[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----WASHINGTON
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Mon Nov 24 17:21:32 CST 2008
URGENT ACTION APPEAL
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24 November 2008
UA 323/08 - Death penalty
USA (Washington State) Darold Stenson (m), white, aged 55
Darold Stenson is scheduled to be executed in Washington State on 3
December. He has spent 14 years on death row for two murders committed in
In the early hours of 25 March 1993, Darold Stenson telephoned the police
from his home at Dakota Farms in Clallam County in the west of Washington
State, where he ran a business raising and selling exotic birds. He told
the operator that "Frank has just shot my wife, and himself, I think".
When the police arrived, Darold Stenson took them to a bedroom where his
business partner Frank Clement Hoerner was dead on the floor with a
bullet wound to the head and a revolver nearby. Stenson then took the
police to another bedroom where his wife, Denise Ann Stenson, was on the
bed, also with a bullet wound to the head. She was airlifted to hospital,
but died the following day.
A subsequent investigation concluded that Hoerner had not killed himself,
but had been hit in the head outside and dragged into the bedroom where
he had been shot in the head at close range. The investigation also
revealed that Darold Stenson owed Hoerner a large amount of money, and
also that he had taken out a life insurance policy on Denise Stenson.
Darold Stenson was arrested on 8 April 1993, and brought to trial a few
months later. He was convicted on 11 August 1994 of the two murders.
After a sentencing hearing on 18 August, he was sentenced to death.
Darold Stenson has not filed a clemency petition. He has, however,
maintained his innocence of the crime and has been pursuing a stay of
execution in the courts in a bid to obtain modern DNA testing of evidence
from the crime.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases,
unconditionally. Today, some 137 countries are abolitionist in law or
practice. In 2007, the UN General Assembly voted for a moratorium on
executions pending global abolition.
There have been 1,135 executions in the USA since judicial killing
resumed there in 1977, four of them in Washington State. There have been
36 executions in the USA this year. The last execution in Washington was
carried out in August 2001. Executions in Washington State are carried
out by lethal injection unless the condemned prisoner chooses hanging as
the preferred execution method. Executions are carried out at the
Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla.
The death penalty in the USA is marked by arbitrariness, discrimination
and error. More than 120 people have been released from death rows in the
country since 1976 after evidence of their innocence emerged. DNA testing
played a major role in proving the innocence of more than a dozen of
these prisoners. Studies have consistently shown that race, particularly
race of victim, plays a role in who is sentenced to death. Eighty per
cent of those executed in the USA since 1977 were convicted of killing
white victims. Geographical disparities are also evident, with a handful
of states accounting for a vast majority of the country's executions, and
some counties accounting for disproportionate use of the death penalty
within states. The quality of legal representation has also repeatedly
been shown to be a factor in US capital justice.
The myth that the "worst of the worst" crimes and offenders receive the
death penalty in the USA became an issue in Washington State in recent
years after Gary Ridgway avoided the death penalty in 2004 despite
confessing to having committed 48 murders, mainly of prostitutes and
runaways. The prosecution agreed to a plea arrangement whereby Ridgway
would provide information about the crimes in return for a life sentence.
In March 2006, a divided Washington State Supreme Court considered the
issue in the case of a state death row inmate convicted of three murders.
The five in the majority wrote that the "moral question" of whether those
on death row can be executed while a serial killer is given a life
sentence is best left to the legislature. The four dissenting judges
argued: "When Gary Ridgway, the worst mass murderer in this state's
history, escapes the death penalty, serious flaws become apparent." The
dissenting opinion pointed out that the problem went beyond the Ridgway
case: "If the Ridgway case was the only case at the far end of the
spectrum, perhaps his penalty of life in prison rather than death could
be explained or dismissed. Ridgway, however, is not the only case in
which a mass murderer escaped death." When the Ridgway and other cases of
people convicted of serial killing are considered, the dissenters stated,
"the staggering flaw in the system of administration of the death penalty
in Washington" is revealed. "These cases exemplify the arbitrariness with
which the penalty of death is exacted... The death penalty is like
lightning, randomly striking some defendants and not others... No
rational explanation exists to explain why some individuals escape the
penalty of death and others do not".
In April 2008, Justice John Paul Stevens, who has served on the US
Supreme Court for almost 33 years, and has therefore witnessed the entire
"modern" era of the death penalty in the USA from the bench of the
country's highest court, wrote that his experience has led him to the
conclusion that "the imposition of the death penalty represents the
pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal
contributions to any discernible social or public purposes. A penalty
with such negligible returns to the State is patently excessive and cruel
and unusual punishment". Over the past three decades, he continued, the
stated purposes of the death penalty - incapacitation, deterrence and
retribution - have all been called into question. On the risk of
wrongful conviction in capital cases - "the irrevocable nature of the
consequences is of decisive importance to me" - Justice Stevens pointed
out that the risk of executing the innocent "can be entirely eliminated"
by abolishing the death penalty.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible:
- explaining that you are not seeking to excuse the crime in this case or
to downplay the suffering caused;
- opposing the execution of Darold Stenson and the death penalty in general;
- noting the global abolitionist trend and last year's vote at the United
Nations General Assembly calling for a worldwide moratorium on
- calling on the governor to support a moratorium on executions in
Washington State and to work towards abolition of the death penalty in
Governor Chris Gregoire
Office of the Governor
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002
Fax: 1 360 753 4110
Salutation: Dear Governor
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY.
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Amnesty International is a worldwide grassroots movement
that promotes and defends human rights.
This Urgent Action may be reposted if kept intact, including
contact information and stop action date (if applicable).
Thank you for your help with this appeal.
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Email: uan at aiusa.org
END OF URGENT ACTION APPEAL
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