[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----UTAH, CALIF.
rhalperi at mail.smu.edu
Tue Jan 27 23:15:02 CST 2009
Changes For Death Row Appeals?
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is trying to rally support for an
amendment to the Utah constitution that would limit the amount of appeals
a death row inmate can have. It takes a lot of courage for Matt Hunsaker
to talk about his mother. Nearly 23 years ago, she was kidnapped and
murdered by Ralph Menzies. "It drums up the past over and over," Matt
Matt's mother's killer is currently on death row -- along with the man who
murdered Barbara Noriega's family at their cabin 18 years ago. They both
spoke at the capitol in support of an amendment to the Utah constitution
that would limit the amount of appeals a death row inmate can have.
"Something is out of control, something is broken when your victims and
your witnesses are dying ahead of the perpetrators," Barbara said.
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is trying to rally support for the
amendment. He says Utah's death penalty is a myth.
"I'll say one thing very clear-there is no death penalty in Utah,"
Shurtleff said. "It's on paper, and the people in Utah say for the most
horrible crimes there should be a death penalty but the fact is now we're
decades up to 23 years after these horrific murders, they're still alive."
Critics of the amendment say they agree the system is broken, but say this
amendment won't fix it -- because it would limit the number of appeals for
every criminal case, not just death penalty cases.
"This is a hammer when a scalpel might be more appropriate,' said
Professor Daniel Medwed, University of Utah College of Law.
But Shurtleff says justice needs to be served for victims like Matt and 23
years after his mother's murder is too long to wait. "There's never any
finality for these people," Shurtleff said.
(source: KUTV News)
Man charged with murder in homeless burning
A former barber was charged Monday with burning a homeless man to death on
a street corner near where the barber worked.
Benjamin Martin, 30, was charged with murder, torture and two
arson-related charges. He could be sentenced to death if the court finds
true special circumstance allegations of murder by torture and lying in
Deputy District Attorney Renee Rose said prosecutors will not decide
whether to seek the death penalty until the case moves closer to trial.
Prosecutors said Martin used a road flare Oct. 9 to set John McGraham, 55,
on fire after pouring gasoline on him from a red plastic gasoline can that
he left behind.
He was arrested last week. Police said eyewitnesses and DNA collected at
the scene connect Martin to the crime.
McGraham had lived on the street in the same neighborhood for years. His
family said he suffered from depression and refused to leave the streets.
Martin is scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 9. He remains jailed without
(source: San Francisco Chronicle)
LAPD, union tangle over collection of officers' DNA----The police union
warns members that submitting genetic evidence could lead to invasions of
privacy. Department officials say the practice is needed to investigate
serious use-of-force cases.
Since its arrival as a crime-fighting tool, Los Angeles police officers
have aggressively used the power of DNA technology to solve countless
When it comes to handing over their own genetic code, however, they've
been told to be a lot more reticent.
For nearly a year, the union representing officers has sparred with the
Los Angeles Police Department over the department's refusal to set limits
on its practice of collecting DNA samples from officers involved in
shootings and other incidents involving serious force. Although rarely
done, officers can be required to submit a saliva swab as part of the
investigations the department conducts into such incidents.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents the
department's roughly 9,500 rank-and-file officers, warned its members
about the issue in an open letter this month, telling them it could lead
to invasions of privacy and misuse of the information.
"The privacy issues here are very real," said union President Paul M.
Weber in an interview. "Who is to say where the samples will be stored and
who will be able to access them? There is nothing more private than DNA."
LAPD officials staunchly defend the practice as a seldom-used but
important tool. After an officer uses serious force on a suspect,
investigators must sometimes test blood, saliva and other genetic material
found at the scene in order to determine whose it is and what occurred
during the incident, they say.
Attorneys for the league raised concerns about this facet of the internal
probes last spring when investigators from the department's Force
Investigation Division attempted to gather a saliva sample from an officer
who had fired at a suspect. The union did not want to ban the DNA
collections, but demanded that the department sign a binding agreement
that would have established rules limiting when and how samples can be
taken and stored.
LAPD officials refused to sign the document out of concern that doing so
could hinder an investigation into an officer's actions. "A good
investigation needs to be able to go where it has to go," said Capt. Kris
Pitcher, head of the LAPD's Force Investigation Division. "If the
investigators look at a scenario and feel they need to gather DNA
evidence, then they must be able to do that."
Deputy Chief Mark Perez added that the department does not want to be
limited in the way it can use DNA technology. With frequent advances in
how genetic analysis can be applied to law enforcement investigations,
Perez said the department did not want "to have to go back to the table
and renegotiate when something new comes about."
An officer who refuses to give a DNA sample could face discipline for
insubordination, Perez said.
Gary Ingemunson, a league attorney, said the union planned to file a
protest with the city's Employee Relations Board the next time the
department seeks to collect an officer's genetic material. A previous
appeal to the board by the union was dismissed on a technicality, union
officials said. In the letter to members printed in the union's magazine,
police officers were told not to consent to the investigators without
first consulting with a union lawyer. "No one can take your DNA without
due process," wrote Hank Hernandez, the league's general counsel.
The debate underscores the unusual aggressiveness with which the LAPD
investigates incidents in which officers fire their weapons, strike a
suspect in the head or resort to other serious force, police experts said.
The Force Investigation Division, staffed by about 70 detectives, responds
to scores of incidents each year. Teams of investigators typically spend
about 8 months on an investigation, compiling evidence into 1,500-page
reports that are used by the district attorney's office and police
officials to determine whether an officer's actions violated any criminal
laws or department policies. Law enforcement analysts widely consider the
process to be the most thorough in the country.
Pitcher emphasized that it was rare for investigators to take DNA samples
from officers, saying he recalled only two cases in the last two years. In
one of them, investigators were confronted with a confusing scene in which
blood was spattered on a wall and carpet. Both the responding officer and
the suspect were bleeding. Blood spatter patterns can reveal much about
how a struggle occurred, but investigators first needed to determine whose
blood was on the wall by comparing the genetic code contained in the
He added that while the department did not agree to the formal guidelines
demanded by the union, the LAPD follows many of them anyway. Namely, the
decision to take a DNA sample from an officer must be approved by Pitcher,
and an officer is permitted to have an attorney present when the swabbing
is done. Officers' DNA samples are destroyed after the investigation,
Regardless, union officials expressed concern that the department's
restraint today could give way to more widespread testing in the future.
Weber, the league president, and Hernandez also said that despite
assurances from the department, they do not trust the LAPD to safeguard
officers' DNA from mistakenly being uploaded to state and national
databases kept for criminal investigation purposes.
"In such cases, there will be a greater chance of officers being
erroneously accused of a crime," Hernandez wrote.
"Your league is not a big advocate of allowing officers to give up
anything to anyone without . . . a legal requirement."
Indeed, this is not the 1st time union and department officials have
clashed over officers' personal information. The union has waged a bitter
battle over an anti-corruption policy passed last year that requires
officers in specialized assignments who frequently handle cash and other
contraband to disclose personal financial information. After losing
several court decisions on the matter, the union is awaiting the outcome
of an appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
League officials and law enforcement analysts said they know of no other
police department in the country that collects DNA from officers as part
of their internal investigations into shootings and other uses of force.
Police in Britain are more aggressive, storing the genetic profiles of
nearly 100,000 officers and support staff who work at crime scenes in a
database to prevent them from falling under suspicion during
investigations, according to Britain's Home Office, the country's
equivalent of the U.S. Justice Department.
(source: Los Angeles Times)
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