[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, TENN., GA., N.C., USA, PENN.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun May 11 11:09:08 CDT 2008
State needs innocence commission
A poignant drama unfolded in the state Capitol last week that should have
been witnessed by all Texans.
9 men at a head table in the Senate chamber looked out at a sea of faces
and shared stories of lost freedom. Unjustly convicted in Texas courts,
each was locked away in prison until the truth of his innocence was
established, most of them through DNA tests.
The first to speak, James Lee Woodard, lost 27 years after the travesty of
a wrongful conviction in Dallas County. Brandon Moon spoke of his lost 17
years. And Charles Chatman, 27 years. James Curtis Giles, 10 years. Carlos
Lavernia, 15 years. Alejandro Hernandez, 13 years. Billy James Smith, 19
years. James Waller, 10 years. Thomas McGowan Jr., 23 years.
Some told their stories with passion and resolve, others with sadness. The
facts chill to the bone. They reveal how scant or sketchy evidence, faulty
witness identification, faulty forensics and gamesmanship by prosecutors
helped railroad innocent people and let the guilty get away.
"It was a nightmare," said Mr. McGowan, erroneously picked out of a photo
lineup by a rape victim in Richardson in 1985. "It could happen to your
kids; it could happen to you."
Lawmakers in Texas must do something about that ghastly possibility. Eight
lawmakers were in the audience Thursday to hear the testimonials of the
exonerated men. Also attending were legal experts, judges, police brass
and other law enforcement officials.
They gathered at the invitation of Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston, who has
championed the forMation of a state innocence commission to dissect cases
of exonerated people and recommend ways to improve the system. The concept
is a sound one and has been adopted by at least 5 states.
It's needed badly in Texas, which has 33 DNA-established exonerations to
date, more than any other state. Seventeen are from Dallas County, more
than in any other U.S. county.
News flashes about Dallas cases obscure the fact that local exonerations
would not be achieved were it not for the sound practice of storing
biological evidence in all criminal cases. No other Texas county has done
that; one can only imagine how many wrongly convicted people from the 253
other Texas counties have no shot at DNA exoneration. A special commission
could recommend best practices for evidence storage, among a long list of
other law enforcement procedures.
Credit goes to several local officials for attending Mr. Ellis' summit and
pledging to work to improve justice. They include District Attorney Craig
Watkins, Republican Sen. Bob Deuell, Democratic Rep. Terri Hodge,
Democratic Rep. Paula Pierson, Dallas Assistant Police Chief Ron Waldrop
and Richardson Police Chief Larry Zacharias. Two judges from the Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals Barbara Hervey and Cheryl Johnson offered
We hope the list of participants reflects momentum for the Ellis proposal
after years of indifference and hostility in the Legislature. His
legislation cleared the Senate last year but was snuffed out in a House
Roadblocks must be eliminated in next year's lawmaking session, and Mr.
Ellis deserves robust support from the Dallas-area delegation.
In fact, a Dallas Republican should step forward to sponsor the bill in
the House. That would provide the political and geographic balance to help
Mr. Ellis, a Democrat, secure passage.
No county has borne more shame than Dallas County for the outrage of
miscarriage of justice. No county has a greater responsibility to change
Texas law to prevent tragic mistakes in the future.Potential legal reforms
A state innocence commission could recommend best practices in these
Eyewitness identification and testimony
Preservation of biological evidence
Defendant's access to case files
The right to competent defense counsel
Ethical and legal responsibilities of prosecutors
(source: Editorial, Dallas Morning News)
Police: Convicted rapist charged in SMU co-ed's 1984 slaying showed little
When Dallas police investigators finally came face to face last month with
the 300-pound convicted sexual predator who they say brutally killed an
SMU coed more than 23 years ago, the state prison inmate's reaction was
"He made a comment that this was probably going to ruin his chance for
parole," lead Detective Linda Crum said of her nearly hourlong interview
with Donald Andrew Bess. Mr. Bess, 59, was charged last week with capital
murder in the October 1984 slaying of Angela Samota, 20, who was found
raped and stabbed repeatedly in her condominium near campus. Investigators
matched preserved DNA evidence from the crime scene to Mr. Bess through a
Angela Samota Detectives Crum and Ken Penrod questioned Mr. Bess last
month at a state prison in Huntsville, where he's serving a life sentence,
with the possibility of parole, for multiple rape convictions in the
Houston area. They say he showed little remorse when confronted.
"My personal opinion only is that he knew that we got him," Detective Crum
said. "He said, 'You just ruined my day.' He said he thought he couldn't
eat that day."
Detective Penrod said the convicted rapist's "only concern was for
"This lady has lost her life brutally, and his concern was whether or not
he was going to have an appetite the rest of the day," he said.
Mr. Bess will be brought to Dallas to face the new charge in the next few
weeks. Prosecutors will decide soon whether to pursue the death penalty.
In announcing the charge last week, police released new details about what
they believe happened early Oct. 13, 1984.
Mr. Bess was probably attacking Miss Samota around the time her concerned
boyfriend stood outside pounding on the condo's door, said Lt. Craig
Miller, commander of the homicide unit. When no one answered, he said, the
boyfriend left to search the neighborhood.
Lt. Miller said he suspects that Mr. Bess followed the junior computer
science and electrical engineering major from a bar in the Greenville
Avenue area to her condominium off University Boulevard, east of Central
Donald Andrew Bess It was reported shortly after the slaying that Miss
Samota had left the bar about 1 a.m. with 2 friends, a young man and
woman. She dropped off the man and stopped briefly at her condo with the
female friend before taking her home.
Miss Samota then apparently stopped briefly at her boyfriend's apartment
before going back to her condo, Lt. Miller said.
About 1:45 a.m., her boyfriend spoke to her on the phone and heard a man's
voice in the background. Miss Samota said there was a strange man in the
condo asking to use the bathroom and phone. The boyfriend later told
investigators there was no urgency in her voice.
Minutes later, when the boyfriend tried calling Miss Samota back and could
not reach her, he drove to her condo. About 2 a.m., he knocked on the
"We know he knocked feverishly on the door," Lt. Miller said. "What we
believe is that while he was there initially at 2 o'clock ... that Mr.
Bess was actually inside, and that's the time we believe" she was killed,
Mr. Bess may have fled when the boyfriend left to search the neighborhood,
Lt. Miller said. At some point, the boyfriend called police, and officers
found Miss Samota dead on her bed at 2:17 a.m.
Mr. Bess apparently had acquaintances in the Dallas area and had made
several trips here in the mid-'80s, police said.
Dallas police are investigating whether Mr. Bess might have committed
other violent crimes here between the spring of 1984, when he was released
on parole on Harris County rape and kidnapping charges, and June 1985,
when he was rearrested in the Houston area in another rape.
"That 15-month period, we're going to look at the whole thing," Lt. Miller
said. "[Mr. Bess] told us he was up here numerous times."
Mr. Bess declined an interview request last week.
For Miss Samota's family, whose heartache over the vivacious 20-year-old's
killing has now spanned more years than her life, the arrest in the case
has evoked mixed emotions.
While the family has declined to speak publicly, one of Miss Samota's
siblings issued a written statement last week thanking Dallas police and
mourning their loss.
"Angie grew up a star. She worked hard, had the highest moral and ethical
standards, and cared for everyone," said Miss Samota's brother Thomas.
"She returned the love she had been given, over and over.
"Her brutal slaying devastated our lives. ... All of us are now reliving
"I personally have and will have no compassion, not even the slightest
wrinkle for that cold blooded murderer of my sister. The loss is too
great, the sorrow too much to bear."
(source: Dallas Morning News)
With son on death row, House's mom became his crusader----For years Joyce
House has lobbied for her son's freedom. Now she waits to welcome him
In a bedroom of a white ranch-style home, Joyce House, mother of death row
inmate Paul Gregory House, has a touch lamp on a night table next to a
One tap and the lamp lights up. It's easily reachable for a man who has
multiple sclerosis. The bed is raised high enough for Joyce House to help
maneuver her son, who uses a wheelchair.
A couple of paintings hang on the bedroom wall, a television is near the
foot of the bed, set up with a DVD player a technological advancement
Paul House doesn't know about.
The bedroom is like the rest of the house: quiet, simple and immaculate.
After he spent 20-plus years behind bars for a 1985 murder, Joyce House
was expecting her son to come home when a U.S. Supreme Court decision said
a jury should have heard testimony that might have exonerated him and
after a U.S. district judge ordered him released pending a new trial. But
she will have to wait a couple of more weeks.
Paul House is still in the Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility in
Nashville awaiting a May 28 hearing that will set the conditions of his
As Paul House prepares to go home, Union County District Attorney General
William Paul Phillips says he is preparing to retry House. The courts have
said the prosecutor has 180 days to begin.
Judge Harry Mattice Jr. ruled in December that House should be released or
retried based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Paul House was convicted for the slaying of Carolyn Muncey, whose
bludgeoned body was found down an embankment near her East Tennessee home.
Paul House, who had moved to Tennessee from Utah after serving time in
jail for aggravated sexual assault, became the prime suspect and was
arrested. He was sentenced to death in 1986.
Years later, the advent of DNA evidence revealed House did not rape
Muncey. The semen found on her body belonged to her husband.
Mom never quit fighting
In the beginning, the letters and the calls from prison were often. The
calls and the letters stopped 7 years ago when Paul House's hands
He thought his incarceration might embarrass the family, and Paul House
asked his mother not to tell anyone about his predicament in the early
1980s. Joyce felt hogtied. She wanted people to know that there's an
injustice and, as a mother, wanted to vent.
It was her son's imprisonment that led to Joyce House's vocal stance
against capital punishment and gave her strength to challenge authority,
prompting a response from the governor.
She became Paul's crusader.
She found out that when Paul House was transferred to Nashville he had
gone three weeks without a bath or a toothbrush. She tried calling prison
staff without satisfaction, and she couldn't visit him.
Joyce e-mailed the governor.
"This was around the same time with the Abu Ghraib situation," she said.
"I told him that if he thinks the United States people are upset at the
treatment of Iraqi prisoners, how upset would Americans be for the
treatment of an American?
"I was going to go to every newspaper, every TV station and talk show to
let people know about the state and the prison and the lack of hygiene,"
She got the government's attention.
"My son got a bath,'' she said.
Joyce continued to lobby the governor. She had help from an anti-death
penalty group rounding up 7,000 signatures statewide to send the governor
in 2006. The post card read: "Please send Paul House to his mom by
Tennessee legislators also signed a letter urging Gov. Phil Bredesen to
Her advocacy reaches universities, churches and other forums. In January,
Joyce went to speak with Vanderbilt University law students about the
case. Before that it was Middle Tennessee State University.
"I tell them I'm not a speaker," Joyce said. "I'm a mother with a story to
'There's always hope'
Joyce House's view on the death penalty was shaped when she was 10. She
would read the newspaper every day and found the Rosenberg spy case
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were convicted of being spies for giving
American atomic secrets to the Soviets during World War II. They faced the
death penalty and were eventually executed for espionage in Sing Sing
Prison in June 1953.
She went to her father, who farmed cotton and soybeans on their land
outside of Jonesboro, Ark. Joyce House asked her father if he believed in
the death penalty. Instead of giving his opinion, he told his daughter to
formulate her own thoughts.
"I told him that they had a family with children, and they would be left
without parents," she said. "That wasn't right. I also said that 'Thou
Shalt Not Kill' is in the Ten Commandments. I decided I was against the
Joyce married Jim House, who was in the Air Force. They moved to a base in
Oklahoma, where Paul Gregory House was born. She calls him Greg. They
later moved to California and Salt Lake City, Utah.
She had 2 children, Marty and Paul. House says it was a typical childhood
for the boys. They were well behaved.
The only bad thing she caught Paul doing was smoking a cigarette when he
Divorced, Joyce moved, without her adult children, to Union County in 1984
before moving to Crossville.
At 67, she's not as strong physically as she was 22 years ago when Paul
went to prison. She can't handle the vast front lawn. She is so well liked
that neighbors come over and do it for her.
With help from friends and neighbors, she is finishing making her home
accessible for Paul House and his wheelchair.
Her message to mothers who have sons facing similar situations is
"Never give up," she said. "There's always hope."
(source: The Tennessean)
Death penalty trial date set in hammer deaths
A DeKalb man accused of killing his wife and twin sons with a hammer will
go on trial for his life Sept. 8.
Clayton Jerrod Ellington will be tried before Superior Court Judge Anne
The trial could be the 1st in a series of death penalty cases coming in
DeKalb. Keyes Fleming also has announced plans to seek death sentences
against Willie Kelsey, accused of killing a 7-year-old boy in a home
invasion, and William Woodard, accused of killing 2 DeKalb police
Neighbors said Ellington, 30, screamed at officers that his family had
been taken from him shortly after he called police to his home near
Lithonia High School late on the night of May 17, 2006.
Inside, police found the bodies of his 31-year-old wife, Berna Ellington,
and their 2-year-old sons, Cameron and Christian.
According to a memo by a district attorney's investigator in Ellington's
court file, Ellington claimed to police detectives that his wife killed
the twins with the hammer. Ellington claimed he took the hammer from her
and beat her with it in a fight that ended with them falling down stairs.
(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
ABA: Stop executions until...Recent N.C. exonerations show need to examine
death row cases
As executions resume in what promises to be a rapid and steady pace in the
United States, our nation needs to take a good hard look at how we
administer the death penalty. North Carolina can be justifiably proud of
steps it has taken to examine whether it applies this ultimate punishment
fairly, and only after those who have been sentenced to death were
accorded all the legal rights they are due.
At the start of this year, there were 166 people on North Carolina's death
row, placing the state 7th in terms of total death row population. In
recent weeks, 2 of those individuals have been exonerated, bringing to
seven the number of North Carolinians sentenced to death who have been
cleared since 1973 of committing the crimes for which they were tried.
Reforms enacted in the state undoubtedly have had a major role in these
exonerations. Such actions include enactment of legislation allowing
appellate lawyers for death-sentenced inmates access to all investigative
files related to their clients' cases, and creation of the North Carolina
Innocence Inquiry Commission in 2006. The Innocence Commission was the
first and remains the nation's only state agency whose purpose is to
investigate claims of innocence by death-sentenced inmates. North Carolina
also was a national leader in creation of a state public defender system,
established in 2001.
But much remains to be done. The American Bar Association takes no
position on whether the death penalty is right or wrong. But the
association strongly maintains that no person should be executed unless
that person has a lawyer and received a fair trial. Yet when teams of
experts from eight states' own legal communities applied ABA protocols to
examine their death penalty systems, they documented evidence of racial
disparities, poorly trained or inadequate lawyers, insufficient defense
resources, confused jurors, failure to preserve scientific evidence for
follow-up analysis and a host of other problems.
This is why the ABA renewed its call last year for a moratorium on
executions in each death penalty jurisdiction, until thorough analysis can
uncover each and every shortcoming, and the states can rectify the
The death penalty analyses that have been done in select states
demonstrate that the promise of due process often remains unfulfilled.
Racially disparate treatment of people in our criminal justice system,
from arrest to charging to seeking the death penalty, has been and remains
a fundamental issue that we must address.
The Racial Justice Act, pending in the North Carolina General Assembly, is
an effort to do so, by allowing courts of appeals to consider whether or
not racism was a consideration in imposing a death sentence. Legislators
should consider whether this measure will advance justice in capital
North Carolina's efforts in criminal justice reform have served the state
well. I commend North Carolina, and urge its citizens to continue to seek
to aspire to fulfilling the promises of our Constitution to justice and
(source: Charlotte Observer; From William H. Neukom, a Seattle lawyer and
president of the American Bar Association, who gave the commencement
address Saturday at Duke University Law School)
Supreme intervention? The Roberts court and the death penalty
While I am personally against capital punishment, it seems clear that the
U.S. Constitution does not deem all state-sponsored executions to be
"cruel and unusual" punishments.
The 5th Amendment to the Constitution ("incorporated" to the states by the
14th Amendment) states that an individual shall not "be deprived of life
without due process of law." As such, if an individual is afforded due
process, the Constitution clearly allows that same individual to be
"deprived of life" (executed).
The Supreme Court has "sustained the death penalty for murder when imposed
pursuant to the statutory procedures." The court further held that, "the
death penalty is not invariably cruel and unusual within the meaning of
the 8th Amendment; it is not inherently barbaric or an unacceptable mode
of punishment for crime."
Inherent in this deprivation of life is the fact that some method has to
be used. The government cannot simply wish people dead; it has to use some
means to kill them. In a constitutional sense, therefore, capital
punishment is not per se "cruel" and the determination of "cruel[ty]" is
not outcome derivative; that any punishment that results in death is
To predict the impact the (Chief Justice John) Roberts court will have on
death penalty jurisprudence, we must categorize the different types of
cases that have been, and are likely to be, heard by the Roberts court.
These cases tend to address 1 of 3 questions: who can be executed
(capacity), how can they be executed (method), and for which crimes can
they be executed (proportionality)?
As to who can be executed, the (Chief Justice William) Rehnquist court,
while conservative on a number of "crime and punishment" issues, showed a
more liberal slant when dealing with the question of capacity to be
executed. For example, in 2002, the court held that mentally retarded
individuals could not be executed and in 2005, the court held that
individuals who were under 18 when they committed their capital crime
could not be executed.
These rulings were in contrast to more conservative rulings, on similar
issues, handed down less than 20 years earlier. While it is difficult to
predict, and the general perception seems to be that the Roberts court
will be more conservative in death penalty rulings than its predecessor
court, I believe it is likely that this somewhat liberal shift in the area
of capacity will continue.
The Roberts court's recent ruling in Baze v. Rees, upholding Kentucky's
use of a 3-chemical "cocktail" (lethal injection) is its first significant
death penalty decision. The 7-2 opinion upholding this method may provide
some indication of what is to come, at least in the context of how
individuals can be executed, or it at least shows the court's continued
willingness to hear cases involving the various methods of execution.
The most difficult aspect of future death penalty jurisprudence to predict
is the Roberts court's determination of proportionality, in other words,
for which crimes is the sentence of death proportional to the crime
itself? As seen above, the Supreme Court has clearly held that, when
applied pursuant to certain safeguards, the death penalty is
constitutional as punishment for murder.
But what about rape of a child? This is the issue that the Supreme Court
will soon decide in Kennedy v. Louisiana. Is a Louisiana statute that
allows for the death penalty as punishment for the rape of a child
In 1977, in Coker v. Georgia, the Supreme Court held that a sentence of
death was "grossly disproportionate" for the crime of raping an adult
woman and therefore violated the 8th Amendment's prohibition against cruel
and unusual punishment. In making its determination, the court
subjectively determined that, while rape is a serious crime, "in terms of
moral depravity and of the injury to the person and to the public, it does
not compare with murder." Based on what?
The court may have been correct, however, it seems that the issue of how
depraved a crime is or how injurious rape is to the victim should be
decided by a legislature, not a court. Particularly interesting is that
the court decided to gauge the "injury . . . to the public," unilaterally
and subjectively. Shouldn't the "public" determine the level of injury to
itself through representative government?
While the issue of proportionality is difficult to predict, a model of
restraint in this area is advised. The Roberts court should continue the
rationale of the Supreme Court's previous rulings and maintain that the
death penalty is not per se unconstitutional.
It should similarly continue to evaluate the various methods of execution
to ensure that this constitutional exertion of state-sponsored punishment
is not applied in a cruel or unusual way. However, it should refrain from
undertaking the subjective determination of "proportionality." In doing
so, the U.S. Supreme Court has promoted itself to the role of deciding
which crimes are deserving of this ultimate punishment instead of the
people of any given state. We must remember that the charges against a
criminal defendant in a state execution are brought on behalf of the
people of the individual state, not the federal government.
Once again, five lawyers with life terms can decide which are the most
heinous crimes and establish a national standard in part based on its
subjective determination of what are the "evolving standards of decency"
of a civilized society. This is a made-up standard.
Clearly, the best barometer to determine how we have "evolved" is the
legislature, not the courts. In fact, certain paternalistic members of the
Supreme Court have even looked to the laws and policies of other countries
for the criteria of this judicially-determined evolution.
In November, many Americans will consider the type of individual a
particular presidential candidate would nominate to the Supreme Court
while in office. This is an unfortunate reality. Ideally, justices would
be chosen strictly on their merits instead of the process of prediction
that dictates both nomination and confirmation.
However, as the court has, in recent history, chosen to involve itself
(whether justified or not) in contentious social issues, it cannot
realistically expect that it would not, itself, become a political branch
I hope that this country will "evolve" away from the death penalty. I
would vote to outlaw it in my state, if given the chance. I hope that my
representatives would similarly vote against it.
I support amending a federal constitution that clearly allows for the
death penalty to one that does not, as this arduous amendment process
would reflect, at least to the best degree possible, the will of the
Further, individual states should craft or amend state constitutions in a
manner that does not allow for capital punishment. I believe that each
capital punishment state should declare an immediate moratorium on
executions as innocent people have been and continue to be executed.
This country should constantly evolve but this evolution should come from
our representative government, not the sage-like rule of a high court. The
death penalty is wrong, but it is constitutional, and until it is not, the
Supreme Court should show proper deference to the legislative processes of
the states in all areas, including, unfortunately, this one.
(source: Marc M. Harrold is counsel for national programs and visiting
professor for the National Center for Justice and the Rule of Law at the
University of Mississippi School of Law. He is a regular contributing
columnist to The Clarion-Ledger. Visit the center's Web site at
Killer's daughter: 'I would love it if he gets lethal injection'
Jennifer Martin sat on her South Greensburg porch this week and smoked a
cigarette as she remembered her father, who was sentenced to death for
killing a 12-year-old Greene County girl.
"I would love it if he gets lethal injection," said the 24-year-old, who
said she has only bad childhood memories of her father, Jeffrey Martin,
51, of New Geneva, Fayette County.
Martin was convicted of strangling Gabrielle Bechen and burying her on the
farm where he worked.
"I want to see him executed," Jennifer Martin said. "He destroyed my life.
He prevented me from living a normal life."
Her parents divorced when she was 6. Jeffrey Martin drank, and when he was
drunk, he physically abused his wife and daughters, she said.
"He was abusive to my mom and sister and me," Martin said. "He never had a
job as far as I knew. He did some things a father should never do to his
Jennifer, her sister and mother moved around to escape Martin after her
mother divorced him. They lived in Belle Vernon and Monessen after leaving
In 1989, he was convicted of drunken driving and was sentenced to one to
two years in jail. Six years later, he was convicted of writing bad checks
in Fayette County and was sentenced to 60 days to one year in jail. In
2001, he was convicted of drunken driving, eluding police and driving
while his license was supended.
Jennifer Martin didn't see her father again until she was 13, then once
again 3 years ago.
Martin learned her father had been arrested for murder on Father's Day in
"My best friend called me and said, 'Jennifer, don't watch the news.' She
didn't tell me a reason. When I saw his picture (on television), I fell to
"I didn't have the words. It was mental pain. I can't imagine what the
parents are going through. I got some closure when I heard the tape
recording (of his confession)."
Martin, a soft-spoken woman with long, black hair, has 2 sons, ages 8 and
She last saw her father when she turned 21 and he came to visit. Since
then, her only contact with him was 2 letters from jail in which he denied
"He said he never did it," she said. "He loves me. He said he's coming
home. He said someone else is involved."
Jeffrey Martin confessed to the killing to state police, but he testified
during his trial that a "mystery man" killed Bechen and asked for his help
in disposing of her body.
The jury didn't believe his testimony, and neither does his daughter.
"A man walks up to you and offers you $100 to bury this person. A child
would have more sense than that," Jennifer Martin said.
She believes her father is guilty and deserves the death penalty.
"I feel in my heart he took that little girl's life," she said. "No child
deserves that. She didn't even have a life. You take a life, you deserve
to lose yours."
(source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
More information about the DeathPenalty