[Deathpenalty] death penalty news-----USA, ALA., GA., OHIO
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Thu Jan 1 12:12:19 CST 2009
Abatement of capital punishment continues in U.S.
Executions and new death sentences each continued their sharp nationwide
decline in 2008, as states wrestled with legal, moral and financial
concerns about capital punishment.
37people were executed in 9 states, the lowest total in 14 years and a 62
% drop from the 98 death sentences carried out in 1999, according to
statistics compiled by the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center.
A total of 111 death sentences were handed down, the fewest since
executions resumed in 1976, according to the center, a repository of
reports and research on capital punishment run largely by opponents. The
total declined from 115 in 2007 and was barely a third of the numbers
condemned each year in the 1990s.
The economic realities of cash-strapped state and local governments have
undermined capital punishment where moral and legal arguments have failed
to alter majority support for the death penalty, said Richard Dieter, a
Catholic University law professor and director of the information center.
"I don't know that it will change public opinion but the practical effects
of the economy are just that if you're a politician and you have to cut
something, do you want fewer police officers on the streets "... or do you
cut one death penalty and save a few million dollars?" Dieter said. "At a
time when states are cutting back on teachers, police officers, health
care, infrastructure, and other vital services, citizens are increasingly
concerned that the death penalty is not the best use of their limited
A Gallup poll in October showed 64 % support for capital punishment. But
even in Texas, where 18 of the 37 executions occurred last year, the
number of death sentences issued has declined by 1/2 over the past decade.
In New Mexico, the state Supreme Court ruled last year that death
penalties couldn't be pursued unless the Legislature budgeted adequate
funding for legal representation of condemned inmates who cannot afford
attorneys. Utah judges also signaled that they would overturn death
penalties for convicts inadequately defended.
New Jersey and New York dropped the death penalty in 2007, and a vote
expected early this year in Maryland on whether to abolish capital
punishment has been driven in part by taxpayers' sticker shock at reports
that each of the 5 executions there cost about $37 million.
In California, home to 1 in 5 of the country's condemned prisoners,
prosecutors are wary of seeking death penalties when life without parole
accomplishes the objective of keeping killers off the street. San
Quentin's death row, the nation's most populous, continued to grow last
year, with 21 new capital judgments swelling the ranks of condemned
prisoners to 677. Executions were suspended for legal review of the
state's lethal injection procedures and reconstruction of the idled death
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Sen. Webb's Call for Prison Reform
This country puts too many people behind bars for too long. Most elected
officials, afraid of being tarred as soft on crime, ignore these problems.
Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat of Virginia, is now courageously stepping into
the void, calling for a national commission to re-assess criminal justice
policy. Other members of Congress should show the same courage and rally
to the cause.
Prisons and PrisonersThe United States has the worlds highest reported
incarceration rate. Although it has less than 5 % of the worlds
population, it has almost 1/4 of the world's prisoners. And for the 1st
time in history, more than 1 in 100 American adults are behind bars.
Many inmates are serving long sentences for nonviolent crimes, including
minor drug offenses. It also is extraordinarily expensive. Billions of
dollars now being spent on prisons each year could be used in far more
socially productive ways.
Senator Webb a former Marine and secretary of the Navy in the Reagan
administration is in many ways an unlikely person to champion criminal
justice reform. But his background makes him an especially effective
advocate for a cause that has often been associated with liberals and
In his 2 years in the Senate, Mr. Webb has held hearings on the cost of
mass incarceration and on the criminal justice system's response to the
problems of illegal drugs. He also has called attention to the challenges
of prisoner re-entry and of the need to provide released inmates, who have
paid their debts to society, more help getting jobs and resuming
Mr. Webb says he intends to introduce legislation to create a national
commission to investigate these issues. With Barack Obama in the White
House, and strong Democratic majorities in Congress, the political climate
should be more favorable than it has been in years. And the economic
downturn should make both federal and state lawmakers receptive to the
idea of reforming a prison system that is as wasteful as it is inhumane.
(source: Editorial, New York Times)
Review of death penalty case denied by high court
The state Supreme Court on Wednesday declined an appeal by Michael S.
Taylor, who was convicted of capital murder in the 1993 slayings of his
Gadsden neighbors while he was AWOL from the Navy.
The 9-member court 7-1 rejected Taylor's request to review his case for
non-evidence errors such as lack of adequate legal representation.
Justice Glenn Murdock dissented and Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb recused.
She was a judge on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals when Taylors case
was heard there.
Taylor, 37, was convicted of murdering neighbors Ivan and Lucille Moore on
April 14, 1993. He was absent without leave from the Navy and confessed to
beating and robbing the elderly couple.
His conviction and death sentence have been upheld by the Alabama Supreme
Court. He now can begin appeals through federal court.
Clay Crenshaw, chief of the attorney generals capital litigation section,
said Taylor can appeal Wednesday's denial of a writ of certiorari to the
U.S. Supreme Court and can then begin appeals to U.S. District Court.
(source: Gadsden Times)
Death case defendant sues for lack of lawyers
A murder defendant who says it is "unconscionable" for him to have been
denied legal representation for 8 months is suing the head of the state's
public defender system.
"This is surely an unprecedented deprivation of counsel in modern times,"
said the lawsuit, filed Wednesday for Jamie Ryan Weis by 4 prominent
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Weis for the Feb. 2,
2006, killing of Catherine King in her Pike County home.
Since April, Weis has been sitting in jail awaiting trial without lawyers
to represent him. The lawsuit was filed after trial judge Johnnie Caldwell
scheduled a Jan. 5 hearing on the case.
"It's frustrating," Pike County District Attorney Scott Ballard said.
"Everybody wants the defendant to be well represented. We'll be ready to
prosecute just as soon as they're ready."
The suit was filed in Fulton County Superior Court against Mack Crawford,
director of the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, and Gerry Word,
acting head of the capital defender's office.
Both Crawford and Word said they had yet to see the complaint and declined
comment Wednesday afternoon.
Weis' case has highlighted the budgetary problems plaguing the state's
public defender system.
Weis' 2 appointed lawyers, Bob Citronberg and Tom West, were removed from
the case in November 2007 when the cash-strapped defender system did not
have the money to pay them.
2 local public defenders were ordered to take over the case.
But the 2 defenders objected, saying they already had crushing caseloads
and had neither the time nor the resources to defend a capital case.
At a court hearing in April, an agreement was reached to return Citronberg
and West to the case, provided that Crawford sign a contract allowing them
to be paid. But that has yet to occur.
Crawford should have signed the contract long ago, the suit said.
"He should not have delayed the reinstatement of counsel for 8 days; the
delay of 8 months is unconscionable."
Crawford, the lawsuit said, "has simply refused even to speak with
attorneys Citronberg and West about representation of [Weis]. Instead, he
has engaged in contradictory, evasive, confusing and unresponsive behavior
that has left [Weis] without legal representation in a capital case for
Esther Lardent, head of the Pro Bono Institute in Washington, called it
"really troubling" that the defender council has been unable to provide
Weis a lawyer.
"As time goes by, witnesses disappear, evidence gets stale," she said.
"The ability of the defendant to get a fair trial is impaired. The ability
of the prosecution to present its case is impaired. The whole idea of what
is supposed to be happening in the justice system is compromised."
Citronberg and West have worked together on a number of capital cases,
obtaining life sentences in all of them. In October, West, paired with a
state-salaried capital defender, helped obtain the first life sentence in
a death-penalty trial in Douglas County in more than a decade.
Weis' suit seeks a court order reinstating Citronberg and West as his
It was filed on Weis' behalf by lawyers Stephen Bright, Sarah Geraghty, Ed
Garland and Don Samuel.
Separately, the lawyers filed a motion Wednesday in Pike County objecting
to Monday's court hearing because Weis has no criminal defense lawyers.
(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Convicted killer to remain on death row
The Ohio Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal of the death sentence
for killer Andre R. Williams.
LuWayne Annos, an assistant Trumbull County prosecutor, said the court's
decision could signal the end of Williams' state appeals, though that
decision will be up to Williams and his lawyer, John Juhasz, of Boardman.
Juhasz could not be reached yesterday.
Annos said her office will notify the Ohio attorney general's office of
the Supreme Court's decision and expect it to notify the 6th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals in Cincinnati so that Williams' federal appeals process
That process was put on hold in 2003 after a U.S. Supreme Court decision
that said it is unconstitutional to execute the mentally retarded.
Williams filed an appeal of his death sentence on those grounds, but both
Judge W. Wyatt McKay of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court and the 11th
District Court of Appeals ruled against Williams.
Williams, 41, was convicted in 1989 of killing George Melnick, 65, and
severely beating Melnick's wife, Katherine, 65, in 1988 in Warren.
(source: Youngstown Vindicator)
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