[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----ILL., UTAH, OHIO, USA, FLA.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Nov 13 17:38:24 CST 2008
Illinois Senate president contenders open to death penalty fund overhaul
The 2 frontrunners for the top post in the Illinois Senate both said
Wednesday that the state's death penalty defense fund may have to be
overhauled, after a Post-Dispatch investigation found indications of
The comments by state Sens. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, and John
Cullerton, D-Chicago, came as members of the Illinois House, the state
attorney general's office and others also are gearing up to revisit the
issue of how the state pays for death penalty trials and whether some
attorneys and others are abusing that system.
The state's Capital Litigation Trust Fund was set up as part of reforms
instituted in 2000 to provide funding for both sides in death penalty
trials. Rules on how to tap the fund were tightened in 2005, after
allegations of waste and abuse by attorneys and others.
The Post-Dispatch reported in September that those changes haven't
prevented continued questionable spending, including charges of hundreds
of dollars an hour by investigators for merely driving their cars or
running menial errands; high-priced expert witnesses brought in from
around the country instead of reliance on local experts; and huge outlays
for investigatory services so vaguely worded as to be meaningless.
"We have an obligation and a right to look at it (and) put things in place
to make sure it's not being abused," said Clayborne. "I am open to look at
that and revisit that issue."
Cullerton, one of the architects of the original reform of the fund, said
Wednesday that he was open to revisiting the issue.
"We thought we resolved it last time ...", (but) if there's further
abuses, and our correction didn't work, we'll study it again," said
Cullerton. "I think we've got to tweak it."
Clayborne and Cullerton are widely considered the frontrunners among
several Senate Democrats vying to succeed Senate President Emil Jones, who
has said he will retire in January. The leadership post is filled by a
vote of the Senate Democratic caucus. The vote could be taken as early as
The newspaper's investigation of the death penalty funding system found
that a key safeguard giving trial judges power to disapprove the expenses
of lawyers and investigators is seldom used, because judges fear such
action could taint their cases on appeal. Some have suggested that the
veto power over expenses drawn from the fund should rest with a third
(source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
Former death row inmate, cleared by killer's confession, now fights death
For almost 18 years, Juan Roberto Melendez sat on a Florida death row.
His cell was infested with roaches and rats that climbed into his bed. He
couldn't work or take any classes. He watched his three daughters grow up
in pictures. And his only visitors - his mom and aunt - just came twice
early on because it was too painful for him to see them.
His only way out: suicide. But, he said, his belief in God kept him from
"I don't know the language. I don't know the system. I'm lost in there,"
Melendez told an audience Wednesday at Weber State University. "I didn't
know when they were coming to get me [for execution]."
After the Florida Supreme Court upheld Melendez's murder conviction and
death sentence 3 times, he was awarded a new trial - in a different county
- and was found innocent.
Melendez - the 99th person to be released from one of the nation's death
rows since 1973 - shared his story with about 200 people as part of the
university's Human Rights Week sponsored by Amnesty International.
Melendez, 57, now lives in Maunabo, Puerto Rico, and works in
construction. He said he is not angry or bitter because of his experience.
Instead, Melendez has become an activist. He travels throughout the United
States and Europe to rally people against the death penalty.
"I was not saved by the system. I was saved [despite] the system," he
said. "I was saved by the grace of God."
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Melendez was raised in Puerto Rico. He remembers
not having shoes to wear to school and eventually dropping out of high
school to work in the sugarcane fields. At 19, he moved to the United
States and worked as a migrant farmworker.
"I came for the American dream, but I didn't know I was going to live the
American nightmare," he said.
He later served 6 years in a Florida prison for armed robbery.
But in September 1983, after Melendez served time for the robbery, Delbert
Baker was found dead at his beauty school. He had been shot three times,
his throat was cut and his gold jewelry was missing.
A police informant, who had a grudge against Melendez, pointed a finger at
him. A year later, after a 3-day trial, Melendez was found guilty of
murder and armed robbery by a jury with 11 whites and 1 black and
sentenced to death.
Melendez said going through the system was tough because he didn't know
much English. He credits his fellow prisoners for teaching him how to read
and speak the language.
"If they didn't teach me, I never would have survived that place," he
While he was in prison, Melendez also said he returned to his faith in
God. He believes God gave him "beautiful dreams" that gave him hope that
he might see the world again.
"I had to search for something that was more powerful than the system," he
said. "You need to find spirituality."
About 16 years after his conviction, a judge determined that Melendez,
then 49, was entitled to a new trial. A lawyer had found a taped
confession by the real killer, Vernon James, who later died.
Melendez walked out of prison on Jan. 3, 2002. The only compensation for
his 18 years: $100, a pair of pants and a shirt.
"I wanted to see the moon, the stars and walk on grass and dirt and hold a
little baby in my arms, and talk to some beautiful women," he said.
Melendez, now a grandfather of 6, said he dreams about the day the death
penalty is abolished and criminals who are convicted of heinous crimes
serve life in prison without parole. He also said some felons are not the
same people they were when they committed the crime.
"You can never release an innocent man from the grave," he said.
The story, while touching, failed to change at least one student's mind
about the death penalty.
Nick Ramos, a Weber sophomore who wants to be a lawyer, said that he found
Melendez's case "interesting" but still believes in the death penalty.
Andrea Smith, a political-science freshman, said she is against the death
penalty because she believes inmates can change in prison, and the justice
system is "corrupt and powered by money."
Juan Roberto Melendez's story is profiled in the book, Execution's
Doorstep: True Stories of the Innocent and Near Damned.
(source: Salt Lake Tribune)
Court denies appeal of Valley man on death row
The next step would be an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court
Roderick Davie, 37, is now one step closer to execution.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Cincinnati, has denied
Davie's appeal of his death sentence.
Davie argued his conviction was flawed because he had been illegally
questioned by police, as well as because of misconduct by prosecutors and
deficient jury instructions.
Davie's defense lawyers said Davie's confession to killing John Coleman
and Tracey Jefferys and injuring William Everett on June 27, 1991, at
Veterinary Companies of America of Warren, was coerced because police
questioned him 4 times over about 6 hours.
2 of 3 appellate judges ruled that the confession was admissible, however,
because Davie had initiated the 4th interview, the one in which he
admitted to committing the crimes.
In his dissent, Judge Gilbert Merritt wrote that Davie was illegally
enticed to confess despite repeated refusals to waive his Miranda rights.
Davie was fired by the pet food and supplies company 3 months before the
LuWayne Annos, an assistant Trumbull County prosecutor, said the next step
in Davies legal battle would be to appeal the 6th Circuits decision to the
U.S. Supreme Court.
She said it takes about a year for the Supreme Court to accept or reject
such a case, and it accepts only about 2 % of cases.
An execution date would likely be set if the U.S. Supreme Court denies the
case, Annos said.
(source: Youngstown Vindicator)
DOJ to Finalize Regulations on States' Fast-Track Review of Death Penalty
The Department of Justice plans to publish final regulations before the
end of the administration on how states can get certified to use
fast-track federal court review of their death penalty cases.
Although more than a year has passed since the public comment period on
proposed regulations has ended, a department spokesman said the department
does not plan to leave the issue to the new administration in January.
The department's regulations are intended to carry out the mandate of
Congress, which amended the PATRIOT Act 2 years ago to take away
certification decisions from federal appellate courts and to transfer
those decisions to the attorney general, with review by the U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Congress acted at the
behest of some lawmakers, particularly Sen. Jon Kyle, R-Ariz., who were
angry that the appellate courts had yet to find any states qualified for
the fast-track federal habeas corpus procedures.
The fast-track procedures cut to 6 months, instead of a year, the time
that death row inmates have to file their habeas appeals once their cases
are final in state courts. They also impose strict time limits on federal
courts for deciding habeas petitions: 450 days for district courts and 120
days for appellate courts.
The department's proposed regulations triggered a storm of criticism from
defense lawyers, bar groups and others who said the regulations fell
woefully short of ensuring that states certified for the fast-track
procedures have a system in place -- as required by federal law -- to
provide competent counsel to indigent capital defendants in state
The department extended an initial 60-day public comment period by 45
days, but final regulations have yet to emerge.
"I can't imagine any legitimate reason for them to have dragged their feet
this long," said Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Legal
Foundation, a strong supporter of the fast-track procedures. "They gave an
extended comment period, but 90 % of the comments were just disagreements
with the statute. My suspicion is it's not a priority with them. Ever
since 9/11, national security is the priority and everything else is back
But George Kendall, senior counsel in the New York office of Holland &
Knight, said the proposed regulations received so much criticism that
perhaps the department had to "go back to square one."
The idea for fast-track procedures and state certifications, he added,
developed "when we had much more faith in our [justice] system."
If final regulations do emerge, said Kendall, it's unlikely that any state
applying for certification will get it before the new administration takes
over in January.
And, he added, the states are likely to apply have "big problems" in their
indigent defense systems.
(source: National Law Journal)
Maddow: New rule kicks Patriot Act foes 'right in the teeth'
The Bush administration has been planning since last spring to issue a
final burst of federal regulations just before leaving office. It was
recently announced that over 90 new regulations would be finalized before
November 22 -- 60 days prior to the end of Bush's term -- making them
difficult, though not impossible, for President Obama to reverse.
Although many of the regulations have to do with energy and the
environment, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow noted on Tuesday that there's also "one
that'll kick opponents of the Patriot Act right in the teeth."
The proposed regulation "would allow state and local law enforcement
agencies to collect intelligence on individuals and organizations even if
the information is unrelated to any criminal matter," Maddow explained.
She added, "Even if they weren't already watching you -- they soon could
Maddow was joined by the Nation's sports correspondent, Dave Zirin, who
began by complaining about Bush, "Hemorrhoids are more popular than this
man. Why is he making laws?"
Zirin described how he had been involved in an episode where "the Maryland
State Police sent people to infiltrate meetings I was in -- a very
seditious organization called the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, where
we planned such horrifying acts like tabling at the local farmer's market
or planning rallies."
"Why were they spying on us?" Zirin continued. "Because the governor at
the time, Bob Ehrlich -- a right-wing Republican who makes Sarah Palin
look like Emma Goldman -- I mean, he's somebody who saw us as political
opponents. He was for the death penalty, we were against the death
penalty, therefore in his mind we deserved to be spied upon."
"We were entered into a database the heading of which was
'Terrorists/Anti-Government,'" Zirin noted angrily. "The person who
organized all of this, the head of the Maryland State Police ... called us
'fringe people' in the hearings. He said we deserved it because we were
Zirin pointed out that the final report which exposed the state's
anti-constitutional behavior recommended future safeguards but held no one
accountable. "We either have a Constitution or we don't," he stated.
"Either our rights were violated or they weren't."
"They're talking about expanding this nationwide," Maddow commented, "and
what they will say in order to argue for it is, 'Oh, what's the harm
"Here's the harm," Zirin replied. "It has a chilling effect on the
Constitution. It has a chilling effect on our ability to assemble. ... We
need to be welcoming new people into community activism, welcoming new
people into struggle. And what you have instead is people looking at each
other in Maryland as if, 'Is that person an enemy? Is this person a
"And it has a horrible effect," concluded Zirin, "right at a time where in
the wake of the Obama victory we should be talking about solidarity, we
should be talking about expanding our forces, we should be talking about
fighting for the change that we all waited on line to vote for."
(source: The Raw Story)
Fla. justices lift Tompkins' stay of execution
The Florida Supreme Court has lifted a stay of execution for a man who
killed his girlfriend's teenage daughter 25 years ago in Tampa.
The stay had been set to expire Nov. 18, but the justices dissolved it
Thursday, 6 days after they denied 3 separate appeals by Wayne Tompkins.
A spokesman for Gov. Charlie Crist says a new execution date has not been
set. Tompkins also is pursing appeals in the federal courts.
57-year-old Tompkins was convicted of strangling 15-year-old Lisa DeCarr
with her bathrobe sash at her mother's home. Tompkins told authorities she
had run away from home. Her remains were found buried under the house 15
Justices: No new trial for killer of Fla. teen
A death row inmate who ordered the killing of a teenager in a drug deal
that went bad will get a new sentencing hearing but not a new trial.
The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously reversed a trial judge's
decision to give former handyman Faunce Levon Pearce a new trial on
charges of 1st-degree murder and attempted murder, but it agreed to vacate
his death penalty for the murder conviction.
The justices ruled his lawyers were ineffective during his trial's penalty
phase. They failed to research his background or have him examined by
mental health experts. Psychologists now say he is mentally ill and
suffers from brain damage.
Pearce, 46, ordered another man to shoot the victim, 17-year-old Robert
Crawford III, and another teen who survived. They were left for dead along
a Pasco County road in 1999.
The shooter, Lawrence Smith, 31, was convicted of the same charges and
also sentenced to death. His penalty later was reduced to life in prison
after the Supreme Court ordered a new sentencing hearing because the judge
erroneously said the death penalty was required for such crimes.
Crawford and the surviving victim, Stephen Tuttle, then 16, were students
at Land O'Lakes High School. Pearce had given them and another teen $1,200
to buy him LSD. They found an intermediary who agreed to get the drugs for
them, but he hid the money in his shoe, punched himself in the face and
claimed drug dealers stole the cash.
When they returned without the drugs or money, Pearce summoned Smith and
they drove the teens to a secluded area where the 2 victims were shot.
Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper ordered a new trial because defense lawyers had
failed to object to testimony Pearce also forced Tuttle to perform oral
sex on him at gunpoint and a prosecutor's comments to the jury about the
uncharged crime. Tepper ruled the jury had been prejudiced, but the
justices disagreed in an unsigned opinion.
"The sexual assault did not become a feature of the trial and was simply
one act in a series that led to the murder and attempted murder," they
wrote. "Our confidence in the verdict is not undermined."
The high court's 2 newest justices did not participate in the 5-0 ruling.
(source for both: Associated Press)
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