[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----USA, OHIO, VA. IND.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri Jan 25 10:33:59 CST 2008
Give Them Death: 3 Leading Democratic Candidates Support Capital
Opposing the death penalty used to distinguish Democrats from Republicans.
Now, across party lines, death is just another day at the office.
When Clinton, Obama and Edwards took the stage before a mostly
African-American crowd in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Monday night, they came
brimming with concern for the plight of black America. From the
disproportionate effects of the subprime loan crisis to the racially drawn
pitfalls of U.S. healthcare, the black community, said Edwards, "is hurt
worse by poverty than any community in America. And it's our
responsibility, not just for the African-American community, but for
America, as a nation, to take on this moral challenge."
Politicians like to see moral challenges when it's convenient. The
candidates have labeled the war in Iraq, global warming and the economy
"moral challenges" before various audiences in the past few months. But
there's one topic the leading Dems systematically exclude from their
morality crusade, one that begged to be addressed before an
African-American audience in a Southern state: the death penalty.
It's not news that African-Americans are disproportionately represented on
death row. While 12 % of the country is African-American, more than 40
percent of the country's death row population is black -- and although
blacks and whites are murder victims in nearly equal numbers, 80 % of the
prisoners executed since the death penalty was reinstated were convicted
for murders in which the victim was white. Study upon study in states
across the country have discovered racial bias at every stage of the death
penalty process, including one that found that the more "stereotypically
black" a defendant is perceived to be, the more likely that person is to
be sentenced to death. Add to that the fact that over 20 percent of black
defendants who have been executed were convicted by all-white juries, and
the racial reality of the death penalty becomes impossible to ignore.
Sure, all three candidates have given nod to our racist criminal justice
system from time to time. At the South Carolina debate, Barack Obama
acknowledged it as "something that we have to talk about," specifically,
the fact that "African-Americans and whites ... are arrested at very
different rates, are convicted at very different rates [and] receive very
different sentences." Edwards, speaking out on the case of the Jena 6,
last fall, said, "As someone who grew up in the segregated South, I feel a
special responsibility to speak out on racial intolerance." Even Hillary
has labeled the incarceration boom that followed passage of her husband's
crime bill -- for which she lobbied hard -- "unacceptable." When it comes
to criminal justice, she said in Iowa, "I want to have a thorough review
of all of the penalties."
Still, not one leading Democrat is about to make criminal justice reform
-- let alone the death penalty -- central to his or her platform.
Clinton, Obama and Edwards all support capital punishment. It's a position
you'd be hard pressed to find on their websites, and they might not be
bragging about it the way they might have in, say, 2000. Or 1996. Or 1992,
the year their party's pro-death penalty stance was codified in its
official party platform and then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton made
a campaign trail detour to Arkansas, where he presided over the execution
of mentally damaged prisoner Ricky Ray Rector. Nevertheless, all three
hold on to their pro-death penalty stance, as have virtually all leading
Democrats running for office in the past 20 years.
Why so much longstanding support for capital punishment? It is the easiest
way to combat the quadrennial charge that Democrats are "soft on crime."
Opposing the death penalty used to be one way for Democrats to distinguish
themselves from their rivals on the campaign trail -- at least before
Michael Dukakis was lampooned after a 1988 debate in which he failed to
wax bloodthirsty when asked if he'd want to execute a theoretical
rapist/murderer if the victim was his wife, Kitty. The years that followed
saw the Democrats cozy up to capital punishment: The Clinton era brought a
sweeping expansion of the federal death penalty, thanks to the Crime Bill,
and a sharp cut in death row appeals, thanks to the Anti-Terrorism and
Effective Death Penalty Act. State executions spiked in the late '90s,
more than doubling between 1996 and 1999.
But times have changed. Since 2000, executions have been in steady
decline, and not because of the Democratic Party establishment. The
Supreme Court has outlawed the execution of mentally retarded persons and
prisoners convicted as juveniles; a revolution in DNA testing has put
wrongful convictions on the front pages of newspapers nationwide; and in
December, New Jersey became the first state in the country to pass
legislation abolishing the death penalty in 40 years. Currently,
executions are stalled altogether, as states await a ruling in the
landmark Supreme Court case Baze v. Rees, which examines lethal injection
as it is carried out in 36 states.
Given the climate, you would think the time is ripe for the Dems to
reconsider the death penalty -- perhaps even dust it off as a way to
differentiate themselves from the Republicans this November.
You would be wrong.
Obama, Edwards and Clinton have remained practically mute about the death
penalty in the past few months, reiterating their support only when asked
-- and giving heavily qualified answers. Take Obama, for starters. In a
2004 debate against Alan Keyes, his opponent in the race for U.S. Senate,
Obama declared that "there are extraordinarily heinous crimes --
terrorism, the harm of children -- in which [the death penalty] may be
appropriate." "We have to have this ultimate sanction in certain
circumstances," he said. "I think it's important that we preserve that."
Obama repeated his stance in his 2006 memoir, The Audacity of Hope, where
he invoked crimes "so heinous ... that the community is justified in
expressing the full measure of its outrage."
On the campaign trail, Obama has continued to characterize the death
penalty as a necessary evil, while also boasting about his role in trying
to perfect it. "I am somebody who led on reforming a death penalty system
that was broken in Illinois -- that nobody thought was good politics, but
was the right thing to do," he said on the night of the South Carolina
In fact, it was good politics. Obama's primary role in his much-touted
death penalty reform was a successful push to videotape police
interrogations in a state where violently coerced confessions had sent at
least 13 men to death row. Republican Gov. George Ryan -- who actually
co-chaired execution kingpin George W. Bush's 1st election campaign -- had
had a moratorium in place since January 2000. By the time Obama's
legislation passed, 4 innocent men had already been pardoned -- and Ryan
had emptied Illinois' death row. In fact, before the scandal of Illinois'
death penalty system broke -- a scandal born in police interrogation rooms
on Chicago's South Side, where Obama had been a community organizer --
Obama seemed happy to bolster capital punishment in his state. As a
freshly elected state senator in 1997, he voted to expand the death
penalty to include the murderers of senior citizens or the disabled. If
the Democrats were truly outraged at the injustice of the American justice
system, Obama would face serious questions about his support of
state-sanctioned murder and not about what went up his nose decades ago.
Today, the Obama camp likes to paint its man as anti-death penalty with a
few exceptions. "Obama opposes the death penalty except for terrorists,
serial killers and child-murderers," two reporters wrote in the Hill last
spring, "but his campaign added that he does not support the death penalty
as it is currently administered in this country."
Or, as one blogger wrote last year, "In a nutshell: He's pro-death
penalty, but he is also pro-let's not execute the wrong guy."
Who isn't "pro-let's not execute the wrong guy"?
If Obama's Chicago years dampened his support for the death penalty, one
would think Edwards' Senate tenure and time in the courtroom would have
turned him off to the death penalty altogether. His years in office saw
the exonerations of three death row prisoners from North Carolina's death
row, a 2001 study finding deep racial bias in the state's death penalty
system, and a historic vote in 2003 that would make the state senate the
first legislative body in the South to pass moratorium legislation. Yet he
held on to his support for the death penalty.
When Edwards was asked at the Yearly Kos convention last summer to
reconcile his "two Americas" rhetoric with support of a punishment that
disproportionately condemns poor people of color to die (full disclosure:
I was the questioner), Edwards gave a lengthy answer that, boiled down,
called for death to killers of children. More recently, on NPR's Talk of
the Nation, responding to a caller concerned about his support for capital
punishment, Edwards acknowledged the racial bias, the problem of wrongful
convictions, unequal legal representation -- he even talked about the
trouble with "death qualified juries." Nevertheless, he defended his
pro-death penalty stance.
And then there's Hillary. Perhaps even more than Obama or Edwards, Hillary
has avoided discussing capital punishment on the campaign trail. As a
senator representing a state that got rid of the death penalty during her
tenure, at the same time that the Ashcroft and Gonzales-led Department of
Justice sought to prosecute more federal capital cases in New York,
Hillary has had precious little to say about the death penalty in the past
few years. She supports it, of course -- has for years -- and she, like
her opponents, also supports "reforms." In 2003, she co-sponsored the
Innocence Protection Act, to make DNA testing available for individuals
sentenced to death under federal law. Penance, perhaps, for having helped
to curtail death row appeals in the '90s.
Regardless of who gets the Democratic nomination, the death penalty is
certain to be off the table in the general election, where tough talk on
terrorism will trump domestic criminal justice policy discussions. "I
doubt that candidates from either side will raise the death penalty issue,
though it might come up as a question," says Richard Dieter, executive
director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "Because this issue has
become so multisided, each position on the death penalty has drawbacks. If
you support it, you have to admit its flaws. If you oppose it, you may not
raise it for fear of being out of the mainstream."
As opposition to state-sanctioned killing becomes more and more
mainstream, however, the Democrats should be able to muster the courage to
come out against it too. But there's no sign that that is a "moral
challenge" they are ready to take on. Rather, the pro-death penalty,
pro-"reform" stance occupied by Obama, Edwards and Clinton is little more
than a gift to capital punishment supporters who claim the machinery of
death just needs some fine-tuning.
(source: Column, Liliana Segura, AlterNet.com)
Federal judge in Ohio stripped of 5 death penalty cases
In Cincinnati, a chief federal judge took away 5 death penalty cases from
a colleague criticized by some prosecutors for taking as many as 8 years
to issue appeals rulings.
Judge Sandra Beckwith, chief of the U.S. District Court for southern Ohio,
said she made the unusual move to ease the workload of U.S. District Judge
Beckwith said decision was not made in response to complaints about Rice's
handling of capital cases. The decision was mutual, she added.
"Judge Rice has a very heavy docket, and it seemed logical to give him
some relief," she said. "These are enormous cases. They take a lot of
2 of the appeals removed from Rice's docket Thursday were filed almost 8
years ago. The most recent case was filed 3 years ago.
"It's like a black hole in the universe," said Hamilton County Prosecutor
Joe Deters, whose Cincinnati-based office handled 3 of the cases. "Once a
case goes in there, we don't hear from him for 8 years."
Delays are a problem because victims' families are left in limbo as the
appeals make their way through the courts, Deters said. The legal system
also suffers because witnesses and evidence are difficult to track down if
federal judges wait years before ordering a new trial, he said.
District judges review death penalty appeals to determine whether mistakes
were made in lower courts. A 1995 federal study found that it took an
average of just under 3 years to resolve appeals of federal death penalty
A message seeking comment was left Friday with Judge Rice, who is based in
Dayton and was appointed by President Carter in 1980.
Rice is a thoughtful judge who thinks that death penalty cases should be
closely scrutinized, said Bill Gallagher, a Cincinnati lawyer and death
"His decisions indicate an extremely deliberative process by him,"
Gallagher said. "He has handled some extremely complex cases."
Beckwith said the death penalty cases taken away from Rice will go to her
docket for now but could be reassigned to other judges later.
The cases deserve a fair hearing but also need to be resolved in a timely
fashion, said Beckwith, who is based in Cincinnati and was appointed to
the court by President George H. W. Bush in 1992.
(source: Associated Press)
Ohio death row: Visitors fight for the right to touch
More than 60 people came together from various parts of the state to Ohio
State Penitentiary (OSP) on Jan. 19 to hold a news conference and rally
where they argued for contact visits on death row and called for an end to
executions. Many there were relatives of prisoners on death row. Some
participants brought letters with them addressed to the warden of OSP,
where 145 death row prisoners are held.
Saadiqah Amatullah Hasan, spouse of Siddique Abdullah Hasan, one of the
wrongly convicted Lucasville 5, read a letter expressing the hardship for
her daughter seeing her father unnecessarily shackled and chained. She
described what it would mean to her daughter to have the consolation of
Hasan's loving touch.
The family of a death-sentenced prisoner, James Conway, brought his
excellent letter, which was tearfully read by his sister, Jennifer. His
young son and daughter had also written letters. Conway has filed
litigation on the issue of contact visits, which he believes help with
Jean White, mother of a man on death row, when contacted by him about this
campaign, had collected 30 letters. At the press conference she read a
letter that came from a supporter in the U.K. There was also a letter from
a supporter in Australia.
Marquita Dennis experienced the tragedy of having her son executed in
2004. She told what it was like to not be able to hold him until just
before his execution. She vowed to get active in the movement against the
Attorney Staughton Lynd explained that several of the states that allow
death row prisoners to have contact visits are in the South, including
Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee.
Everyone then proceeded to the entrance to OSP. A prison official was
already ready to receive the packets of letters to the warden which were
presented ceremoniously by Theresa Lyons of Loved Ones Of Prisoners
(LOOP). She made it clear that this was the beginning of a campaign and
would be followed up until there was a policy change.
Surrounding a huge banner proclaiming, "Stop the Executions!"
demonstrators rallied in the subfreezing weather with signs saying, "A Hug
is a Human Right," "Let a Mother Hold Her Son," and "Overturn All the
Lucasville Convictions." The chants were on the same themes and others
such as, "Rich men walk, poor men die! Equal justice, that's a lie!" and
"All the prisoners should be free! Tear down the walls of OSP!"
The coalition that put together the action was made up of the Cleveland
Lucasville 5 Defense Committee, LOOP, Youngstown Prisoners Forum and
CUREOhio. Other organizations represented at the event were the Campaign
to End the Death Penalty-Toledo, Free Siddique Abdullah Hasan Coalition,
New Black Panther Party-Cleveland, and Black on Black Crime, Inc.
(source: Workers World)
There is no fail-safe in the death penalty
Nearly a dozen years after participating in a murder, after IQ tests
showed he was mentally retarded, after his case went to the U.S. Supreme
Court and changed the nation's death penalty practices, after his
execution was set for 2005, Daryl Atkins finally got the sentence he
deserved: mandatory life in prison.
A York-Poquoson circuit judge commuted Atkins death sentence, ruling last
week that prosecutors had withheld evidence from a jury that might have
kept Atkins off death row. The decision had nothing to do with the
long-running debate over Atkins'degree of mental impairment. It was about
what's fair and what isn't.
Atkins and the other man accused in the 1996 murder of Airman 1st Class
Eric Nesbitt each said the other pulled the trigger. When the other man
gave a statement that conflicted with forensic evidence, somebody turned
off the tape recorder, and prosecutors coached the man to change his
statement. An audio expert said 16 minutes of tape were missing from the
recording of the statement that implicated Atkins, but no one told Atkins
Atkins benefited from the willingness of two people a defense lawyer and
a judge to right that wrong. The lawyer for the co-defendant, Leslie
Smith of Hampton, went to the State Bar, the agency that regulates the
legal profession, shortly after the interview with his client. He wondered
whether he should tell Atkins' lawyer about the coaching, which had helped
ensure that Atkins got the death penalty. The Bar's response: Smiths first
obligation was to his client, and telling Atkins' attorney about the
coaching might jeopardize Smith's client. Last year Smith again went to
the Bar with the information he thought might spare Atkins' life. This
time Bar officials told him to tell a judge.
The case went back to Judge Prentis Smiley Jr., who had presided over
Atkins' earlier trials .
Smiley was troubled by Smith's testimony about the coaching. "There was
favorable, potential impeachable evidence possessed by the commonwealth,"
he said, ordering Atkins' death sentence commuted to life in prison.
The good news is that the system worked in this case. It took more than a
decade, as it sometimes must, but Smith and Smiley recognized an error and
corrected it before Atkins was executed.
That's the saving grace about a life sentence. It takes away a persons
freedom and keeps society safe while allowing for the possibility that
somebody made a mistake in the finding of guilt or in the sentencing.
Mistakes happen. On Tuesday in Colorado, a man serving a life sentence for
a 1987 murder walked out of prison after DNA tests pointed to another
suspect. Defense lawyers and special prosecutors said crucial information
was withheld from the mans trial lawyers.
Such cases are popping up all over the country. Last year New Jersey
replaced its death penalty with mandatory life in prison. Other states,
including Florida, have executions on hold while the Supreme Court decides
on lethal injections.
Humans make mistakes. The criminal justice system sometimes gets it wrong.
Daryl Atkins' case is one more reminder that our system is fallible. The
only way to ensure that we don't kill someone in error is to not kill at
(source: Editorial, Virginian-Pilot)
Brizzi to seek death penalty for 1 suspect----Defendant police say was
identifed as shooter is only one to face murder charges
New charges against Hovey suspects----Brizzi request for death penalty
Hardly a single shot missed its mark when Ronald Davis fired at his
victims as they huddled behind a bed in a Hovey Street home, prosecutors
Charges in Hovey Street slayings
The 5 men accused in the quadruple slayings Jan. 14 had initial hearings
Thursday. A Marion Superior Court judge set bond and entered pleas of not
Ronald Davis, 30: 4 counts of murder, conspiracy to commit robbery,
attempted robbery, burglary and unlawful possession of a firearm by a
serious violent felon.
Maximum penalty: Death.
Jasper Frazier, 36: Conspiracy to commit robbery, attempted robbery,
burglary and carrying a handgun without a license.
Maximum penalty: 101 years.
Donte Hobson, 30: Conspiracy to commit robbery and unlawful possession of
a firearm by a serious violent felon.
Maximum penalty: 20 years.
Zarumin Coleman Jr., 22: Conspiracy to commit robbery, unlawful possession
of a firearm by a serious violent felon and criminal confinement.
Maximum penalty: 73 years.
Bond: $100,000, but he is being held without bond in other cases.
Tommy C. Warren, 24: Conspiracy to commit robbery.
Maximum penalty: 50 years.
A forensic pathologist found 10 entry wounds on the bodies of the two
mothers and their young children, and police found 10 .40-caliber shell
casings on a bedroom floor. Three of the four victims died from gunshots
to their heads, according to charging documents filed Thursday against
The carnage and the ages of the victims caused Marion County Prosecutor
Carl Brizzi to seek the death penalty against Davis for what he called "an
act of domestic terrorism that shocks the conscience of the community."
Davis was the only defendant to face murder charges. All are charged with
conspiracy to commit robbery, and some face handgun charges.
Brizzi said prosecutors believe the accounts of other defendants who
identify Davis as the shooter. He said evidence supported that conclusion,
but he would not be more specific.
The attempted robbery and shooting on Jan. 14 resulted in the deaths of
Gina Hunt, 24; her 23-month-old son, Jordan Hunt; Andrea Yarrell, 24; and
her 5-month-old daughter, Charlii Daye-Yarrell. The mothers are buried
side by side at Crown Hill Cemetery, each in a casket with her child.
Prosecutors said Davis and Jasper Frazier, 36, broke into the house in the
3200 block of North Hovey Street through a window, seeking a cache of
marijuana and money.
When the women told them the drugs weren't there, Davis fired a
.40-caliber Glock semiautomatic handgun, according to a probable cause
affidavit prepared by police.
Donte Hobson, 30, and Zarumin Coleman Jr., 22, waited in a black SUV on
Hovey Street, prosecutors said.
Tommy Warren, 24, who knew the women, did not participate, prosecutors
said. He had agreed to link up with the men at a meeting spot but left
before the others arrived, prosecutors said. Warren was involved in
planning the robbery, prosecutors said.
According to some defendants' police statements, Warren told them there
might be marijuana at the house. He faces a single conspiracy charge.
"Without Tommy Warren," Brizzi said, "I don't think this robbery and
murder would have even occurred."
Prosecutors had no information linking Hunt and Yarrell to drug-dealing,
Brizzi said. They didn't own the house.
Davis has repeatedly fingered Frazier as the shooter. During his
arraignment Thursday afternoon in Marion Superior Court, Davis appeared
surprised when Judge Mark Stoner mentioned the death penalty motion, filed
less than an hour earlier.
He shook his head back and forth and looked at his public defender, Kevin
"Ronnie Davis did not shoot and kill those women and children," McShane
said outside court.
"When all the evidence is presented and we have a trial on this case, I
believe he will be found not guilty."
McShane declined to discuss Davis' other charges.
When prosecutors seek the death penalty, Indiana's rules of criminal
procedure require the appointment of 2 defense attorneys qualified to
handle such a case. McShane said he might not stay on the case.
Brizzi last sought the death penalty against Desmond Turner, one of two
men charged in the June 2006 slayings of 7 people on Hamilton Avenue on
Indianapolis' Near Eastside. Turner's case is pending in another
The filing in Davis' case cites five statutory aggravators, any one of
which could be used to seek the death penalty: The children were younger
than 12; multiple victims were killed; and the murders occurred during the
course of a robbery and burglary, both of which are felonies.
Brizzi said other people are under investigation after claims that they
provided guns or other items used in the crime.
Indiana law allows suspects in some felony crimes that result in homicide
to be charged with murder, even if they didn't kill the victim.
Prosecutors did not file murder counts for the other 4 defendants. "They
didn't know that Davis would take that action," Brizzi said.
Davis was released from prison in October after serving time for criminal
confinement, battery and dealing cocaine, according to Indiana Department
of Correction records. Brizzi said Davis has worked as a hair stylist.
The courtroom was under heightened security during Thursday's staggered
hearings, and the 5 defendants have been isolated from one another and
other inmates at Marion County Jail.
Several deputies stood at the door to usher visitors through a metal
detector. Many spectators declined to speak with reporters, and 1 woman
wrapped a scarf around her face as she passed television cameras in the
Most seats in the gallery were filled, with supporters of the victims and
each defendant clustered in different areas.
Leslie Yarrell, the father of Andrea and grandfather of Charlii, said he
supported the prosecutor's decision to seek the death penalty against
"Justice was served, I guess," he said. "I put it in the Lord's hands."
(source: Indianapolis Star)
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