[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----N.C., CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue May 20 21:14:15 CDT 2008
Silence on death penalty discussed
David Bills recalls the words of a friend who represents a man who has
spent the past 30 years on death row for murder.
Has our society lost its capacity to forgive? Join the discussion at the
The friend, Bills said, believes the crime occurred during a low point
but not a defining moment in the man's life.
"She said, 'I think our society has lost its capacity to forgive,'" said
Bills, the pastor at New Garden Friends Meeting, on Monday. "She said we
have lost faith in people. Maybe that's one reason we should work harder
to abolish it."
Bills served on an interfaith panel of Greensboro clergy discussing the
death penalty at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.
The discussion, "Religious Traditions and the Death Penalty," drew nearly
100 people. Sponsored by the Greensboro chapter of People of Faith Against
the Death Penalty, the conversation centered on how faith communities view
putting someone to death and why more church leaders aren't speaking out.
"It's a very permanent outcome for a very imperfect process," said Brian
Goldberg, chairman of the Greensboro chapter. "We have seen a lot in the
news lately. We've had three people that have been exonerated in the last
The death penalty has come under increased scrutiny recently, especially
in North Carolina. Since 1973, according to the nonprofit Death Penalty
Information Center, 129 people in 26 states have been released from death
row with evidence of their innocence the most recent being Levon Jones, a
man who spent 14 years on North Carolina's death row on a 1987 murder
A clash between the N.C. Medical Board and the state Department of
Correction has essentially caused a moratorium on executions here. The
medical board approved an ethics policy in 2006 prohibiting a doctor from
doing anything more than being present at an execution. State law,
however, requires a doctor to "attend and provide professional medical
Since then, five death row inmates have successfully sued to have their
executions put on hold until the matter is settled.
On Monday, state Senate Republican leader Philip Berger of Rockingham
County sent a letter to Gov. Mike Easley, arguing that health
professionals cannot be penalized by their licensing boards because of
their participation in a lawful execution.
"What we've got at this point is an unelected administrative licensing
board, which has taken upon itself to enter a decision that in essence has
the net affect of overruling lawfully enacted state law concerning the
death penalty," said Berger, who was not at Monday evening's discussion.
The audience at Holy Trinity found that their faith traditions were
similar on the death penalty. Masoud Awartani, an Islamic businessman,
spoke of capital punishment as a means of last resort for the common good
of the community but never to be taken lightly.
The Rev. Louis Canino of the Franciscan Center, said the Catholic faith at
one time had reflected a "very checkered, ugly, horrific and very, very
embarrassing" period in burning heretics at the stake. Even as Catholic
leaders speak of the sanctity of life, he said, a significant number of
people in the pews still reflect culture's view of the death penalty.
Statistics show nearly 60 percent of people in the United States favor the
"How do you engage, and how do you have a transformation of the heart?"
Rabbi Fred Guttman told the audience that he believes in capital
punishment along with an almost-impossible-to-attain burden of proof
developed by leaders of the Jewish faith long ago.
"The chances of killing an innocent person is way too great," Guttman
ACLU: Death penalty 'tax' costs California billions
The death penalty costs millions of dollars yearly and may do little to
make citizens safer, according to a report released by the American Civil
Liberties Union of Northern California.
In its 43-page report "The Hidden Death Tax," the organization estimates
that Californian taxpayers pay at least $117 million a year seeking the
executions of those already on death row. This averages out at roughly
$175,000 a year for each death row inmate. A major part of these costs is
the extra $90,000 a year to keep an inmate on death row rather than locked
up in a general prison.
According to the report, if California abolished capital punishment today
and allowed all 669 inmates to die a natural death in prison, the state
would save $4 billion in future costs.
Of the 36 states that still have the death penalty, California has the
largest number of death row inmates at 669, although only 13 have been
executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977. The ACLU
estimates that each capital trial costs an average of $1.1 million more
than a non-death penalty case. This is the organization's minimum
"California has the broadest death penalty statue in the country," said
Natasha Minsker, who began working on the report last June. "It gives
prosecutors a lot of discretion, and as a result we've overloaded our
system with too many cases."
"(The report) identifies issues of growing importance," Richard Dieter,
the executive directory of the Death Penalty Information Center, told IPS.
"States are feeling economic constraints. The cost becomes important
because you realize you cant shorten the process. There's either an
expensive death penalty or no death penalty. There's no 3rd option."
But the extra spending on litigation after a capital conviction is
critical for the death row inmates. Since 1977, more than 130 death
penalty sentences in California have been reversed.
"Essentially what you're getting is life without parole at an expensive
price," said Mr. Dieter, commenting on the long process. "You have a
build-up of people on death row."
Expenses in maintaining the complex death penalty system accrue in a
variety of forms. U.S. Supreme Court rulings require higher, lengthier
trial processes when seeking a sentence that is irreversible. Judges and
lawyers must be specially qualified, as well as jurors selected during a
drawn-out questioning process.
Prosecution and defense costs are also significantly higher due to the
rigorous investigation requirements. There is also a post conviction phase
entailing a direct appeal and a habeas corpus challenge.
Usually there are 2 trials1 to determine guilt and another to decide
whether to implement capital punishment.
"I was shocked by the amount of money it took, and how quickly that amount
is growing," Ms. Minsker told IPS.
California is not the only state spending exorbitant amounts of money in
the pursuit of capital punishment.
In Washington State, the Death Penalty Subcommittee of the Committee on
Public Defense determined in 2007 that capital punishment cases cost
$467,000 more to try than ordinary murder cases. In Texas it is estimated
that a death penalty trial costs an additional $2.3 million, according to
In Florida in 2000, The Palm Beach Post estimated the state paid out $51
million annually enforcing the death penalty. Recently, in New Mexico
prosecutors were unable to press 2 death charges when the money-strapped
state legislature failed to provide adequate funding for defense attorneys
in a prison riot case that had already cost millions of state dollars.
The cost factor in maintaining the death penalty is undoubtedly playing a
role in the recent attempts in state legislatures to repeal capital
Last year, New Jersey, which spent $10.9 million annually on maintaining
the death penalty, became the first state to abolish the practice since
the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976.
Similar legislation was attemptedbut failedin Nebraska, New Mexico and
Montana. Last year, Colorado came close to repealing the death penalty
when a bill that would have banned capital punishment in the state, using
the money saved for investigating unsolved murder cases, was narrowly
"The extra money spent on the death penalty could be spent on other means
of achieving justice and making the community safer: compensation for
victims, better lighting in crime areas, more police on the streets, or
... funds for pursuing cold homicide cases," Mr. Dieter had said during
testimony to the Colorado House of Representatives Judiciary Committee
before the vote.
Earlier, polls in Colorado conducted by RBI Strategies and Research found
that voters were in a dead heat when asked whether they preferred the
death penalty or life without the possibility of parole. However, when
asked if the estimated $3 million annually spent on the death penalty in
the state could be better used solving open-murder cases, 70 % agreed.
Despite the legislative disappointments, both advocates Dieter and Minsker
believe capital punishment will eventually be banned throughout the U.S.
Recommendations from Ms. Minsker for California included a comprehensive
system for tracking all expenses involving death penalty cases at every
level of the process, from court and prosecution expenses to jury fees and
additional costs incurred by sheriffs. "Most of these costs fall on the
local counties," Ms. Minsker wrote in the report. "Prior to annual
budgeting decisions, the actual costs of death penalty cases should be
reported to the board of supervisors and the public so they may assess
whether, in light of other county needs, this use of resources makes
Adopting such recommendationsnot only in California but in all other death
penalty stateswould undoubtedly reveal many, until now, hidden costs of
maintaining the death penalty. This could emerge as a powerful factor in
eventually swinging the vote in favor of the abolitionist lawmakers'
future bills, death penalty opponents clearly hope.
(source: Final Call News)
Judge has strong words for missing attorney in death penalty case
A Modesto judge today ordered a Stockton city attorney to explain why she
failed to show for court in the capital case of a man accused of gunning
down a California Highway Patrol officer 2 years ago.
DeAnna Solina, a deputy city attorney for Stockton, was scheduled to
oppose a request for evidence by the defense team for Columbus Allen Jr.
II. The Stockton man faces a death sentence if he is convicted of shooting
a highway patrolman in 2006.
Leading up to the trial, Allen's attorneys seek evidence that the Stockton
Police Department collected in the Stanislaus County case. Allen is from
Stockton but accused of killing the officer on Highway 99 in Stanislaus
Superior Court Judge Hurl Johnson in a hearing today asked why Solina
wasn't in court, and a prosecutor said she had another hearing elsewhere.
Johnson told his clerk to send a letter to Solina that threatens sanctions
and orders her to show cause for missing court.
"These people don't have the right just to ignore stuff if they want to,"
Read Wednesdays Record for more on this story by staff writer Scott Smith.
(source: Stockton Record)
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