[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----USA, MD., WASH., N.Y.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Oct 12 17:52:10 CDT 2008
Catholic Voters and the Teachings of the Church
A Fight Among Catholics Over Which Party Best Reflects Church Teachings
(October 5, 2008) Re "A Fight Among Catholics Over Which Party Best
Reflects Church Teachings" (news article, Oct. 5):
Here we go again! It must be October in a presidential election year and
the Democratic candidates must be poised to win: time for pastoral letters
from some Roman Catholic bishops urging rejection by me and my
co-religionists of candidates (read: Democrats) who are not in lock step
with the churchs teachings on abortion.
As a practicing Catholic, I would find these directives more credible if
they also admonished Catholic voters to reject candidates who endorse or
condone capital punishment, that other form of state-sponsored homicide.
Until then, I will continue to dismiss these quadrennial broadsides as
nothing more than the partisan political handouts of right-wing clerics.
John A. Rudy--Cooperstown, N.Y., Oct. 5, 2008
(source: Letter to the Editor, New York Times)
Sentencing Panel Mulls Alternatives to Prison
As the nation's inmate population climbs toward 2.5 million, the U.S.
Sentencing Commission is considering alternatives to prison for some
offenders, including treatment programs for nonviolent drug users and
employment training for minor parole violators.
The commission's consideration of alternatives to incarceration reflects
its determination to persuade Congress to ease federal mandatory minimum
sentencing laws that contributed to explosive growth in the prison
population. The laws were enacted in the mid-1980s, principally to address
a crime epidemic related to crack cocaine. But in recent years, federal
judges, public defenders and probation officials have argued that
mandatory sentences imprison first-time offenders unnecessarily and
disproportionately affect minorities.
If the commission moves ahead with recommending alternatives to Congress,
it would send a strong signal to state sentencing commissions and
legislatures, and could pave the way for a major expansion of drug courts
and adult developmental programs for parolees, advocates said.
"We are leading the world in incarcerating adults, and that's something
Americans need to understand," said Beryl Howell, one of six members of
the commission, which drafts federal sentencing guidelines and advises the
House and Senate on prison policy. "People should be aware that every
tough-on-crime act comes with a price. The average cost [of incarceration]
across the country is $24,000 a year per inmate. . . . It's going up far
faster than state budgets can keep up."
About 2,000 drug courts nationwide spend between $1,500 and $11,000 per
offender, according to the National Drug Court Institute. Those scattered
courts handle only a small fraction of the 1.5 million nonviolent drug
offenders who are arrested and charged with a crime, said C. West
Huddleston, chief executive of the National Association of Drug Court
The courts operate under similar principles: At sentencing, a judge gives
a nonviolent offender the option of going to prison or committing to a
rigorous treatment program, where he or she submits to frequent tests and
supervision. The aim is to reduce the 67 % recidivism rate of addicted
The government has established a discretionary grant program, operated by
the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which is distributing $13 million to
drug court programs this year.
"Drug courts are the most successful strategy in terms of reducing crime,
but they're tremendously underutilized," Huddleston said. "I think a
Sentencing Commission recommendation to U.S. courts would create momentum.
It'll wake up state legislatures. It's a conversation that should have
been had years ago."
The commission held a symposium to discuss alternatives to incarceration
in July after a study this year by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the
States revealed that more than one in 100 American adults are in jail or
prison. That study was followed by a Bureau of Justice Statistics report
in June that showed that a record 7.2 million people are under supervision
in the criminal justice system. The cost, about $45 billion a year, has
forced states such as California to export inmates to private prisons as
far away as Tennessee.
Jeffrey L. Sedgwick, assistant attorney general for the Justice
Department's office of justice programs, said the burgeoning prison
population might be worth the cost. Research has shown that crime rates
decline as the incarceration rate rises, he said. "In other words, as the
number of people under correctional supervision goes up, crime goes down."
Sedgwick said the cost of housing prisoners should be weighed against
other factors, such as the cost for victims of violent crimes to piece
their lives back together. He said conservative estimates put the cost of
violent crime at about $17 billion.
But the Justice Department is open to discussing options that might reduce
prison overcrowding and costs, and is waiting to see what the commission
recommends, Sedgwick said. "We're not necessarily going to oppose it out
of hand, but we say be real careful, we recommend more study," he said.
Howell said maintaining a prison population equal to the size of a major
U.S. city "is inconsistent with what Congress had in mind with the
Sentencing Reform Act" of 1984, which created the commission.
"Our purpose is not just to issue guidelines setting forth the severity of
punishment, but to provide guidelines to judges for the form of that
punishment," Howell said. "The commission has spent most of its time on
the severity. It is somewhat new for us to look at the form of the
punishment, and that's where alternatives come in."
The commission's consideration of alternatives comes the year after it
defied the Bush administration by relaxing tough sentencing guidelines for
crack cocaine offenders and making its decision retroactive, so that
thousands already in prison could seek release before the end of their
terms. About 4,000 mostly nonviolent offenders have taken advantage of the
policy so far, according to members of the commission and the federal
Bureau of Prisons.
The Justice Department, U.S. attorneys and the National District Attorneys
Association strongly opposed easing the guidelines for crack cocaine
offenders and making them retroactive. But the reaction to possible prison
alternatives has not been as pronounced.
"My experience tells me that if the drug court is properly constituted and
has the buy-in of judges, prosecutors and parole officials, they are very
effective," said Tom Sneddon, interim executive director of the district
attorneys group and a former Santa Barbara, Calif., prosecutor who helped
establish a drug court there.
"But there are some courts that are shadow programs that they use to cycle
people back into society and not send them to prison, and have no real
substance at all," Sneddon said.
Another program under consideration would allow judges to develop
rehabilitation programs for parolees based on their needs -- such as
employment, education or drug treatment. Parolees could join the program
upon their release from prison or after committing a minor parole
violation, such as failing to update an address or a telephone number.
Texas criminal district court Judge John Creuzot said drug courts have
worked in his state. He said he established a program after Texas got
tough on minor drug offenders, jailing them for 2 years.
"Well, that thing started to break down by the late 1990s," he said, ". .
. because then we had so many people in penitentiaries that we were
actually letting murderers and rapists out to make room for these small
violators, low-risk violators. And so we started rethinking what we were
The 18-month program accepts low-level drug offenders with no felony
records or histories of violence. "We did a study of that program, and we
have a 68 percent reduction of recidivism in that program," Creuzot said.
"It's a phenomenally successful program."
For parolees, job training is seen as the chief remedy to repeated
incarceration, said Judge Robert Holmes Bell, chief U.S. district judge
for the Western District of Michigan. "In the old days, the warden of the
prison used to give the person a bus ticket and $20 and say, 'Godspeed to
you,' and away they went."
The Sentencing Commission's staff is drafting a proposal amending its
guidelines that the panel could submit for public comment in late
December. The commission could make a final decision by May 1. Congress
would then have 180 days to reverse the decision.
(source: Washington Post)
Spying on Activists Discussed at Forum----Group Questions Why Some, Not
The 53 men and women wrongly classified by the Maryland State Police as
terrorists include 2 Catholic nuns, a Democratic candidate for Congress, a
man who campaigns against military recruiting at high schools and one
person who has never set foot in the state.
They share a passion for peaceful political protest. But as the activists
were invited last week to review their files before they are purged from
state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects, their
identities indicate that the 14-month surveillance operation in 2005 and
2006 targeted not just local opponents of the death penalty and Iraq war,
as police claim, but a broader group.
Frederick lawyer Barry Kissin, his wife and two other members of the
Frederick Progressive Action Coalition received letters from the police
last week notifying them that they were on the list. Since the anthrax
attacks in 2001, the group has been devoted to marching peacefully to
fight the government's expansion of biodefense research at Fort Detrick,
arguing that the research will pose a health threat.
"That's what ties the 4 of us together," said Kissin, who ran
unsuccessfully for Congress as a Democrat in 2006.
Kissin was one of 70 activists who gathered at Takoma Park Presbyterian
Church yesterday for a forum sponsored by the Washington Peace Center to
discuss a strategy to ensure that their names are erased from any
anti-terrorism databases. Among their questions are why some of them were
targeted and others spared. Some people named in surveillance logs
released in July by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland --
which sued for the documents under public records laws -- have not been
contacted by police.
Some who made the list said they were not in Maryland when the spying took
place, prompting them to wonder if the operation went on for longer or if
their names were culled from other databases. The activists were furious
that they will not be allowed to keep paper copies of their files or
review them with attorneys for the ACLU, which is representing many of
"I am not a fringe person, and none of us are fringe people," said David
Zirin, a sportswriter and death penalty opponent from Silver Spring,
referring to a characterization by former state police superintendent
Thomas E. Hutchins at a legislative hearing last week.
State police spokesman Greg Shipley said Friday that he did not know how
commanders in the Division of Homeland Security and Intelligence decided
which names to enter in the databases. "What [State Police Superintendent
Col. Terrence B. Sheridan] has said is the action taken wasn't appropriate
and that's why the individuals' names are being purged."
State Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery) told the group that he plans to
co-sponsor a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would prohibit
covert monitoring by police of any political group unless they have an
"articulated" suspicion of criminal activity.
Their antiwar protests landed Sister Carol Gilbert and Sister Ardeth
Platte, both of Baltimore, in federal prison in Colorado after they
trespassed on a military base and poured blood into a nuclear missile silo
to protest the war in Afghanistan. When they received their letters from
the state police, they were offended that they would be able to review
only "relevant" information the police have gathered on them. "Anything
you have on me is relevant as far as I'm concerned," Gilbert said.
Nancy Kricorian, a New York writer who coordinates that state's chapter of
Code Pink, a national nonviolent women's antiwar group, said she received
an e-mail from the state police Monday asking for her address. She thought
it was a prank. "Honestly, I've never been to Maryland," she said,
although she might have driven down Interstate 95 to the District to march
in a Mother's Day peace vigil in Lafayette Square. When Code Pink plans a
protest in New York, she's the one who calls police to let them know. "To
me that's a big irony here, that I'm the police liaison," she said.
Although most activists on the list appear to represent progressive
causes, a neo-Nazi who says he is the leader of the American National
Socialist Workers Party said police contacted him last week, too. William
A. White said that he moved from Derwood to Roanoke, Va., in 2003, and
wondered why he was under surveillance. White said he espouses
nonviolence, although he has faced several criminal charges.
Pat Elder of Bethesda said he believed he was targeted for his leadership
of a national network that opposes military recruitment in high schools.
When he called the police to arrange to review his file, he said he was
told he would have only a half-hour. After he requested more time, the
commander on the phone told him he could have it because his file was
(source: Washington Post)
Paper asks Supreme Court to review ruling
The Yakima Herald-Republic has asked the state's highest court to review a
local ruling that keeps secret the taxpayer-financed costs of defending a
man convicted of aggravated first-degree murder.
At issue is how $1.5 million was spent to defend Jose "Junior" Sanchez who
was convicted of killing a 21-year-old man and the man's 3-year-old
daughter in 2005. He is serving life without parole.
The records of spending were sealed when prosecutors were considering the
death penalty and have remained sealed.
The newspaper contends the records should be open under the state's Public
While the court is exempt from the state records law, the newspaper
believes the law applies in this case because of an unusual arrangement in
which Yakima County Superior Court Judge James Lust was appointed to serve
as a "budget judge" to review billing requests from defense attorneys in
the case. A different judge handled Sanchez's actual trial.
Attorneys for the newspaper argued that Lust's handling of the records was
inherently administrative, not judicial. But a late June ruling, visiting
Kittitas County Superior Court Judge Michael Cooper disagreed, and refused
to release the records.
The Herald-Republic is now asking the state Supreme Court to review
Cooper's ruling because if the case is taken to the state Court of Appeals
it's unlikely to end there. That's because whatever decision that court
renders is likely to be appealed by the losing side.
"We need the state Supreme Court to rule on this as an important public
records case," said Sarah Jenkins, editor of the Herald-Republic. "While
we recongize the rights of defendants in court, we are asking that the
justices also recognize the right of taxpayers to know how their money is
Arguing against opening the billing records are attorneys Gregory Click
and Susan Wilk of the Washing-ton Appellate Project, which is appealing
Sanchez's criminal conviction.
While the two Seattle attorneys did not represent Sanchez at his Superior
Court trial and are not responsible for his $1.5 million defense, they
contend opening the records would jeopardize their client's opportunities
in an appeal.
It is not clear when, or even if, the Supreme Court will accept direct
review of the Sanchez case.
Deadline passes for releasing murder trial records
Attorney Pete Connick says he needs more time. A lawyer for the Yakima
Herald-Republic says Connick is stonewalling.
That's the short version of the Herald-Republic's long-running battle to
unseal court records in a double-murder case that cost taxpayers more than
$2 million in court-appointed attorneys' fees and other defense spending.
Connick is a Seattle lawyer who represented Mario "Gato" Mendez, one of
two men convicted in a 2005 drug ripoff that ended in the shooting deaths
of 21-year-old Ricky Causor and his 3-year-old daughter, Mya.
In August, Yakima County Superior Court Judge James Lust ordered the
billings released, but gave Connick until Sept. 26 to edit out privileged
attorney work product from client's file. But on Thursday, Connick
belatedly asked the court for a new deadline of Nov. 12.
"There's over 1,300 pages" in the file, he said in an interview with the
Herald-Republic. "I didn't know there was going to be 1,300 pages of
stuff. It's actually not fair."
Sarah Wixson, a lawyer for the newspaper, had a different take on it. She
accused Connick of dragging his feet to buy time while he prepares an
appeal of Lust's order.
"He's trying to perfect his appeal before he has to turn over the records
so he doesn't have to turn them over at all," she said.
Wixson said Connick could face court sanctions for failing to meet the
The dispute over the Mendez file is half of a 2-front war being fought by
the Herald-Republic, which has been struggling to unseal court records in
the case for months.
Herald-Republic Pub-lisher Mike Shepard said the dispute has cost the
news-paper more than $30,000 in legal fees at a time of financial turmoil
in the newspaper industry caused by the accelerating loss of advertising
revenue to the Internet and the recent economic downturn.
Nevertheless, he said the role of watchdog is one the paper takes
seriously. Defense spending in the case cost taxpayers more than $2
million, and the public has a right to a full accounting, he said.
"It would be better for us financially to let these lawyers and the courts
keep these records secret," Shepard said, "but I don't think that's what
is best for the citizens of the Yakima Valley or the state."
The high-octane defense spending in the case exposed shortcomings in the
way death penalty cases are handled in Washington. Much of the defense
spending would have been unnecessary had the possibility of the death
penalty not been in play.
Also under seal is the file of co-defendant Jose "Junior" Sanchez, who was
convicted by a jury in November of aggravated first-degree murder for his
role in the attack and is now serving a life sentence without possibility
The death penalty was initially on the table in Sanchez's case, and his
first set of lawyers racked up nearly $1 million in defense costs before
they were dismissed for unethical behavior.
By the time the trial was over, the final tab came to just over $1.5
million. Much of that cost was unnecessary, as prosecutors ultimately
rejected the death penalty before trial.
The bill for Mendez's defense, meanwhile, topped $500,000. Mendez pleaded
guilty to a lesser murder charge before the Sanchez trial and was given a
30-year sentence for his testimony. Sanchez was sentenced automatically to
life in prison without possibility of parole.
Connick said it isn't his fault that he missed the deadline to edit the
Mendez file because he didn't get the file from the court until just 2
days before the Sept. 26 deadline.
Asked what he's been doing for the past 2 weeks, he said he was "in the
process" of going to trial on an unrelated case in Seattle and that he
can't edit the file without assistance from his co-counsel in the Mendez
case, Mary Kay High of Tacoma.
"My problem is I have to get together with" her, he said.
As a result, he said he needs until Nov. 12 to edit the file. A hearing on
his request has been set for Oct. 24 before Lust.
For now it appears that Connick has not been billing the county to fight
Lust's unsealing order. County officials said he has not submitted any
billings for months.
(source for both: Yakima Herald-Republic)
The candidates on the issues
How they stand
War in Iraq: Supports the current plans for withdraw by 2011 so long as it
does not compromise the need for regional stability and the safety of
Health care: Supports tort-reforms that will help reduce the cost of
liability insurance; wants to allow for portability because workers today
may change jobs several times, allow small employers to pool risk across
jurisdictional boundaries to obtain lower premiums, and give workers a
deduction for health insurance.
Energy: Proposes an all-inclusive plan comprised of new alternative
energies, technology that allows for cleaner, more efficient use of fossil
fuel technologies, and expanded exploration and production of domestic
Taxes: Says upstate New Yorkers deserve a broad-based tax cut, but that
government spending needs to be addressed before we can further cut taxes;
has signed a pledge to not raise income taxes; supports repeal of the
death tax, also known as the estate tax.
Abortion: Opposes the use of tax dollars for abortions; supports a ban on
partial-birth abortions with exceptions for rape and incest.
Death penalty: Supports death penalty for 1st-degree murder; when a law
enforcement officer is involved; and for terrorists.
War in Iraq: Believes we must start planning for a troop draw-down and a
transition to self rule immediately. Also, Iraq must use its $80 billion
surplus to pay for its own reconstruction.
Health care: Supports a single-payer health care system that does not
discriminate based on age, health or ability to pay.
Energy: Advocates for a comprehensive energy plan that will provide
federal funding to support research and development of clean renewable
energy sources. Wants to address the demand for energy by setting tighter
fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles and enacting a program to help
people weatherize their homes.
Taxes: Supports Barack Obama's plan to cut taxes for middle class and
working families, and reverse the "Bush tax cuts" for the wealthy.
Abortion: Believes health decisions should be made by an individual and
Death penalty: Is opposed.
For more from these candidates and others, visit our interactive election
guide at http://timesunion.com/election/voterguide
(source: Albany Times-Union)
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