[Deathpenalty] death penalty news---CALIF., COLO., ILL., GA., VA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Fri May 2 10:52:10 CDT 2008
No death penalty for San Pablo woman charged in deaths of 2 children
The District Attorney's Office will not pursue the death penalty for a San
Pablo woman awaiting trial for the deaths of 2 of her children, a
prosecutor said today.
Lavida Davis, 25, is accused of intentionally smothering 6-week-old Darion
Lee Johnson in San Pablo in September 2006, and 3-week-old Emmanuel Lee
Beals in Oakland in February 2004.
Emmanuel's death was not considered a homicide until police took another
look at the circumstances in the wake of Darion's death. Charged with 2
counts each of murder and assault on a child resulting in death, the
multiple murder charges made a candidate for capital punishment if she had
Deputy district attorney Lynn Uilkema said the District Attorney Robert
Kochly made the final decision not to seek death based on a recommendation
by a committee comprised of top prosecutors.
No trial date for Davis has been set because of an unresolved issue of
whether she can be prosecuted at the same time for 2 deaths that occurred
in different counties. A hearing on the issue is pending.
(source: Contra Costa Times)
Death penalty mulled at forum
Michael Radelet had Ted Bundy's ashes in his closet for several months. A
little weird, maybe, but all part of a day's job for one of the nation's
leading death penalty experts and activists.
Radelet, chair of the Sociology Department at CU-Boulder, has made it his
mission to ask Amerians: Is the bang worth the buck? Are there other ways
we can achieve the goals of crime deterrence and punishment, other than
On Tuesday evening, Radelet was joined by Sister Maureen Fenlon, national
coordinator of the Dead Man Walking School Theater Project, to lead a
forum in Ouray on the death penalty.
"Something has to happen to the American soul to rethink how we handle
punishment," Fenlon told audience members. "Punishment is always done in
the name of the people. Do we, the people, think this punishment is a good
While Radelet and Fenlon are accustomed to speaking in front of much
larger audiences (Radelet's last speaking engagement drew 800 people),
Ouray High School drama teacher Nancy Nixon, who organized the forum, said
that both were pleased with the modest turnout at Tuesday's forum.
"They thought our community was receptive, and asked great questions,"
Nixon said. "I just thought it was incredible. A friend told me it was
life-altering for her. It was such a mixture of fact and act a testament
to the power of activism."
Nixon organized the forum as part of the Dead Man Walking Theater Project,
which culminates with student performances of the play "Dead Man Walking,"
this Thursday and Friday at the Ouray School.
Radelet had to return to his duties at CU earlier this week. But Fenlon
(who lives in New Orleans) has stayed on in Ouray, speaking with students
at Ouray School, and leading a discussion with audience and cast members
following each performance of the play on Thursday and Friday nights. Her
main message is one of "activism through the arts."
"It is the only way to provoke a discourse," she said. "Knowledge is not
enough to move people, and change history. When the human heart comes face
to face with suffering; you don't argue with that suffering. People are
changed by having their hearts moved." This, she said, is the reason she
is so deeply involved with the Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project.
Radelet was trained as a medical sociologist, but soon found that
"...hanging out in prisons was much more interesting than hanging out in
He has since made a career out of studying the history and merits of the
death penalty in the U.S., and has spent extensive time with prisoners on
death row, as well as with their families.
The United States is the only western, developed country in the world
which has the death penalty, (and one of only a handful of countries
worldwide which executes juveniles). According to Amnesty International,
in the year 2007, 88% of all known executions took place in the following
five countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the U.S.
"These are not countries we generally share human rights goals with,"
In the United States, the estimated cost of each execution varies from
state to state. In Florida, as an example, it is $3.2 million, compared to
the $600,000 estimated cost of life imprisonment without parole.
The proportion of Americans who support the death penalty is currently
split right down the middle, according to a recent Gallup poll. Statistics
indicate that it is not an effective deterrent to violent crime; states
without the death penalty have lower homicide rates.
Actor, author and director Tim Robbins wrote the stage play "Dead Man
Walking" in 2002 at the suggestion of death row activist Sister Helen
Prejean, with the idea of having it performed for one year at several
school and universities. However, the power of the story to stir
discussion in local communities resulted in creation of the Dead Man
Walking School Theater Project and the play continues to be performed at
Ouray's production is directed by Nancy Nixon, assisted by Alyssa Preston.
Cast members are Raquel King, Stephen Baker, Lyndsie Mayfield, Kirsten
Hitchcox, Hannah Hollenbeck, Rachel Mhoon, Arielle Baker, Heidi Duce, Jake
Abell, Kaleb Sackman, Jacob Knowles, Jake Stone, Brian Whitlatch, Peter
Felde, Forrest Ruby, Tommy Stovicek and Cody Geist. The production crew is
Ian Hebert, Stephanie Hanshaw, Katherine Gillis, Forrest Ruby, Tommy
Stovicek, Kelsey Winfrey, Neil Pieper, Carol Hendricks and Shauna Davis.
Prosecutors respond to Dugan's death penalty objection
DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett has filed his response to the
objection to the death penalty made by Brian Dugan's defense team.
Both sides will argue their case June 5 before DuPage County Judge George
Dugan, 51, is awaiting trial for the 1983 kidnapping, rape and murder of
10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville. If convicted, Birkett said he
intends to seek the death penalty for the twice-convicted killer.
Prosecutors say Dugan admitted his guilt in the Nicarico case during
protected plea negotiations for the 1985 murder of 7-year-old Melissa
Ackerman of Somonauk -- a case similar to Nicarico's -- and the 1984
abduction, rape and murder of Geneva nurse Donna Schnorr, 27.
During Dugan's last court appearance, defense attorneys filed five motions
objecting to the death penalty.
A sixth motion challenging the new Illinois death penalty statute was
filed last month, calling it "illogical and absurd".
During Dugan's brief court appearance Thursday, the state appellate
defender's office filed a motion seeking additional DNA discovery. Jury
selection for Dugan's trial is set to begin in January.
(source: Suburban Chicago News)
It's inaccurate, unfair, ineffective
Georgia is home to many firsts. We were the 1st state to implement
electronic voting statewide, the 1st to lower the voting age from 21 to
18, and the 1st to grant married women full property rights. Next week,
Georgia plans to achieve another, more dubious, first. We may be the 1st
state to execute an inmate after a nationwide 6-month de facto moratorium
on capital punishment.
Across the country, the death penalty has been on hold while the U.S.
Supreme Court considered whether Kentucky's 3-drug lethal injection
protocol constituted cruel and unusual punishment. In mid-April, in a 7-2
decision, the court upheld the Kentucky procedure. 7 of the 9 justices
wrote opinions, indicating how far we are from reaching a consensus on
In particular, Justice John Paul Stevens' opinion gives one pause. Relying
on his 33 years of experience on the Supreme Court, Stevens reached the
conclusion that the death penalty itself is unconstitutional. It
represents, he wrote, "the pointless and needless extinction of life with
only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes."
These are powerful words coming from an associate justice who voted to
bring back the death penalty to our state and the nation more than 30
years ago in Gregg v. Georgia.
In Gregg, the court upheld Georgia's death penalty statute with the
understanding that procedures would be in place to prevent its
discriminatory or arbitrary application. But, as this newspaper reported
after a 2-year investigation, quoting former Chief Justice Norman Fletcher
of the Georgia Supreme Court, "It's like a roulette wheel."
There were 2,328 murder convictions in Georgia from 1995-2004, but only 57
death sentences were imposed, and of those, 8 were later overturned. Not
all murder cases are death penalty eligible; of the 1,315 that were, only
127 - fewer than one in 10 - went to trial with the state seeking the
Everyone agrees the death penalty was intended to be reserved for the
worst of the worst, and everyone knows it simply doesn't work out that
way. All deliberate, unjustified takings of human life, are, in the words
of the Georgia statute, "vile, horrible, and inhumane."
Still, as the law recognizes, some are more vile, more horrible and
inhumane than others. They are not necessarily the ones that draw the
Geographical disparity plagues the system. One example: Prosecutors
outside metropolitan Atlanta are far more likely to seek the death penalty
for murders that involve armed robbery. Some prosecutors are simply more
likely to seek the death penalty, making the punishment turn not on what
the defendant did, but on where he did it.
Moreover, discrimination still poisons the process. The
Journal-Constitution's investigation found that Georgia prosecutors were
more than twice as likely to seek the death penalty when the victim was
white. A just-released study found that in Houston, a black defendant is
significantly more likely than a white defendant to be sentenced to death.
Even if we could control for these unacceptable disparities, it is an
unsettling fact that we will never eradicate the possibility of human
error. Since 1973, 127 people on death row have been exonerated. 5 of them
were in Georgia. With the availability of DNA testing, these numbers are
on the rise.
The death penalty is not the only way we can deter murderous crime and
keep dangerous people off the streets. Most states, including Georgia,
authorize sentences of life without parole. In public opinion polls,
support for the death penalty drops significantly when life without parole
is offered as an alternative.
The social and economic costs of capital punishment appear to be
staggering. And yet, there is no convincing evidence that the death
penalty deters offenders from killing.
In a 1995 national poll, police chiefs ranked the death penalty last among
effective ways to reduce violent crime.
Shouldn't the General Assembly study the matter, determine what the costs
are and consider whether that money can be, as the police chiefs think,
Why not be the 1st state to complete a 21st-century evaluation of the
fairness, the accuracy and the social utility of capital punishment?
(source: opinion; Anne Emanuel is a professor of law at Georgia State
University who chaired the American Bar Association's Death Penalty
Assessment Team for Georgia from 2004-06----Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Murderer's death sentence overturned
An appellate judge has overturned an Augusta death sentence imposed nearly
21 years ago.
Judge John E. Morse Jr. ruled Ernest U. Morrison's convictions for rape,
robbery and murder should stand, but the death sentence must be reversed
for ineffective assistance of counsel.
Mr. Morrison's lead defense attorney, O.L. Collins, not only did not do
anything to prepare for trial, he advocated for a death sentence for his
client, wrote Judge Morse, of the Eastern Judicial Circuit, who was
assigned Mr. Morrison's habeas corpus petition, an appellate step in which
the defendant challenges the legality of his punishment.
Mr. Morrison, 47, pleaded guilty in Richmond County Superior Court and
waived his right to a jury trial on the issue of punishment. He was
sentenced to death for the Jan. 9, 1987, murder of Mary Edna Griffin.
District Attorney Ashley Wright, the latest prosecutor to inherit the case
in the past 2 decades, received a copy of the judge's 55-page order
"We have to talk to the (victim's) family and digest the order before
making any final decision," Ms. Wright said.
Russ Williard of the attorney general's office, which defends the state
when death row cases are appealed, said attorneys are reviewing the
decision. Either side may appeal Judge Morse's ruling to the Georgia
Supreme Court, or Mr. Morrison's case could be returned to Augusta for a
new sentencing trial.
Mrs. Griffin, 54, and her husband had allowed Mr. Morrison to stay at
their home for a few days. They didn't know he had just escaped from a
South Carolina jail.
Judge Morse noted in his ruling that evidence of Mr. Morrison's guilt was
so overwhelming, nothing an attorney did would have changed the
conviction. Thus, he found no reason to set aside the guilty plea.
The same was not true of the death sentence, the judge wrote.
The 1987 sentencing judge might have been swayed to sentence Mr. Morrison
to life in prison instead of death, but his attorneys did nothing to
uncover and present such evidence, Judge Morse wrote. Mr. Collins, now
deceased, did not even read the discovery provided by the prosecutor, he
wrote. The 2nd attorney appointed two weeks before trial simply did not
have time to prepare, the judge wrote.
Mr. Collins' failure to investigate was aggravated by his actual advocacy
for a death sentence, Judge Morse wrote. Mr. Collins even concocted
evidence to support his argument that Mr. Morrison deserved to die, he
JAN. 9, 1987: Ernest Morrison rapes and murders Mary Edna Griffin.
OCT. 30-NOV. 2, 1987: Mr. Morrison pleads guilty and receives a death
NOV. 10, 1988: Georgia's Supreme Court affirms on direct appeal.
AUG. 9, 1989: Mr. Morrison files a state habeas corpus petition.
SEPT. 16, 1992: A habeas judge orders a new trial for Mr. Morrison on the
issue of mental retardation and sends the case back to Richmond County
MARCH 5, 1999: A jury rules that Mr. Morrison is not mentally retarded. 3
more years pass before a trial court denies a motion for a new trial.
APRIL 8, 2005: An amended habeas corpus petition is filed for Mr.
APRIL 18: A judge rules Mr. Morrison is entitled to a new sentencing
(source: Augusta Chronicle)
Va. seeks to lift stay of execution----State asks Supreme Court to permit
death sentence for man who's filed a challenge
Virginia authorities want the U.S. Supreme Court to lift the stay of
execution it granted Christopher Scott Emmett last year shortly before he
was to die by lethal injection.
Emmett was spared execution on Oct. 17 while the justices considered a
challenge to Kentucky's lethal-injection procedures. Kentucky uses the
same 3 drugs as other states, including Virginia.
Last month the divided court allowed lethal injections to resume, but also
opened the door to more lethal-injection challenges. Emmett has such a
case pending in the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals set
to be argued May 14.
Emmett, 36, bludgeoned John F. Langley to death during a robbery on April
26, 2001, in a Danville motel room where the 2 roofing company workers
were staying. Langley, 43, was from Roanoke Rapids, N.C.
While execution dates for three other inmates in Virginia are pending, a
new date for Emmett cannot be set while the Supreme Court's stay remains
in effect. The Virginia attorney general's office wants the stay lifted.
"Over 6 years ago, a jury determined that Emmett should be put to death,"
the state lawyers said in a motion now before the justices.
They point out that the death sentence has been upheld by all the federal
and state courts with the authority to review it, and they argue, "the
commonwealth's interest in executing Emmett without further delay is
Emmett's lawyers counter that given the nearness of May 14, "it is
unlikely that Virginia would even be able to carry out Emmett's execution
before the argument, at which point the Fourth Circuit would be free to
rule on Emmett's appeal."
Emmett's stay is set to be considered by the justices May 15, the day
after the appeals court arguments.
Carl Tobias, a professor in the University of Richmond's School of Law,
said the Emmett case could become a model for new lethal-injection
challenges in other states.
"This has got to be one of the first ones," he said. "I think his lawyers
made the right argument -- we're right before the Fourth Circuit, don't
cut us off now," Tobias said.
Emmett's lawyers say the Kentucky case set the standard for considering a
cruel and unusual punishment challenge to lethal injection based on
whether there is a "substantial risk the chemicals would not be properly
They contend Virginia's procedures differ from those in Kentucky and that
evidence has "powerfully demonstrated that this risk exists because of
Virginia's unique and uniquely dangerous lethal injection practices."
The Virginia attorney general's office disagrees that procedures in the
two states differ. It contends that the Kentucky case holds that a stay
should be granted only in cases where the procedure "creates a
demonstrated risk of severe pain" and that the risk is "substantial" when
compared to known and available alternatives.
"At the very least, the Fourth Circuit should be required to make this
determination, especially in a case from Virginia which employs
lethal-injection procedures virtually identical to those of Kentucky."
(source: Richmond Times-Dispatch)
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