his attorney was ineffective during his
A brief has also been filed with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
suggesting that Chamberlain has had inadequate representation during the
appeals process as well.
Five years after killing 60-year-old Felicia Prechtl, Chamberlain
confessed to the crime when authorities linked his fingerprints to those
found on the duct tape used to restrain the woman during the attack,
according to news accounts.
Chamberlain told police after his arrest that he had been drinking when he
went to Prechtl's apartment on the pretext that he wanted to borrow sugar.
Abbott, 19 other AGs want execution process upheld
Executing inmates by injection has gained "widespread national acceptance"
and does not inflict cruel and unusual punishment even if the process is
not pain-free, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told the U.S. Supreme
Court in a 32-page brief submitted before Monday's hearing.
Abbott was joined by attorneys general in 19 other states where capital
punishment is carried out using the three-drug compound that is being
challenged in a Kentucky case. Texas and other states that use lethal
injection follow procedures similar to the one before the high court.
Texas has used injection to execute 405 inmates December 1982. By
contrast, Kentucky has carried out 2 executions in the modern era.
The lethal cocktail
The states that use lethal injection start with sodium thiopental to put
the inmate to sleep, followed by pancuronium bromide to paralyze the
external muscles and the skeletal system, and finish with potassium
chloride to stop the heart. At issue is whether the paralyzing agents
prevent the inmate from crying out if the potassium chloride causes
"In short, the consensus in favor of lethal injection by protocol similar
to that of Kentucky is substantial," Abbott said in his "friend of the
court" brief. "This consensus reflects widespread national acceptance of
the methodology challenged in this case."
Executions in Texas
On the day of execution, the inmate is taken from Death Row in Livingston
to the death chamber in Huntsville a few hours before 6 p.m. The inmate is
given a last meal, an opportunity to visit with loved ones and a final
The inmate is strapped to a steel gurney and an IV is inserted into one or
both arms. After the warden signals for the execution process to begin,
the inmate's breathing appears to stop within a minute or 2. Then a doctor
examines the body and generally pronounces death within 5 to 7 minutes.
(source for both: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Making executions more humane
The fate of Texas lethal injection system for death row inmates is in the
hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Earlier this week, the high court heard arguments in a Kentucky case, Baze
v. Rees, that has triggered a de facto moratorium on executions here and
across the nation. A ruling will come later this year. But whatever
decision the court makes is bound to affect Texas more than any other
state because Texas leads the nation in the number of executions. In 2007,
26 inmates were executed - more than all other states put together. No
other state executed more than 3 inmates.
The Kentucky case before the Supreme Court does not challenge the legality
of the death penalty, nor does it challenge the method by which Texas and
other states execute criminals. At issue is whether the 3-drug protocol
for lethal injections violates the Constitutions Eighth Amendment against
cruel and unusual punishment.
The question the high court will answer is whether states are legally
required to execute inmates as humanely as possible. If the court answers
yes to that question, Texas would have to make changes regarding the drugs
used in lethal injections, which would take time.
Obviously, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals should not permit
executions to resume until the U.S. Supreme Court renders a ruling. That
court shouldn't need reminding, but nothing can be taken for granted when
it involves executions and the state's highest criminal appeals court.
That court's presiding judge, Sharon Keller, refused to accept the appeal
of a death row inmate right before his execution on Sept. 25 because it
meant keeping the court open past its 5 p.m. closing time.
This Kentucky case could have - and should have - been settled without
intervention from the courts. We have the science and technology to
administer the death penalty in a more humane way. Yet, 35 states -
including Texas - cling to one method of killing convicted criminals:
injecting them with three chemicals that could cause horrific, and
unnecessary, pain and suffering.
Executions have evolved over time, from hangings to gas chambers and
electric chairs. Now, nearly all states that conduct executions do so by
lethal injections using sodium thiopental, a barbiturate that induces
coma; pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes; and potassium chloride, which
triggers cardiac arrest and death. If states are going to continue
executions, then they should upgrade the 3-drug protocol, now more than 30
years old, to reflect medical advancements.
Since 2004, weve raised questions about the states lethal cocktail.
Pancuronium bromide had been widely used by veterinarians to put down
animals. But in 2003, the Texas Legislature outlawed use of the drug to
euthanize animals because of its potential to cause severe pain and
suffering. Texas criminal justice officials have repeatedly told us that
the chemicals used for lethal injections provide a painless, efficient
method of killing inmates. Officials have invited us to observe executions
in chambers that look like hospital rooms.
But they have been guarded when asked to provide details about the
process. They won't tell us whether a nurse, technician or other medical
professional monitors or assists in executions. They won't provide details
about what, if any, medical training is given to those who conduct lethal
What we do know is that executions have been botched. We know, too, that
pancuronium bromide, with its paralyzing qualities, masks the physical
signs of suffering, disables the dying from calling out or showing signs
Our position on the death penalty has not changed - we're against it
because there are too many opportunities for human error. Since 1973, more
than 120 people have been released from death rows nationwide based on
evidence of their innocence. There is a good possibility that innocent
people have been executed, particularly in Texas, which sends people to
the death chamber with regularity.
We continue to support a sentence of life without parole as a viable
alternative to execution. Texans will disagree over the death penalty, but
we all should agree that when we execute people, it should be done as
humanely as possible.
(source: Editorial, Austin American-Statesman)
Death sentence lifted in quadruple murder near Pensacola
A Miami drug trafficker convicted in the 1988 murders of 4 people near
Pensacola should get life in prison and not death, the Florida Supreme
Court ruled Thursday.
The justices voted 4-3 to reduce the sentence of Ronald Lee Williams, 44,
who ran a drug ring known as the Miami Boys, but the justices unanimously
upheld Williams' 1st-degree murder conviction.
Williams was not present when the four victims died, but he had ordered
other ring members to kill them because he believed they had stolen drugs
and money from the Miami Boys. The 3 men and a woman were stripped and
tied up before being stabbed and shot.
A fifth victim, Amanda Merrill, survived the massacre in a Pleasant Grove
duplex although she had been shot in the back of the head and her throat
The high court majority ruled Williams had received ineffective counsel
during the penalty phase of his trial because his lawyer decided not to
present the jury or judge with mitigating evidence of an abusive
childhood, substance abuse and mental impairment.
The jury voted for a life sentence, but Circuit Judge Nickolas Geeker
overrode that recommendation and ordered the death penalty.
Geeker later turned down Williams' ineffective counsel claim, ruling he
still would have imposed the death sentence if the mitigating evidence had
been presented. The evidence included a psychologist's report that
Williams had an IQ of 75, borderline for mental retardation, and
functioned emotionally and mentally like a 13- or 14-year-old.
In an unsigned opinion the majority justices ruled Geeker's "personal and
subjective analysis" of the mitigating evidence was improper and that this
was "a classic case of ineffectiveness and prejudice."
Chief 1st District Court of Appeal Judge Edwin Browning Jr., sitting in
for Justice Kenneth Bell, cast the deciding vote. Bell, who had served in
the 1st Circuit Court with Geeker, recused himself from the case.
In dissent, Justice Charles Wells wrote the defense lawyer was justified
in deciding against offering the psychologist's report because Williams
appeared normal in court.
"The majority here engages in a classic 20-20 hindsight analysis about a
strategic choice made by an experienced attorney," Wells wrote.
Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis and Justice Raoul Cantero joined in his
dissent. The other majority justices are Harry Lee Anstead, Barbara
Pariente and Peggy Quince.
Two co-defendants, Timothy Robinson, and Michael Coleman, also received
death sentences. Darrell Frazier was sentenced to life and his brother,
Bruce Frazier, was convicted on lesser charges and sentenced to 50 years
(source: Associated Press)
Convicted killer sent to new prison after death sentence commuted
A convicted killer has arrived at a new prison a day after an order from
Governor Strickland sparing his life.
The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction transferred John Spirko
from death row in Youngstown to the Toledo Correctional Institution.
The governor commuted Spirko's death sentence to life in prison based on a
lack of physical evidence linking Spirko to a 26-year-old murder in
Under Strickland's commutation order, Spirko will not be eligible for
Defense attorneys say they're disappointed that their client isn't going
The governor says state and federal courts reviewed and upheld Spirko's
conviction and the Ohio Parole Board twice rejected his petition for
(source: Associated Press)
Gov. Strickland issues a well-founded commutation of death sentence
After 23 years, 7 reprieves and a long string of judicial reviews, John
Spirko is moving off death row. Instead of a date with the executioner on
Jan. 24, Spirko now faces life in prison without possibility of parole,
thanks to a commutation order signed by Gov. Ted Strickland Wednesday
The governor acted - wisely and correctly - after DNA tests last fall
failed to place Spirko either in the Elgin post office where Betty Jane
Mottinger was kidnapped in August 1982 or in the soybean field outside
Findlay where her remains were found 6 weeks later. Even before the DNA
results, considerable evidence - as detailed in a 2005 series by The Plain
Dealer's Bob Paynter - cast doubt on the case against Spirko.
A career criminal who once killed a 72-year-old woman during a robbery,
Spirko virtually implicated himself in Mottinger's death, apparently
believing that doing so might buy him leniency on other charges. His story
has changed over the years.
Even before Spirko's trial, a key investigator told prosecutors of his
doubts about his guilt. Still, a succession of appellate courts declined
to overturn his conviction and death sentence. The Ohio Parole Board
reviewed his case twice and refused to recommend clemency.
Spirko's attorneys had hoped the DNA evidence - or lack thereof - would
lead to a pardon, but Strickland chose a middle path, willing neither to
free an undeniably dangerous man nor to risk the possibility of executing
him for a crime he may not have committed.
(source: Editorial, Plain Dealer)
Deardorff death sentence upheld
The Alabama Supreme Court has upheld a capital murder conviction and death
sentence for Donald Emile Deardorff who forced Spanish Fort minister Ted
Turner into a death march into a densely wooded area north of Stockton in
September 1999 and shot him in the head at least four times, according to
The Supreme Courts ruling handed down last week affirms the state Court of
Criminal Appeals 2004 upholding of the death sentence.
The panel rejected Deardorff's argument that aggravating circumstances
surrounding the killing was not especially heinous.
Aggravating factors were presented to the jury during Deardorff's trial.
The jury recommended the death sentence by a 10-2 margin after
deliberating 50 minutes.
"Being threatened with death, being held in captivity and confined to a
closet, being transported by car while his head was hooded and his hands
taped, being forced to walk down the dirt road while hooded and taped, and
the events immediately preceding Turners killing constitute psychological
torture so as to meet the standard for a murder that is 'especially
heinous, atrocious or cruel,'" the 20-plus page document stated.
"There was no error here, and Deardorff is not entitled to any relief on
The court also rejected Deardorff's challenge that admission of previous
"bad" acts was improper.
Deardorff, 39, of Bay Minette, was sentenced to death in December 2001.
Turner, 56, was a founding minister of a nondenominational church in
Montrose called Unity of the Eastern Shore.
Millard Lee Peacock, of Atmore, an accomplice, was sentenced in January
2002 to 15 years in prison on theft charges after testifying for the
state, and leading lawmen to Turner's decomposed body in June 2001.
Turner leased a storage warehouse in 1998 to Deardorff, who received a
default judgment for failure to make rental payments. One month before his
death, Turner locked a storehouse he had rented to Turner. Evidence
suggests arguments over business dealings may have created friction
between the two, according to court records.
On Sept. 22, 1999, Deardorff and Peacock entered Turner's unoccupied home
and began looking through file cabinets. Peacock testified Deardorff
sought revenge for the soured real estate relationship with Turner.
When Turner arrived, Deardorff drew a handgun, bound Turner with duct tape
and placed him in a closet, according to court testimony.
Peacock testified that Deardorff forced Turner to write a personal check
and four credit card checks early the next morning.
The two accomplices spent the rest of the day and night at Turners house
watching TV and eating pizza purchased with Turners money. Deardorff used
Turners computer to order automobile parts and to visit several
pornographic Internet sites.
Before dawn broke the next morning, Deardorff told Turner they were going
to leave him at a park and call police to pick him up.
Turner's hands and mouth were duct taped, and a pillowcase was taped over
his head. Deardorff drove to a densely wooded area north of Stockton.
Turner, who recently had knee surgery and was required to wear a brace,
was led to the end of a logging trail. Peacock testified that Deardorff
told him to wait while he walked Turner a few more feet.
Deardorff then forced Turner to his knees and shot him in the head 4 times
in rapid succession, according to testimony.
Deardorff was arrested Oct. 5, 1999, at the Bay Minette Wal-Mart
Superstore with $19,200 in cash and a pistol.
The Alabama Bureau of Investigation traced the money, still bound by bank
bands and the initials of tellers, to Peacock.
Deardorff fingered Peacock as the trigger man during his 2-week trial. He
also defiantly told Circuit Judge Lang Floyd to impose the death sentence.
"I am not afraid to die and I maintain my innocence," Deardorff told Floyd
before sentencing. "Bring the death penalty. "We will work it out in
appeals. We can't do it (justice) here in Baldwin County."
(source: Baldwin County Now)
Prosecutor talks about why death penalty won't be sought in murder case
Prosecutors will not seek the death penalty for a Clarkston man charged
Leotis Branigh, III, is charged with 1st degree murder for the shooting
death of 32-year-old Lewiston resident Michael S. Johnston.
Nez Perce County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Spickler said his decision was
based on Idaho law.
"The penalty for 1st degree murder does include the possibility of the
death sentence, but the death sentence is reserved for the worst of the
worst cases," said Spickler.
Spickler said the state will not seek it in this case, saying they would
have to prove there were aggravating factors that led to the October 1,
2007, shooting. According to Idaho code, there are 11 aggravating factors
in a murder that would qualify.
"They include such things as killing a witness because the witness is
going to testify, murder for hire, and again, in my view none of those
applied," he said.
Branigh's trial is set to begin March 17. He remains in the Nez Perce
County Jail without bond.
Spickler said, although they won't pursue the death penalty, they will
seek to keep Branigh locked up for a long time.
"I do believe that the penalty of life in prison without the possibility
of parole is an appropriate penalty and that's what we'll be seeking,"
(source: KLEW TV News)
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