[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, USA, CALIF., N.C., WYO.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Sun Jan 4 12:07:19 CST 2009
On Texan of the Year: I second this award
Re: "Craig Watkins -- Dallas County district attorney made his name not by
securing convictions, but by clearing the way for them to be overturned,"
last Sunday Points.
Craig Watkins is an exemplary choice. He is a man who puts justice into
perspective in lieu of flaunting numbers.
Edward E. Sharp II, Bedford
Unit's funding should go elsewhere
So many others are so much more deserving than Craig Watkins. Like Ken
Mayfield, I believe that the $480,000 that the county spends to fund the
salaries of his conviction integrity team could be better spent elsewhere.
If that makes me one of his "detractors," then so be it.
Nancy Black, Dallas
Surprise: a Democrat!
Congratulations! Craig Watkins is an excellent choice.
You didn't pick a group or someone notorious. Picking a Democrat was
totally unexpected. Good for you.
Ronald W. Landen, Plano
A mixed record at best
Your choice of Craig Watkins as Texan of the Year is pathetic and
amazingly hypocritical, with your paper's own position on the death
The Dallas Morning News recently called for the complete abolition of the
death penalty, correctly citing the inherent flaws of the system.
Watkins clearly deserves much praise for leading the effort to free
wrongfully convicted people from Dallas jails. But his recent decision to
seek the death penalty and to personally prosecute the case smacks of
moral and political inconsistency.
Abolition of the death penalty means that no one should ever be sentenced
to death for any reason. Officials who espouse the philosophy and practice
of death, and who involve themselves in the process, should be seen for
who they are: opponents of human rights and not to be praised and
I hope the New Year brings Watkins and your staff more wisdom.
Rick Halperin, president, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty,
He's fighting shameful trend
I have resided in Texas for more than 30 years now. Throughout that time,
I have been ashamed, year after year, of our state's enthusiasm for the
Quite frankly, we should all be embarrassed by the intensity of death
Thank you, Dallas Morning News, for selecting Craig Watkins as your Texan
of the Year. He has provided Texans with a balanced approach to this
divisive issue and deserves your award. Just ask the death penalty people
who have been exonerated.
Ted Moock, Dallas
His name isn't known statewide
Nastia Liukin is a name known around the world, as are other possible
choices on the ballot, but you pick the Dallas district attorney.
I'm guessing Texans in Hondo, Amarillo, Gladewater, Victoria or even San
Marcos don't have a clue who the Dallas DA is. Maybe its time to just call
it the Dallas-Fort Worth person of the year after picking illegal
immigrants last year and now a local district attorney. Better yet, just
forget the whole thing.
Jim Hivner, Plano
He let politics prevail
A rather disturbing Dallas Morning News article on the capital murder
trial of Robert Sparks from early December suggests that Craig Watkins may
be pursuing the death penalty -- against his own conscience -- in that
case (and others) for political reasons. If quotes attributed to Watkins
in that article are accurate, he personally asked the jury to condemn
Sparks to death in order to prove to Dallas County citizens that he isn't
soft on crime.
In the short time he has been in office, Watkins has become
internationally known as the prosecutor who established a convictions
integrity unit to examine questionable convictions in Dallas County. But
neither this unit nor his public expression of ambivalence about imposing
the death penalty will exonerate him from responsibility for any death
that may occur because of a sentence handed down at the behest of his
If he believes the death penalty is wrong, he should not pursue it -- for
political or any other reasons. Despite his incredible achievements in
office so far, Watkins does not deserve the Texan of the Year award until
he resolves this issue. He's halfway there.
Patricia H. Davis, Dallas
Why not Ron Paul?
I don't disagree that Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins should be the
Texan of the Year.
However, I am disappointed that Ron Paul did not make it into the top 10.
He did get the most nominations from across the state, country and world.
I don't know why you chose to ignore his impact.
Richard Bach, Garland
(source: Letters to the Editor, Dallas Morning News)
Death penalty continues its national drop----Economic woes contribute to
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.
37 people were executed in nine 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 not
altered majority support for the death penalty, said Richard Dieter, a
Catholic University law professor and director of the information center.
Texas executions fall, too
"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.
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 half over the past
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
their own lawyers. Utah judges also signaled that they would overturn
death penalties for convicts inadequately defended.
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.
"District attorneys are being more selective in determining to go for the
death penalty for a number of reasons, one of which is that it takes so
long," said Scott Thorpe, head of the California District Attorneys
Association. "The delays have an impact on victims' families and on the
overall costs of prosecution."
25 stayed executions
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
Nationally, at least 25 scheduled executions were stayed in 2008, 4 death
row inmates were exonerated and another 4 had their sentences commuted to
life. The exoneration and release of the 4 prisoners from Texas,
Mississippi and North Carolina brought to 130 the number of death row
inmates cleared by DNA evidence or investigations undertaken by death
penalty opponents such as the Innocence Project.
A de facto moratorium on executions was in place nationwide for the eight
months prior to April, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Kentucky's
lethal injection procedures that had been challenged as cruel and unusual
punishment. Although a spate of executions had been expected after the
ruling, authorities in several of the 36 states allowing capital
punishment ordered their own reviews of the death-chamber procedures.
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Capital punishment is justice for California
PATRICIA PENDERGRASS has firsthand experience how a prison life sentence
can mean nothing. Behind the walls of Folsom State Prison, while serving a
life sentence for the murder of a teenage girl, Clarence Ray Allen planned
and ordered the execution of Bryon Schletewitz, Pendergrass' brother.
Allen's reign of terror on the Schletewitz family did not end with Bryon's
murder. On two occasions, Molotov cocktails were used in attempts to set
the family home on fire, a bullet was shot through the front window of
their home and Patricia's small children were threatened, which eventually
forced the family into hiding. Twenty-six years after the murder, Allen
received his ultimate punishment and Patricia received peace. Sadly, both
of her parents died before they were able to receive the same peace.
Newark Police Chief Ray Samuels argued in this space (Reader's Forum, Dec.
20) that the death penalty is too costly and ineffective. However, you
cannot put a price on the lives you save by efficiently implementing a
death penalty that in fact does have a deterrent effect when it is carried
out effectively as in other states.
The implementation of the death penalty in California once it's been
imposed is unnecessarily slow. The public debate has become less about the
facts and merits of death penalty laws than it is about rhetoric and
political posturing. Unfortunately, our courts have become pawns in this
debate as well.
While procedural challenges, motions and tactical maneuvers wind their way
through the courts, thousands of victims and their families are forced to
relieve their nightmares. That is the injustice perpetrated by a system
designed to provide justice. The irony should not be lost on anyone.
Recently, the Institute for the Advancement of Criminal Justice published
"The Death Penalty in California"
(http://www.iacj.org/PDF/IACJJournalIssue2.pdf), a definitive anthology
that examines in great detail the facts about capital punishment in
California from diverse perspectives providing academic, fact-based
research that proves the need for capital punishment to ensure a safe
This journal addresses the most common misconceptions including the
implication that capital punishment verdicts are common. In fact, the
death penalty applies only to "carefully contemplated" 1st-degree murders
committed with premeditation and malice. District attorneys "consistently
reserved the death penalty for only the worst of the worst "... ." A
murder conviction alone does not qualify. At least one special
circumstance must be proven to even trigger eligibility. In 2006, 942
defendants were convicted of murder in California alone, yet only 16 were
sentenced to death, translating to less than 2 % of overall convictions in
this state. Another argument is that the death penalty punishes innocent
people who have been convicted by mistake. According to the journal, there
is not 1 single case in modern history to support the claim that an
"innocent" person was executed.
Often, abolitionists argue that there is no deterrent value to the law.
However, research concluded that each execution carried out was associated
with as many as 74 fewer murders the following year. Simple logic,
firsthand accounts and statistical studies prove that the death penalty
"The Death Penalty in California" clearly demonstrates the importance of
capital punishment. However, enforcement in California has become a
lengthy, expensive process that endangers society and further punishes the
Perhaps the best illustration of California's dysfunctional system is that
677 condemned inmates are currently on California's death row, but in the
last 3 decades there have only been 13 executions. Even with the facts
supporting a just capital punishment system, the state fails to live up to
its responsibility to provide justice. It is bound to uphold the law and
the people of California deserve better. Victims, such as Patricia
Pendergrass, deserve better.
(source: Editorial, Contra Costa Times----John Poyner is president of the
Institute for the Advancement of Criminal Justice and district attorney
for Colusa County)
A penalty of the past
Gov. Mike Easley raised a pointed question about crime and punishment:
"When are we going to hold some of these people accountable and get some
of these executions going again? That's what I want to know," the governor
said to N&R reporter Mark Binker in an interview last month.
It won't happen on Easley's watch. His term expires Saturday. Whether the
state's execution chamber gets busy again during the tenure of the next
governor, Bev Perdue, remains to be seen. She also supports capital
punishment, although probably not as impatiently as Easley.
If she and legislative leaders are wise, however, they'll find a way out
of North Carolina's death-penalty dilemma.
Attitudes and applications are changing. Nothing could show this more
dramatically than the fact that only one convicted murderer was sentenced
to death in North Carolina during 2008.
That continues a downward trend, and it demonstrates that juries are
increasingly uncomfortable with the death penalty and more confident in
the alternative of life in prison without parole. Easley might be eager
for executions to get going again, but the men and women who serve on
juries don't share his fervor.
Exceptions are possible. The killing of UNC student Eve Carson last March
might be a case where a jury recommends the death penalty, but that crime
generated extraordinary attention and sympathy for the victim. Much more
often, juries show restraint or prosecutors accept a guilty plea in
exchange for a life sentence.
This creates an obvious inequity. There are 162 inmates on North
Carolina's Death Row. Most were put there under standards in place 10 or
15 years ago or longer. If tried for the same offenses today, most
probably would not be sentenced to death. It's not that their crimes
weren't heinous; rather, life in prison usually is seen now as the most
Executions in North Carolina have been stalled for more than 2 years for a
different reason. State law requires a physician to attend each execution,
but the N.C. Medical Board forbids it. The impasse is waiting for
resolution by the state Supreme Court.
This has created a disgraceful conflict, with state authorities trying to
force an organization of professional healers to abandon medical ethics.
The way out is clear. The legislature and governor -- Perdue, not Easley
-- should do away with the death penalty and convert the sentence of every
condemned prisoner to life without parole. That will put an end to
death-sentence appeals, eliminate inconsistencies, ease the medical
conflict and bring the law into line with the way the courts apply it in
almost every case.
Easley asks when executions will get going again, but juries are speaking.
They rarely see the death penalty as the state's best response anymore,
even to terrible crimes.
Is anyone listening? Juries are making more sense than the outgoing
(source: Editorial, Greensboro News Record)
Prosecutors won't seek death penalty
Prosecutors say they will not seek the death penalty against a Moorcroft
woman accused of stabbing her husband to death.
Sandie Akers is charged with 1st-degree murder, setting up the possibility
of a capital murder case. But in a motion filed Friday, Crook County
prosecutor Brian Wells wrote that he has decided not to pursue the death
Wells offered no explanation for his decision. The motion only says he
made the determination after talking to the victim's family. Wells
declined to elaborate when reached by telephone Friday.
Akers, 49, pleaded not guilty by reason of mental illness at her
arraignment in October.
Akers has undergone a mental evaluation to determine whether she is sane
enough to stand trial. The results of the evaluation are sealed.
In July, Michael Akers was found dead near the front seat of the couples
Chevrolet motor home, his body wrapped in a tan blanket. An autopsy showed
he was stabbed six times in his chest, side and back and had several cuts
on his neck.
Sandie Akers claims she killed her husband in self-defense, telling police
the stabbing happened during an early morning struggle. She went to the
police station with her pastor, Robert Smoot, the morning after and
confessed to the killing. She had a small scrape on the bridge of her nose
and a bruise under her left eye, according to court documents.
But prosecutors say the killing was premeditated. A man who claims to have
had an affair with Sandie Akers told investigators she talked about
killing her husband 2 weeks before the stabbing.
A trial date has not been set, but a court hearing is scheduled for Jan.
(source: Gilette News-Record)
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