[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----PENN., USA
rhalperi at smu.edu
Wed Aug 17 17:40:13 CDT 2011
Judge appoints lawyer for appeal of 'kill-for-thrill' death row inmate
A federal judge today agreed to appoint a federal public defender to handle a
convicted cop killer`s appeal of his death sentence but refused to grant a stay
of execution because the governor hasn`t signed his death warrant yet.
John C. Lesko, 52, of Homestead has twice won appeals of his 1981 conviction
and death sentence for the 1979 killing of Apollo police Officer Leonard
Miller, 21. Lesko and Michael Travaglia, 52, of Washington Township, used a
stolen sports car to lure Miller away from a convenience store they planned to
rob and then shot him twice as he approached the car.
Miller was the last victim of Lesko and Tavaglia`s killing spree that left 4
people dead over the Christmas holiday. Their crimes became known as the
The state Supreme Court in February overturned a 2006 Westmoreland County court
decision that would have granted Lesko a new trial and sentence hearing. Lesko
is appealing the state ruling in federal court.
He and Travaglia remain on death row awaiting execution.
(source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Orwell's disturbing look at an execution
90 years ago this month, an obscure English literary journal published the
essay "A Hanging" by Eric Arthur Blair. It was among the earliest of the
writings that would one day make Blair well-known to us, though chiefly by his
pen name, George Orwell.
"A Hanging" dealt with the execution of an obscure Indian - "a brown, sullen .
. . puny wisp of a man with a shaven head and vague liquid eyes" - during
Orwell's service as an imperial policeman in Burma during the 1920s. The
essay's vivid prose, combined with the mundane details of the execution, makes
it a powerful piece of writing, one that ultimately produces an unforgettable
indictment of capital punishment with more impact than any editorial.
The man featured in the essay has been condemned to death, but the reader is
never told what his crime was. That detail might have confused matters and
served to divert the reader's sympathy.
"I watched a man hanged once," Orwell writes. "There is no question that
everybody concerned knew this to be a dreadful, unnatural action."
The essay begins with the Indian man being told that his execution is to be
carried out, whereupon he loses control of his bladder and urinates on the
prison floor. With his hands tied behind his back, he is then marched off to
the gallows. Orwell writes that, "He walked clumsily . . . in that bobbing gait
of the Indian who never straightens his knees."
2 incidents in the essay humanize the condemned man, creating sympathy for him
in the reader's mind. First, as the prisoner is being led across the yard, he
moves to avoid a puddle of water.
"It is curious, but till that moment I had never realized what it means to
destroy a healthy, conscious man," Orwell writes. "When I saw the prisoner step
aside to avoid the puddle, I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of
cutting a life short when it is in full tide. ... He and we were a party of men
walking together, seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding the same world; and
in 2 minutes, with a sudden snap, one of us would be gone - one mind less, one
The other incident concerns a dog - "half Airedale, half pariah" - that
suddenly appears during the group's walk to the gallows, "bounding among us
with a loud volley of barks," and then runs up to the prisoner and tries to
lick his face. The dog is shooed away but continues to run around the yard,
barking and avoiding the guards. When the prisoner is hanged - and Orwell
offers few details of the hanging itself - the dog suddenly howls and slinks
away to a corner.
Orwell never expressly editorialized against capital punishment, but he
regarded it as little more than officially sanctioned mob vengeance. He even
opposed the execution of the leading Nazi war criminals on the grounds that it
amounted to victor's justice.
Orwell never deviated from that disgust he first experienced as a young man in
Burma. He argued that "when a murderer is hanged, there is only one person at
the ceremony who is not guilty of murder."
(source: Philadelphia Inquirer; John Rossi is a professor emeritus of history
at La Salle University and a coauthor of a new study of George Orwell for
Cambridge University Press)
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