[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, USA, COLO., IND., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Jan 11 12:19:10 CST 2008
Texas AG agrees to investigate Harris County district attorney
The Texas Attorney General's office agreed Thursday to investigate whether
Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal should lose his job for
sending and receiving inappropriate messages through his county e-mail
Republican officeholders and party leaders are calling for the GOP
prosecutor's head following the release of hundreds of his e-mails,
including love notes to his secretary, racist jokes and videos of men
sneaking up to women and tearing their clothes off in public.
He also used the county e-mail account to plan his now-aborted re-election
campaign. Those e-mails, while tamer, may be more damaging to Rosenthal's
career because such messages may violate Texas laws barring the use
government property for political activity.
Under Texas law, judges may remove district attorneys from office for
incompetence, official misconduct or intoxication on or off the job.
Official misconduct is defined as "intentional, unlawful behavior"
relating to official duties.
County attorneys are normally responsible for investigating district
attorneys and taking the case to court if necessary.
But Harris County Attorney Michael Stafford asked the state attorney
general to look into the case because his office is representing the
county in the lawsuit through which the e-mails were discovered.
Tom Kelley, a spokesman for Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott,
declined to comment beyond confirming the investigation would occur.
Neither Rosenthal nor his attorney, Ronald Lewis, returned telephone calls
from The Associated Press. Rosenthal told top county officials Wednesday
he would not resign despite admitted poor judgment.
"Thankfully, stupidity is not grounds" for removal, Rosenthal told Ed
Emmett, the county's top executive, in an e-mail that Emmett gave
reporters on Wednesday.
Rosenthal withdrew from the Republican ballot for the March 4 primary last
week at the urging of local GOP leaders after the affectionate e-mails
between him and his secretary were released. He considered running as an
independent, and Assistant District Attorney Kelly Siegler filed for the
But this week, more e-mails surfaced from public information requests by
local media. Rosenthal forwarded a racist e-mail comparing former
President Clinton to stereotypes of black men and received other racist
Another e-mail, sent to Rosenthal by Siegler's physician husband, included
the video of men forcibly pulling down women's clothing in public.
Rosenthal was first elected in 2000. He has said the death penalty is
God's law as well as the state's and that he follows both. He presides
over an office that sends more convicts to death row than any other
prosecutors' office in the nation.
The 860 e-mails emerged as part of a federal civil rights lawsuit against
the Harris County Sheriff's Department.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt mistakenly released the 1st batch of
e-mails last month following a request by Houston television station KHOU.
He later resealed those messages, saying he had only meant to make public
Rosenthal's request that those e-mails be withheld.
The 2nd batch of e-mails were released after Hoyt said Monday they were
not subject to a protective order.
Hoyt is also looking into accusations that Rosenthal deleted more than
2,500 e-mails requested by the plaintiffs' attorney in the civil rights
Rosenthal said in court documents last month that he deleted the e-mails
to reduce their large volume visible on his computer. He said he believed
a list of the e-mails had been printed and that even if deleted, they
could still be retrieved by his technical staff. He said that staff has
been working to try and retrieve the e-mails.
(source: Associated Press)
Position Description: ---- Lead trial counsel in the sentencing phase of
death penalty cases.
Requirements: ---- We are looking for an energetic attorney, with at least
5 years of criminal trial experience, committed to defending the lives of
clients facing the death penalty. Capital trial experience is a must. The
ideal candidate will possess excellent research and writing skills, a
working knowledge of capital law, the ability to work well with all
members of the defense team, and a willingness to spend long hours
developing mitigation. Candidate must be licensed to practice law in
Oklahoma or demonstrate an ability to obtain a temporary license, which
will become permanent based on reciprocity.
Please direct all contacts, curriculum vita, or information to:
Pete Silva, Public Defender
Tulsa County Public Defender's Office
423 S. Boulder Avenue, Suite 300
Tulsa, OK 74103
(918) 596-5530 main number
(918) 596-5540 fax
2 accused in Seattle-area killings plead not guilty
The 2 people accused in the murders of 6 family members near Seattle on
Christmas Eve have entered not-guilty pleas.
The pleas came today from Michele Anderson, whose parents and brother were
among the victims, and from her boyfriend, Joseph McEnroe.
Prosecutors are deciding whether to seek the death penalty if they're
Investigators have said both Anderson and McEnroe confessed to shooting
the six, including two young children, at the parents' home.
Prosecutors have given no motive. But they say Anderson told detectives
that her brother owed her money, and that she was upset because her
parents didn't take her side. She also said her parents were pressuring
her to start paying rent for living on their property.
(source: Associated Press)
Missing forest for trees on executions
This week the U.S. Supreme Court took up the argument of whether or not a
state's means of conducting a lethal injection execution constitutes cruel
and unusual punishment.
On one hand, it's an important issue. It is specifically why the history
of executions in western civilization has evolved toward finding what
supposedly are more humane ways of seeking death.
On the other hand, the issue, despite its importance, misses the forest
for the trees. A larger question should be: After a 30-year, modern-day
experiment with capital punishment, is momentum in the United States and
Texas moving, decidedly and irreversibly, toward repeal of death penalty
31 years ago, in January 1977, the U.S. ushered in the "modern era" of
capital punishment with the execution of Gary Gilmore. Support for the
death penalty increased throughout the 1980s, and executions reached a
peak in 1999, with 98 executions. Death sentences in the late 1990s also
peaked, with 284 capital sentences handed down in 1999.
Since that peak, however, a form of "buyer's remorse" has set in with
regard to the death penalty.
Consider: Executions and death sentences have dropped steadily from their
1990s high. Last year, 42 executions took place, the lowest number since
1994. And approximately 110 death sentences were handed down, a 60 percent
decrease from 1999.
Illinois imposed a moratorium on executions after numerous cases of
wrongful convictions were revealed. Other states followed suit, with
moratoria or with study commissions. Ultimately, New Jersey repealed the
death penalty in late 2007; repeal bills also advanced in a number of
other states, including Maryland, Montana, Nebraska and New Mexico.
In Texas, questions intensified over the quality of defense representation
afforded capital defendants, both at trial and during the appellate
process. And investigative reporting revealed the disturbing possibility
that Texas has put at least one and perhaps as many as three innocent
people to death.
What causes the "buyers' remorse" that seems to have set in with regard to
the death penalty? Is it a change in public policy over the
appropriateness of capital punishment?
No and yes. The more Americans learn about how the death penalty system
works, the more they express concern.
Why? First we consider innocence. In 2007, at least three people were
freed from death row after evidence of their innocence finally emerged
two because of DNA evidence and a third because eyewitnesses recanted
their stories. Some 126 people freed since 1977.
Second, we consider cost. The public is coming to learn that, contrary to
popular belief, death sentences with all their complexity and
bureaucracies cost millions of dollars more to implement than alternatives
Third, we consider the people most affected by the death penalty people
who for too long have been left out of the national discussion, ranging
from family members of murder victims to prosecutors and law enforcement
officials. In recent years, a number of groups have sprung up throughout
the United States comprised of family members who have lost loved ones to
violence and oppose the death penalty because it promises false closure.
Sometime in the coming months, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue its
ruling in the lethal injection case and the 8th Amendment issues it
raises. That ruling will undoubtedly address the trees while missing the
forest. At the end of the day, the question will remain: When we look back
upon our 31-year experiment with capital punishment, what have we learned?
And what are we in Texas going to do about it?
(source: Commentary;Bob Van Steenburg is vice president of the Texas
Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty----San Antonio Express-Mews)
Death penalty opposition grows
Jonathan Hoffman, convicted in a shooting death in North Carolina in 1995,
earned a new trial in 2004 and then had all charges against him dropped in
December 2007 when prosecutors ruled they didn't have enough evidence
against him. That decision was made, in part, when the prosecution's
former star witness recanted his testimony and admitted that he had lied
to retaliate against the defendant.
Hoffman is the latest of 126 death row inmates since 1973 who have been
released from death row because new evidence, or a lack of it, was
That number alone, representing a wide range of cases showing an array of
deficiencies, ineptitude and incompetence in the justice system when it
comes to dealing with capital offenses, ought to be enough to inspire a
major federal initiative to end the death penalty.
No one is expecting any such action soon. But forces, including the
persistent realization of how wrong our justice system can be when it
condemns someone to death, are beginning to significantly alter the
New Jersey, for instance, became the 1st state in decades to abolish the
death penalty when Gov. Jon S. Corzine signed a bill Dec. 17, declaring an
end to what he termed "state-endorsed killing."
Of the 36 remaining states that have the death penalty, a number have
suspended executions until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on whether the
normal procedure for lethal injections violates the Constitution's ban on
cruel and unusual punishment.
In another development, the Vatican intervened to aid those seeking a
resolution at the United Nations (see story) in favor of a global
moratorium on the death penalty. The resolution was sponsored by 10
nations, eight of which are Catholic majority states where bishops and
Catholic associations have been in the forefront of the battle against the
While the resolution passed in the General Assembly with 104 nations
voting for it, one sad and telling element of the story is that the United
States was among the 54 nations that opposed the nonbinding resolution,
joining the likes of China and Iran, where state-sanctioned killing still
While the U.N. resolution will have little practical consequence in
countries that still permit capital punishment, it nonetheless provided a
valuable measure of the state of the question globally and of the
significance the church places on ridding the world of the practice.
At one point in the process, Egypt tried to scuttle the resolution by
introducing an antiabortion amendment, something the Vatican, of course,
would love to see approved by the General Assembly. The Vatican made
clear, however, that it would not want such an amendment to block the
death penalty measure, an action that many claim saved the resolution. It
also moved the church closer to the worlds abolitionist camp on the
In sorting out the issues in such a way, the Vatican displayed the kind of
political savvy and sophistication that our own religious leaders might
benefit from using in navigating the sometimes choppy waters of U.S.
Much of the rest of the developed world, including the Vatican, which once
had its own executioner, has come to the conclusion that capital
punishment is barbaric and unnecessary. No widespread fear of convicted
murderers haunts the land. As a society, we have become expert in sealing
off such threats from the rest of the culture.
Certainly the American bishops could turn up the heat on politicians
regarding the death penalty. Unlike abortion, where the decision rests
with an individual, the death penalty, like war, is carried out by the
state acting in our name. As in war, the state administering the death
penalty spends our money and resources to kill in the name of the people.
Some say, of course, that justice demands death for killing. Others say
the death penalty is a deterrent to further crime.
Of the latter, the claim is simply false, repudiated repeatedly by decades
of statistics from states and countries that both permit and ban the death
As for justice, one can certainly understand the rage of victims' families
and friends, the wish for compensation in kind -- killing for killing --
but laws of all sorts keep us from lashing out and seeking what we think
is justified vengeance when we are wronged.
There is little satisfaction, in the end, from matching killing with
killing, said Sr. Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking and one of the
eras most compelling advocates for abolishing the death penalty. "It is an
illusory thing, like drinking salt water when you are thirsty," Prejean
once said in an interview, "as though by watching another person die you
could ever be healed."
Law and the justice system should mediate between an understandable if raw
wish for revenge and the good of the larger society. The justice system
should not be an accomplice in unbridled retribution.
(source: Editorial, National Catholic Reporter)
DEBUNKING SOME ANTI-DEATH PENALTY MYTHS
CAROL Towarnicky's op-ed on capital punishment is replete with
disinformation. She repeats several anti-death penalty myths:
Myth No. 1: "Evidence suggests that, over time, many innocent people have
been . . . executed."
I would like her to provide the names of some of the innocent people
executed and cite her source.
Myth No. 2: "Even for those who truly are guilty, capital punishment is
imposed unequally, depending on wealth, race and geography."
Congressional testimony in 2001 showed that the federal death penalty was
applied more to whites than minorities. Department of Justice data shows
there are more whites on death row than blacks.
A 1991 and a 2006 Rand Corp. study by Stephen Klein found that white
murderers received the death penalty slightly more often than non-white
murderers. It also examined the sentencing disparity for the race of the
victim. Rand concluded that although those who kill whites did receive the
death penalty more than those who killed blacks, when controlled for
variables such as severity and number of crimes committed, there was no
Most minority victims are killed by other minorities. Is she saying that
blacks kill blacks for racist and classist reasons?
Myth No. 3 (the most erroneous one): "There still is no evidence the death
penalty is a deterrent."
There have been numerous studies from 1975 to the present that capital
punishment deters murder. Ehrlich's 1975 study, 1985 University of North
Carolina, 2006 Emory University - all provide evidence of this.
Michael P. Tremoglie, Philadelphia
(source: Letter to the Editor, Philadelphia Daily News)
Death penalty too permanent for human judgment
Re the Jan. 4 death penalty editorial: The degree of evidence of
criminality and/or how heinous is the crime are subject to human error,
frailties, prejudice, experience and misjudgment. They are most often
subjective determinations, and as such must not be used to commit an
True, there are criminals I agree should be shot by the judge from the
bench at sentencing, but too many factors are involved in a state putting
a person to death.
Ellis Stewart Simring----Tamarac
(source: Letter to the Editor, Florida Sun-Sentinel)
District Attorney to consider death penalty in first-degree murder
case----Ricardo Cortez may face the death penalty
Prosecutors must decide whether to pursue the death penalty against a man
accused of killing his estranged and pregnant wife and wounding her friend
with a shotgun.
Ricardo Cortez, 24, is accused shooting Nikki Fix-Cortez, 21, and her
friend Sam Jantz, 24, on Sept. 16, 2007.
Cortez pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Thursday morning to charges
of 1st-degree murder, attempted 1st-degree murder and 1st-degree assault
with a deadly weapon, among a number of other charges stemming from the
The Weld District Attorney's office now has 60 days to pursue the death
penalty in this case. At the hearing, Cortez agreed to waive his right to
a trial within six months of being charged, which is the law.
Weld District Court Judge James Hartmann Jr. said that should the DA seek
the death penalty, more attorneys could be added to both the defense and
prosecution, which could necessitate more time for attorneys to prepare
and try the case.
If convicted, Cortez could face the death penalty. The minimum possible
sentence for the 1st-degree murder charge is life without parole.
Cortez is scheduled to appear in court 9 a.m. March 11 in Division 12 of
Weld District Court for a trial setting.
According to court affidavits and police records, a man came to the house
in the 4400 block of 6th Street where Jantz lived with his sister and
brother-in-law looking for Fix-Cortez. The man walked into the front door
of the house shortly after Fix-Cortez and Jantz returned to the house.
The couple who own the home, Sara and Alan Karnitz, heard Fix-Cortez
scream and the sound of a shotgun blast. Police said Cortez then
reportedly followed Jantz into the street and fired 3 shots at him.
Cortez turned himself into police shortly thereafter, and Greeley police
found a shotgun on the back seat of his car.
Cortez had been out of jail on bond and was scheduled to be sentenced last
November for a March 2007 incident in which he punched Fix-Cortez in the
face, breaking her nose and jaw, according to court records.
Although Fix-Cortez had requested that a mandatory restraining order
banning him from contact with her be lifted, prosecutors refused to drop
it. A judge had modified the order to allow contact between the 2, but
Cortez was still barred from harassing or intimidating her or having
access to guns or alcohol.
(source: The Greeley Tribune)
Stevens may again face death penalty
A Tippecanoe County judge could decide whether a Cloverdale man convicted
in 1995 of killing a 10-year-old boy he molested will be sentenced to
death -- again.
Last summer, a federal appeals court set aside the death penalty for
Christopher M. Stevens, who admitted to strangling Zachary Snider because
the boy threatened to tell his parents that they engaged in sex.
Putnam County Prosecutor Timothy Bookwalter recently refiled a request for
the death penalty, which he said is set for a pretrial hearing this month
in Tippecanoe Superior Court 2.
"Thankfully, the conviction is still in place," Bookwalter said Thursday.
"I had 120 days to file to have him resentenced."
The murder and molestation of the Cloverdale boy drew statewide attention
and led to the creation of Zachary's Law, which requires convicted sex
offenders to register their addresses in a public database.
The case was transferred to Tippecanoe County from Putnam County because
of pretrial publicity. A Tippecanoe Superior Court 2 jury recommended the
death penalty, which was affirmed by former Judge George Heid.
Stevens was on parole from a child molesting conviction in Marion County
when he killed Zachary in 1993.
His sentence was set aside by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals
last June because the court ruled that Steven's court-appointed attorneys
Bookwalter said he'll learn in late spring whether the Indiana Attorney
General's Office succeeds in convincing the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the
Otherwise, he'll be in Lafayette for a new trial.
Superior Court 2 Judge Thomas Busch on Thursday appointed attorney Robert
Hill of Indianapolis to represent Stevens for retrial of the penalty
(source: Journal and Courier)
Legal experts weigh death penalty reform----State's chief justice wants
appellate judges to handle most of the review process. But others are not
so certain that is the best solution.
A procession of legal experts declared Thursday that the state's manner of
meting out the death penalty had become so bogged down and dogged by
inequities that wholesale repair was needed.
But during the 1st of 3 hearings by a state criminal justice commission
there was little agreement on what would constitute the best fix.
The state's chief justice pushed a constitutional amendment that would
spread the heavy load of death penalty cases now weighing down the
seven-member California Supreme Court among the state's 105 appellate
Several law professors, meanwhile, suggested that California -- with the
nation's most populous death row -- has stretched its legal net too wide
and needs to narrow the number of cases that qualify for capital
Outside the hearing room, death penalty foes talked up fiscal restraint.
As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled plans to slash a $14.5-billion
deficit, they argued it would save money to drop the death penalty and
sentence the convicted to life without parole.
John Van de Kamp, former state attorney general and chairman of the
California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, said the
22-member commission hoped to adopt recommendations in the next six months
to ensure that the state's death penalty is carried out "fairly, justly
and in a more timely manner."
California has the biggest backlog of death penalty cases, and the time
between conviction and execution is double the national average, legal
experts say. The current wait averages more than 17 years.
The state has more than 660 convicts facing death, but has conducted 13
executions since reinstituting capital punishment three decades ago. In
the meantime, about 50 inmates have died of natural causes on death row.
At least 30 inmates have seen their appeals stretch more than a quarter
Chief Justice Ronald George told the commission that the state Supreme
Court has been overwhelmed by death penalty reviews, which now constitute
about a quarter of its workload.
Late last year, the justices unanimously agreed to request that a
constitutional amendment to change to the state's death penalty appeal
process be put before voters, perhaps as soon as November.
Under the proposal, the constitutional requirement that all cases be
subject to Supreme Court review would be adjusted to funnel most cases to
the appellate courts. The high court would consider only cases that could
set legal precedent or that required quick review. It would, however,
retain the authority to review appellate court decisions.
George said he considered the growing backlog of cases "a real crisis"
that needed to be fixed or it would "undermine the rule of law."
The proposal could face long odds in the statehouse, where many lawmakers
are content with a system that has produced a de facto moratorium on
executions. Death penalty supporters could wind up seeking a ballot
initiative to bypass lawmakers.
Several legal experts took exception to George's proposal during the
daylong hearing, saying it might slow the process further by adding
another layer of review.
With more judges reviewing cases instead of a single high court, it also
could further fuel complaints that the death penalty is unfairly applied,
Gerald Kogan, a former Florida chief justice and co-chairman of a
nationwide review of the death penalty, said California's problem was
"you're making too many people eligible for the death penalty."
With 33 "special circumstance" crimes that can qualify a murder suspect
for the death penalty, California has both the slowest and the most
aggressive approach to capital punishment in the nation, he said.
"I'm quite frankly astounded . . . at how long it takes," he said.
To keep the system from bogging down, California should reserve capital
punishment "for the most heinous offenses and culpable offenders," Kogan
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Death penalty cases piling up----Chief justice says it's time to open
review process to lower courts.
Despite legal challenges to the death penalty, California's chief justice
on Thursday pressed ahead with plans to alter how courts will vet the
largest number of capital cases in the country.
Citing decades-long appeals and a backlog that threatens to overwhelm the
high court, Chief Justice Ronald George told state commissioners that now
is the time to relinquish the state Supreme Court's exclusive review of
death penalty cases and open the process to the lower courts.
George, who addressed the Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice
at a Capitol hearing, proposes amending the state Constitution to help fix
a process he calls "dysfunctional." He hopes to have the proposal on the
2008 general ballot or to find a legislator to sponsor the measure.
"The existing system for handing capital appeals in California is
dysfunctional and needs reform," the chief justice told commissioners.
"(T)he current system is not functioning effectively."
But skeptics suggested that spreading out capital cases to the appellate
courts could add another layer to an already notoriously slow appeals
process. A law professor at Thursday's hearing likened George's proposal
to just "rearranging furniture."
With a surge in the death row population over the years currently more
than 660 inmates are awaiting execution George told commissioners that
death penalty reviews alone consume about 20 percent to 25 % of the high
court's caseload, up from about 5 % to 10 % about 2 decades ago.
He pointed out that the number of Supreme Court justices 7 has remained
the same since 1879, while there are 105 state Court of Appeal justices.
George said the state Supreme Court even if it devoted itself exclusively
to capital cases would take about 3 to 4 years to chip away and process
the existing backlog. About 400 death penalty appeals are pending in the
He used words such as "peril," "critical" and "disadvantage" to describe
how the high court's responsibility to litigate and set case law in
crucial civil and criminal matters could be compromised by the massive
death penalty caseload.
"If the Supreme Court cannot fulfill that role, California its people,
its government, its economy, its public safety all would suffer," George
But Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Marshall later told
commissioners that the proposal could, in effect, just add another tier of
lengthy legal review.
"I understand the impetus," the professor said. "But, on some level, they
are rearranging the furniture ."
Under the current system, after a death sentence is handed down, an
automatic appeal process begins in the state Supreme Court. If the court
denies all relief, as it almost always does, the case then moves to the
The appeal then goes to the U.S. Supreme Court with a request for review.
The constitutional case, known as "habeas corpus," goes to federal
district court, then the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, before making
its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Under the proposal, George said the high court will continue to be
"hands-on" and will ultimately review the lower court's opinion. He
recommended sending 30 capital cases to the lower courts initially.
Marshall, who had been influential in commuting death sentences in
Illinois, said the state's unprecedented backlog stems from its breadth of
more than 30 death penalty offenses, a range of special circumstances that
include killing an officer in the line of duty to lying in wait.
Marshall proposed narrowing the scope of death penalty cases to only the
"worst of the worst." That, he said, would greatly diminish the number of
inmates at San Quentin's death row.
Earlier versions of capital punishment in California had fewer special
circumstances, but voters in 1978 changed that, according to Sacramento
attorney Donald H. Heller, who drafted the state's death penalty
"It's something the people wanted," Heller said. "The initiative was very
broad in its scope."
Heller said at the time, he believed the Supreme Court's careful review of
death penalty appeals would take about 10 years not the 17 1/2-year
average cited by legal scholars, the slowest process in the country.
He called George's proposal reasonable, saying it would not undermine
rights to due process and fair hearings. Although Heller has since become
a critic of capital punishment, he said if the state is to continue its
practice, it needs to diminish the backlog.
"If you believe in the law, then you need to take into account what is
clearly an unreasonable delay between sentence of death and a final
decision of the California Supreme Court," he said after the hearing.
"It's a process fraught with delay because no one wants to make a decision
that could result in the death of an innocent person."
For the mother of Terri Lynn Winchell, a Lodi teen murdered in 1981, the
time afforded to inmates is a luxury.
"It just wears you out; you want justice," said Barbara Christian, whose
daughter's body was found in a vineyard 27 years ago this week. "Knowing
that he's alive and well just keeps the pain alive."
Jurors convicted Michael Angelo Morales of the murder in 1983, and his
execution was to be carried out in February 2006 before a last-minute
legal challenge plucked Morales from the death chamber. The state's death
penalty has been in limbo since then, pending legal challenges.
The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice will hold
two more public hearings on the death penalty over the next 2 months. The
commission was created by the state Senate to examine what leads to
(source: Sacramento Bee)
Hammer killing deserves death sentence, prosecutor tells jury
A man facing the death penalty for killing another man with a hammer
should be sentenced to death, a prosecutor told a jury Thursday, but the
man's attorney said he should be spared because he is mentally disabled.
Prosecutors said Ngo interrupted a burglary at his home, and Yonko reacted
by grabbing a hammer that belonged to the victim and beating him to death.
The defense contended that Ngo attacked Yonko rather than let him
burglarize the home and Yonko reacted by striking him but did not mean to
The jury convicted Yonko of felony murder.
If the same jury sentences him to death, another jury would be picked to
decide whether Yonko is "mentally retarded," a legal designation that
would keep him off death row.
Yonko's attorneys have said that a doctor who examined Yonko before his
trial determined he is retarded. They intend to put the expert on the
stand during the penalty phase, although they did not assert he was
disabled during his trial.
Deputy District Attorney Stephen Gallon told the jury that in considering
Yonko's fate, they are allowed to consider his convictions for residential
burglary as well as unproven allegations of rape, arson and assault.
Gallon alleged that Yonko participated in the gang rape of a woman about
20 years ago in Los Angeles, and that the woman would testify during the
He said Yonko told police the sex was consensual.
Defense attorney Elaine Johnson noted the district attorney in Los Angeles
never charged Yonko with rape or any of the crimes prosecutors mentioned.
Johnson said that when Yonko was a child, he moved 100 times in 10 years
with his schizophrenic mother, alcoholic father and 11 sisters and
She said his father was the head of a band of Gypsies and that Yonko was
taught from an early age to scam, pickpocket, lie about his identity and
If he ever attended school, it was sporadically, and he never learned to
read and write, she said.
But Johnson added that Gypsies do not believe in violence and Yonko is not
a killer by nature.
"That is ... an impurity," she said.
What he was an expert in was "peaceful thievery, by trickery and usually
in a group," she said.
Johnson asked the jury to spare her client the ultimate punishment.
"I will ask you to be beacons of light," said Johnson.
She asked the jury to find that, the value of Tony Yonko's life wins over
death, and to decide "whether another human being dies because God has
summoned him or because the warden has summoned him."
(source: San Diego Union-Tribune)
Panel: State must fix death penalty
Leading judges and scholars rendered a grim verdict Thursday on how well
the California justice system is carrying out the ultimate punishment as a
state commission began an unprecedented review of the death penalty.
>From California Chief Justice Ronald George, a death penalty supporter, to
law professors who oppose capital punishment, the theme was consistent
the state's death penalty system is a mess.
George and 6 other witnesses, including a federal appeals court judge and
Florida's former chief justice, proposed a string of reforms to improve
death penalty justice in California, where there are now nearly 670
inmates on death row and where convicts typically spend decades awaiting
But for the most part, many of the proposals called for spending more
money just as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger elsewhere in the building was
proposing dramatic cuts in education, social services and prisons to cope
with a $14 billion budget shortfall.
"The current system is not functioning effectively," George told the
California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. "We're at a
point now where choices must be made."
The hearing in Sacramento was the first of three scheduled to explore the
death penalty system. Thursday's focus was on proposals to ease the
nation's biggest backlog of death row appeals, as well as studies that
show California has applied the death penalty inconsistently.
Former Attorney General John Van de Kamp, chair of the commission,
stressed that the panel will not address the "morality of the death
penalty," only issues related to the handling of capital trials and
appeals. 2 years ago, the state Legislature established the commission, a
cross-section of prosecutors, defense lawyers and other justice experts,
to examine the state's death penalty and other criminal justice issues.
While George and others testified on plans to reduce delays in the appeals
process, other witnesses said California could solve some of its problems
by limiting the types of crimes eligible for the death penalty. The state
now has 33 so-called "special circumstance" crimes that allow prosecutors
to seek the death penalty, ranging from typical offenses such as robbery
to killing during a carjacking or by causing a train wreck.
Critics say that has clogged death row with killers who are not
necessarily "the worst of the worst."
Ellen Kreitzberg, a Santa Clara University law professor, provided a study
of nearly 800 California death sentences that shows the current death
penalty may be too "expansive." Former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice
Gerald Kogan said the overly broad list of crimes that qualify for the
death penalty is the root of California's bloated death row.
"That's unfathomable," said Kogan, who advocates roughly 5 types of
crimes, such as double murder or killing a police officer, that should
qualify for a death penalty trial.
"You are having a problem in this state because the front end of the
system is overloaded," he said.
George, meanwhile, formally introduced his controversial proposal to shift
a share of death penalty appeals from the state Supreme Court to the
state's six intermediate appeals courts, including the San Jose-based 6th
District Court of Appeal. Arthur Alarcon, a federal appeals court judge,
also supported that plan on Thursday, and called for a new super agency of
death row appellate lawyers funded by both the state and federal
governments to handle state and federal appeals.
Both George and Alarcon insist that shifting the state appeals would
reduce the 10-plus years of delays in getting just the first round of
appeals heard by the state Supreme Court. For example, George testified
that there are already 80 death penalty appeals ready to be argued in the
Supreme Court, but doing so would prevent the state's high court from
handling the other crucial civil and criminal issues on its docket.
"Even if the Supreme Court were to become solely a death penalty court, it
would take three or four years to process the backlog of appeals," George
Several witnesses, including Kogan, speculated that George's plan might
actually add to delays and inconsistent rulings in capital cases. George's
proposal would require a constitutional amendment because current state
law requires the Supreme Court to hear death row appeals.
The commission also heard from a number of death penalty foes at the
conclusion of the hearing, including several parents of murder victims.
"I know revenge is not justice," said Lorrain Taylor, whose twin sons were
killed in Oakland by a gunman yet to be found.
The commission will meet again in Los Angeles on Feb. 20 to consider
testimony from defense lawyers who represent murderers in capital trials,
as well as prosecutors who've handled death penalty trials.
(source: Inside Bay Area News)
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