[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, PENN., TENN., MD., MO.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Wed May 28 23:12:41 CDT 2008
Quiet death penalty activist goes public----Documentary explores topic
through eyes of retired pastor
Carroll Pickett is an unlikely activist against the death penalty. The
retired Presbyterian pastor is 74, soft-spoken and gentle of spirit. A
native Texan, he grew up in a conservative household, the grandson of a
He grew up believing in the death penalty. The deaths of two of his
parishioners in a 1974 riot at the state prison in Huntsville did nothing
to soften his disposition toward criminals. Pickett, then the pastor of a
church in Huntsville, said yes when he was asked in 1979 to become
chaplain at the Walls Unit, ministering to death row inmates in their
That was the beginning of what Pickett, who retired from the prison in
1995 and now lives outside Houston, calls the "process." Gradually, he
came to believe the system is unfair and that innocent people have died,
sometimes painfully, in "botched executions."
We get to know Pickett in At the Death House Door, a sobering documentary
that airs tonight on IFC.
Pickett's job, as the warden explained it to him, was to earn the inmates'
trust and keep them calm so the executions could proceed smoothly. Even
before his stance toward capital punishment changed, seeing men put to
death, standing beside them, sometimes reaching out to comfort them as
lethal drugs flowed into their veins, weighed on Pickett.
He was particularly moved by the death of one man, Carlos De Luna, 27, who
had been convicted of stabbing to death a gas station attendant in Corpus
Christi. De Luna, who was raised without a father, asked if he could call
Pickett "daddy." Pickett came to believe De Luna was innocent.
De Luna's execution was one of the botched ones. It took many more minutes
than it's supposed to take. The first drug injected into his veins failed
to put him to sleep. With the 2nd drug, the painful fatal drug, coursing
through his veins, De Luna raised his head twice and looked into Pickett's
eyes. He tried to speak but couldn't.
"I can still see Carlos," Pickett says, speaking in Austin where the movie
premiered in March at the South by Southwest Film Festival. "I still see
Carlos raising up his head when the drugs didn't work. I can still hear
Carlos calling me 'Dad,' and I can still hear Carlos saying he didn't do
it, still hear Carlos explaining exactly what took place that night. He
said he was not in the place, and I believe him."
A stoic man, Pickett didn't seek counseling. He never even spoke to his
children about his feelings.
"And we're a close family," he says.
Instead, Pickett spoke into a tape recorder.
After each execution, he would go into his office and, in a soft,
dispassionate drawl, record what he witnessed. Then he would put the tape
Ninety-five tapes. Over 15 years. Tapes that no one was supposed to know
Because of the process of change, however, when two Chicago Tribune
reporters who were investigating the death penalty approached Pickett in
2005, he agreed to see them. They also believed De Luna was innocent.
"I found out these were 2 honorable people," he says. Pickett researched
the reporters, Steve Mills and Maurice Possley, on the Internet. He spoke
to lawyer friends. He decided to cooperate with them.
"I thought that maybe this is what God intended for me to do," he says.
The minister allowed them to listen to the tape he made the night of De
Luna's execution. And that began another process, which involved 2
filmmakers, Steve James and Peter Gilbert, who previously had made the
acclaimed Hoop Dreams, getting involved. It took more than a month of
talking before Pickett agreed to participate.
Gradually, Pickett has become a quiet activist, giving talks and lobbying
politicians in an effort to end capital punishment. The movie, however, is
something else altogether, a very public coming out for such a private
"I don't know what it's going to be like," he says softly, sitting in the
lounge of the Four Seasons Hotel on the day of the premiere, a cross pin
on the lapel of his dark suit. Soon he would launch a nationwide publicity
tour, but on this day he sounds nervous.
"I've never seen the movie with a crowd," he says. "My kids have never
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Pa. death-row inmate commits suicide
A Philadelphia death-row inmate who has been on the state's execution list
since 1987 committed suicide yesterday at a state prison in southwestern
Pennsylvania, state police and his lawyer said today.
The body of William Tilley, 46, was found hanging in his cell about 6:15
a.m. by corrections officers in the death-row unit at the State
Correctional Institution in Greene County, south of Pittsburgh, police
"William Tilley spent years on death row seeking redress. It is now
apparent that he became despondent," his lawyer, Billy H. Nolas, a federal
defender, wrote in court papers to be filed tomorrow seeking to end the
It was the 2nd suicide in a week at the state prison and the 9th over the
last year in the 46,000-inmate state prison system.
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Susan McNaughton said that between 5
and 10 inmates have committed suicide statewide every year over the last 5
years, for an average of about 8 per year.
Tilley was sentenced to death in 1987 for shooting to death Philadelphia
Police Officer Robert Daiss during a July 1985 burglary at his Northeast
The prosecutor in Tilley's murder trial contended that Tilley was caught
burglarizing the home and deserved death because he had killed Daiss
during a felony. Tilley contended that he had acted in self-defense after
Daiss confronted him with a gun.
Nolas said that Tilley had won a new sentencing hearing and that an appeal
was proceeding on whether he should get an entirely new trial.
Death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, who knew Tilley, said Tilley worked as a
librarian at the prison and was always upbeat, though he had - like many
inmates - been frustrated by the slow pace of appeals.
But Abu-Jamal said he had no idea what prompted the suicide. "No one saw
it coming," he said in a telephone interview.
Tilley was one of 227 inmates awaiting execution in Pennsylvania, which
has the 4th-largest death-row population in the nation.
In the court papers to be filed tomorrow with the state Supreme Court,
Nolas made numerous references to studies and judicial comments about the
effect of long-term confinement to death row.
He quoted the late Justice Felix Frankfurter as having said: "The onset of
insanity while awaiting execution of a death sentence is not a rare
(source: Philadelphia Inquirer)
Judge: Tenn. must retry or free death row inmate
In Nashville, a federal judge has ordered prosecutors to retry or free a
death row inmate who, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded, no juror would
have found guilty based on evidence that emerged years after his trial.
Paul House, sentenced to die for the 1985 slaying of a young mother, has
been in legal limbo while a prosecutor battled efforts to have him
Now the state will have to do just that, following a ruling Wednesday by
U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice Jr. that says if the prosecution
doesn't begin to retry House by June 17 then he must be released.
"The state needs to do something and do something immediately," Mattice
said. "Let's get on with whatever we're going to do."
District Attorney Paul Phillips says he will be ready to start House's new
trial by Mattice's deadline, though he doesn't plan to seek the death
penalty again. House is scheduled to appear in a county court on June 6
for a bail hearing.
Mattice had set the Wednesday hearing to consider the possible release of
House, who has multiple sclerosis and must use a wheelchair. Instead, he
granted the inmate's request not to let prosecutors take until November to
begin a new trial.
House's attorney Stephen Kissinger said he plans to appeal Mattice's order
with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, and will ask
that House be released and prosecutors be barred from retrying him.
Kissinger says he's concerned once the case heads back to state courts,
House will languish even longer in prison.
"If the Sixth Circuit doesn't overturn this court's decision ... the state
can take Mr. House, put him in the Union County jail and leave him there
for as long as the state courts will allow. They (prosecutors) will
attempt to hold him in pretrial detention until they bring him to trial,"
Phillips, said he's asked the federal court to keep House in the special
needs prison in Nashville where he is now, and said prosecutors are not
intentionally delaying House's trial. He said he plans to retry House with
old evidence from the first trial and some new evidence he wouldn't
Federal judges, under an order from the U.S. Supreme Court, had already
reviewed the case and concluded that new evidence raised reasonable doubt
about House's guilt.
House went to prison in February 1986 for killing Carolyn Muncey, whose
badly beaten body was found near her home. But House maintains he did not
In a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court concluded in June 2006 that
reasonable jurors would not have convicted House if they had seen what DNA
tests revealed in the late 1990s.
Semen collected from Muncey's nightgown and underwear belonged to her
husband, undercutting the premise that House murdered her during a sexual
assault. The court also said House's lawyers offered new witnesses who
provided "substantial evidence pointing to a different suspect."
The justices were referring to the victim's husband and House's former
friend, Hubert Muncey. Besides the DNA testing on the semen, 5 witnesses
came forward many years after the trial and gave testimony implicating
The Associated Press tried several times to reach Hubert Muncey by phone
at his home in Maynardville, Tenn. He remarried 13 years ago and his wife,
Joann, said her husband has changed, is "into church now" and "not for
anyone being put to death." She said he's not upset by House's possible
release but doesn't want him "bothering" their family.
In December, Mattice ordered the state to retry House within 180 days or
release him. The state appealed, a 3-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals affirmed Mattice, and the state dropped its challenges.
In a recent prison interview, House said he's lost all faith in the
criminal justice system.
"It's taken me all these years to prove that I didn't do it. And I don't
have another 20 years to invest," House said. "I didn't do the crime, but
I've done the time."
For House's mother, it's hard not to think the state is delaying on
"What I really think, and I'm not the only one, is they just want him to
linger in there until he dies. Then it will all go away, they think,"
Joyce House said recently at her home in Crossville, located about 100
miles east of Nashville. "They just don't want to admit they made a
Joyce House said she's had her son's bedroom prepared for him at her home
since the Supreme Court's decision. She sat next to him during the hearing
Wednesday and said she was heartbroken over the ruling that her son
couldn't come home with her.
"Seems like it's just one disappointment after another. It's not anything
(source: Associated Press)
State has until June 17 to begin prosecuting House
It looks like Paul House is not going home today. A federal district court
judge has ruled that the state has until June 17 to begin efforts to
prosecute him on a 1st-degree murder charge in the 1985 slaying of Carolyn
The Union County district attorney said in court this morning that he will
not seek the death penalty. House is scheduled to appear in Union County
court June 6.
House was sentenced to death in 1986 for the murder of Muncey, whose
bludgeoned body was found at the bottom of an embankment.
Years later, the advent of DNA evidence revealed House did not rape
Muncey. The semen found on her body belonged to her husband.
(source: The Tennessean)
State to study its death penalty with list of agencies represented on
After bills to repeal Maryland's death penalty failed for 2 straight
years, a commission will study the states capital punishment system
During the 2008 legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly agreed
to create the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment and give it nearly
6 months to issue a report.
The process of picking commission members is still under way, Christine
Hansen, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O'Malley, said Wednesday.
The law creating the commission takes effect July 1.
The commission will be made up of 22 members from a variety of government
and law enforcement entities, as well as members of the public, including
relatives of a murder victim.
OMalley has said he doesn't believe the death penalty deters crime. Last
year, he testified in favor of a repeal bill.
Some legislators have said the commission seems to be another way for
OMalley to push for a repeal or called it an unnecessary duplication of
past studies, unlikely to change anyone's opinion.
Others have defended it as a fresh, comprehensive look at an unresolved
New Jersey had a similar study before abolishing its death penalty last
Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, voted to create the commission.
Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, also voted in favor, but
Washington County's other 6 Republican senators and delegates opposed it.
As repeal bills have come up in Maryland, legislators and advocates on
both sides have debated the costs and social value of having a death
A December 2006 Maryland Court of Appeals decision has kept capital
punishment on hold because of a procedural flaw in how the states
procedure was adopted.
O'Malley has taken no action to correct the flaw during his 16 months in
office, drawing criticism from Republicans.
The governor has said he was waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to decided
on a Kentucky case that challenged the constitutionality of its lethal
injection protocol. Last month, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of
Kentuckys execution process.
Last week, O'Malley said hell reluctantly move ahead with new regulations
for Maryland's death penalty.
The death penalty commission must give its final report to the General
Assembly by Dec. 15.
The commission's recommendations must address racial, jurisdictional and
socioeconomic disparities in capital punishment; the risk that innocent
people might be executed; the effects of prolonged court cases; the costs
of prosecution; and the impact of DNA evidence, according to the statute.
Death penalty commission
The 22-member Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment will include:
State delegates Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat, and
William J. Frank, a Baltimore County Republican, who were appointed by the
Gary D. Maynard, the public safety and correctional services secretary
Katy C. O'Donnell, chief of the capital defense division, representing
the state public defender
2 Maryland state senators appointed by the Senate president
the state attorney general or his designee
a former member of the state judiciary appointed by the chief judge of
the Maryland Court of Appeals
a state's attorney who has prosecuted a death penalty case, to be
designated by the president of the Maryland State's Attorneys' Association
The commission also will include the following people appointed by the
a representative of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association
a representative of the Maryland State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police
a correctional officer in a state prison
a former state prisoner who was exonerated of the crime for which he or
she was incarcerated
3 representatives of the religious community
6 representatives of the general public, including at least 3 family
members of a murder victim.
To read the text of the law establishing the Maryland Commission on
Capital Punishment, go to
http://mlis.state.md.us/2008rs/billfile/sb0614.htm. Scroll down to
"Documents." On the "Bill Text" line, click on "Chapter." Underlined
sections were added to the original draft. Sections with a line through
them were deleted from the original draft.
Prosecutor waives death penalty against Carnahan
Gerald Carnahan faces only life in prison without parole if convicted of
1st-degree murder for the 1985 death of Nixa resident Jackie Johns after
the prosecutor in his case waived the death penalty May 28.
Greene County Prosecutor Darrell Moore filed a notice of intent to waive
the death penalty against Carnahan, 50, in a motion filed in Greene County
Carnahan's attorney released a statement that said Moore's decision was
"well-reasoned" and he respected the prosecutor's course of action.
"The decision of what charge to file, how to present the evidence and what
punishment to seek is within the sole discretion of the elected
prosecuting attorney," Wampler said in the statement. "Seeking the death
penalty would delay the trial another year and even if convicted, appeal
delays could extend another 10 years."
Wampler added that there are matters concerning evidence in the case
"This cold case is 23 years old," Wampler's statement said, "and there are
serious chains of custody issues on dozens of pieces of physical
Moore originally filed 1st-degree murder and forcible rape charges against
Carnahan in the June 17, 1985, death of 20-year-old Johns on Aug. 9, 2007.
He was bound over from Associate Court Jan. 31.
Police arrested Carnahan Aug. 9 after technology finally caught up with
the case, officials said. A DNA profile was made when Missouri Highway
Patrol Sgt. Daniel Nash executed a search warrant to obtain a DNA swab
from Carnahan Aug. 8. Moore's complaint alleges a match to a vaginal swab
taken from Johns' body.
That finding re-opened the cold case in April 2007, more than 20 years
since John's body was located in Lake Springfield on June 22, 1985. The
autopsy revealed evidence of rape and showed that Johns died of blunt
force trauma to the head.
(source: Ozarks Newsstand)
Murder victim's father agrees waiving death penalty was best move
Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Darrell Moore says the family of murder
victim Jackie Johns tipped the scales in his decision not to seek a death
penalty against Gerald Carnahan. Moore charged Carnahan last summer for
Johns rape and murder in June 1985.
The health of Les Johns, Jackies father, has long been a motivation for
prosecutors and police to get this case moving in court. On Wednesday,
shared his feelings on the case and on the prosecutor's decision.
"23 years is a long time, he said in an interview at his home in Nixa.
For much of the last 23 years, Johns has been waiting for his daughter on
their front porch.
"She'll have a birthday the 7th of June; she'd have been 43."
When she didn't come home, he says he waited for Carnahan.
"I'm 99 and 9/10ths sure he did it when he did it. And I always felt like
he should have been convicted before.
With Carnahan charged, the decision to not seek a death penalty brings
Johns one step closer to the end of the wait.
"The death sentence is hard to get. They've got 30 guys, on death row, 30
or 33. At the rate they're going, it'll take another 30, 40 years to get
rid of them!"
Johns fragile health makes that time priceless.
"It is to me, because I'm not going to live forever."
More waiting is likely, thanks to backlogged courts.
"They're not going to drop everything and get on a certain one, probably."
And the start of a trial, far from home, will be bittersweet.
"All of his (appearances in court), I've been there. I've never missed one
yet but I intend to try and go, but I'm not saying that I will."
All that matters is that Johns can see justice for his daughters life
before the end of his.
"I'd say he does deserve the death sentence but, to get the trial going
and find out what's going to happen, I think we're going in the right
Johns says, once both sides announce where the trial will take place,
he'll begin planning to attend as many court appearances as he can.
(source: KY3 News)
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