[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----MINN., CONN., ALA., VA.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Fri Aug 19 08:54:03 CDT 2011
Will the death penalty endure? Not if this attorney can help it
I asked Steve Wells the other day if people often ask him how he could help
represent the legal rights of convicted murderers who committed horrible
"Sure. My mother asks the same question," said Wells, a senior partner with
Dorsey & Whitney, the international law firm based in Minneapolis.
"And what I tell her and others," he said, "is this: I am against the
cold-blooded killing of a person, even of a person who has committed
cold-blooded murder. And I'm also against injustices."
Wells, a Vermont native who grew up in a small village named Essex Junction,
puts food on the table as a specialist in commercial litigation. He goes to bat
for well-heeled corporate types. But he, along with several other of the firm's
attorneys, is a main reason the American Bar Association honored Dorsey this
month with its exceptional service award. The firm was lauded for more than two
decades of pro bono commitment to providing quality legal representation to
defendants facing death sentences.
Wells, like many attorneys who plunge into this protracted and rewarding but
frustrating legal venture, is morally and philosophically opposed to the death
penalty. Although 34 states have it, there are other reasons Minnesota should
continue to oppose it.
Several credible national studies conclude, and nearly 90 % of the nation's top
criminologists in a recent survey agree, that the death penalty has very
little, if any, effect at all on deterring violent crime. So agrees the law
enforcement community. A national poll of police chiefs placed it dead last,
pun intended, on ways to reduce violent crime. The chiefs also consider it the
least efficient use of taxpayer money. That's an understatement, given recent
reports on the cost of such cases.
A 2005 report found that in California, the state with the largest number of
death row inmates (714), the death penalty system costs state residents $114
million annually beyond the costs of keeping convicts locked up for life.
Another study found that death penalty expenses cost Floridians $51 million
more a year than it would cost to incarcerate all first-degree convicted
killers under life-without-parole sentences. No wonder several budget-strapped
states are considering overturning or placing a moratorium on the death
Then there's the chance that we might execute an innocent man. Since 1973, some
130 inmates on death row were exonerated because of proof of innocence,
according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
A TEXAS TRIAL
Other worthy issues go beyond guilt or innocence, particularly in death penalty
states that Dorsey cited as "short on resources and long on injustices" in its
award application letter. Wells saw that up close and personal with his first
death penalty case more than a decade ago in Texas.
It involved a man named Joe Lee Guy who was three months away from execution.
Guy was an alleged lookout outside a convenience store when 2 accomplices went
inside to rob it. The two armed robbers fatally shot the owner and seriously
wounded the victim's elderly mother.
The 3 men were tried separately. The shooter and the other gunman got life
sentences. Guy, who had no prior felony record, was convicted and sentenced to
death. Wells and a team of lawyers dug up information not known to the judge
Guy's defense lawyer, suspended numerous times for alcohol and drug abuse, used
drugs during the trial and was intoxicated the night before the death penalty
phase of the case began. But worse was the behavior of the defense
Instead of working to uncover exculpatory information, the man instead
befriended the woman wounded in the botched robbery. In fact, the woman left
the investigator $750,000 - the bulk of her estate - after she passed away a
year after the trial.
Wells and the team of lawyers from his firm and from Texas secured a petition
to commute Guy's sentence to life in prison. It was signed by the trial
prosecutor and the trial judge. The Texas Board of Parole and Pardons voted
unanimously for clemency. However, Texas Gov. Rick Perry turned down the
request. Ultimately, an appeals court judge ruled that Guy received ineffective
counsel and ordered a new trial. He is now serving a life prison term after the
prosecutor declined to retry him.
Wells bristled at recent comments made by a Seattle prosecutor who claimed
death penalty cases are costly because of a "death penalty industry" created by
lawyers like him.
"I can tell you that we (Dorsey) do what is necessary to defend our death row
clients, and we pay for it all ourselves because we take the cases pro bono,"
said Wells, who is working to remove a mentally disabled convicted killer from
death row in Texas. "We have no incentive to 'run up bills.'"
In fact, Wells' firm swallowed exactly $1,615,347 in pro bono hours and
out-of-pocket expenses in the Guy case, which consumed four years of legal
Wells knows Minnesota is always one brutal, high-profile murder away from
politically driven calls to reinstate the death penalty.
Then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty unsuccessfully pushed for such a reinstatement in 2004,
a year after the kidnapping in North Dakota and brutal murder in Minnesota of
college student Dru Sjodin by Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., a previously convicted
rapist. Neither state has the death penalty.
North Dakota officials used the interstate nature of the killing to try
Rodriguez under federal statutes, which allow for the death penalty. He was
convicted and has been on death row in Indiana for more than 5 years.
Wells has advice for those states that have it or want it.
"If you are going to have a death penalty, you had damn well better have the
money to fund a proper defense for the indigent. Otherwise," he said, "don't
have the death penalty."
(source: Ruben Rosario, Pioneer Press)
Conn. prosecutor to announce whether he'll seek death penalty against
7-year-old girl's killer
A Connecticut prosecutor is expected to announce whether he'll seek the death
penalty against a man who pleaded guilty to killing a 7-year-old girl he was
babysitting in 2009.
Ansonia-Milford State's Attorney Kevin Lawlor is expected to unveil his
decision Friday morning at Milford Superior Court in the case of 34-year-old
Billingslea pleaded guilty to capital felony and murder earlier this month in
the rape and killing of Ariana Uberti. The girl, who was asphyxiated, lived
next door to Billingslea. He was babysitting her while her mother was at work.
Billingslea's lawyer, Edmund Collier, says if Lawlor decides to seek the death
penalty, a penalty phase trial will be scheduled. If he doesn't, Billingslea
will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release on
(source: Associated Press)
State attorney general’s office files second request for execution date for
The Alabama attorney general’s office has filed its second request this summer
asking the Alabama Supreme Court to set an execution date for death row inmate
Tommy Douglas Arthur.
Convicted in the 1982 murder-for-hire killing of Muscle Shoals businessman Troy
Wicker, Arthur is one of the longest serving death row inmates in Alabama
At the time of the slaying, Arthur, now 69, was assigned to Decatur Work
Release Facility. He was serving time in connection with a 1977 Marion County
homicide to which he confessed.
Arthur’s case is one of the most appealed among death row inmates in Alabama,
including two requests to the U.S. Supreme Court. Arthur was within hours of
execution three times when decisions on his appeals stopped his trip to the
Alabama Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw said Arthur has had benefit of
every possible attempt to keep him alive.
“It’s time to end this and set the execution date,” Crenshaw said.
Setting an execution date rests with the Alabama Supreme Court where Crenshaw’s
newest request is pending.
In June, the state’s highest court declined to set the execution, saying it was
too soon after Arthur’s attorney Suhana Han asked the U.S. Supreme Court to
order new DNA testing of crime scene evidence.
Jefferson County Circuit Judge Teresa Pulliam ordered DNA testing on the crime
scene evidence in 2007 after another state inmate confessed to the killing days
before Arthur was to die. When DNA testing did not turn up conclusive evidence,
Pulliam then chastised Arthur and his defense team for setting up testing
reasons that she called bogus.
Now Hahn wants the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn an Alabama appeals court
ruling of Pulliam’s decision.
Crenshaw said he is also preparing a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court asking for
denial of Arthur’s most recent request.
The U.S. Supreme Court does not convene again until Oct. 3 and even then,
Crenshaw said there is no guarantee the court will consider another Arthur
“There is no reason not to set the execution date,” he said. “He’s already had
2 ½ years that he should not have had.”
Arthur has been on death row since 1983.
(source: The Times Daily)
Electric chair or injection? Grim choice on US death row
Behind a blue curtain, the electric chair patiently waits its turn to take a
life, but on this night in a chamber of a Virginia prison, murder convict Jerry
Jackson dies by the needle.
"15 days prior to execution, the inmate is asked which execution method he
chooses," explains David Bass at the Greensville Correctional Center. "He may
choose between the electric chair and the lethal injection." For the most part,
Bass says, "they prefer the injection."
The man in the dark suit and speaking in a soft southern twang is all too aware
that most of America's death row inmates pick the poison over the pulse of
Of the various execution methods currently in use in the United States -
electricity, firing squad, hanging, lethal injection and lethal gas - injection
has become the standard.
As an employee of the Virginia Department of Corrections, Bass is responsible
for "guiding" about a dozen people attending Thursday night's execution -
volunteers and journalists, including an AFP correspondent - through the
facility about 160 miles (260 kilometers) south of Washington.
They are here to witness the death of Jackson, a strapping, 31-year-old
African-American man whose crimes a decade ago sent his life on course to the
events of this final night.
On an August evening in 2001, Jackson raped Ruth Phillips, an 88-year-old widow
in Williamsburg, Virginia, and then suffocated her with a pillow.
Nearly 10 years and several legal challenges later, Jackson's fate came down to
an appeal to Governor Bob McDonnell for clemency. Appeal denied.
Hours after the US Supreme Court declined to stop the execution, Jackson walks
through a side door and into the death chamber. It is 8:50 pm.
Behind a 2-way mirror, journalists, prison staff and volunteers are wedged in
their plastic seats, searching the prisoner's face and body language in search
He is wearing jeans, a blue shirt and sandals. His upper lip quivers.
Taylor Roesch, a "citizen witness" in his 20s, squirms in his seat.
"It's something that should be experienced," Roesch, who is studying the death
penalty, says about bearing witness to the execution.
"I want to be able to make a case," Roesch says about capital punishment, which
remains a deeply divisive issue among Americans.
Jackson lies on a raised gurney fitted with leather straps. Six prison staffers
methodically strap him down.
The curtain closes abruptly, and the employees, unseen, insert catheters into
each of Jackson's arms.
5 minutes pass, and the audience is silent. A cough escapes from behind the
After 10 minutes, the fabric is drawn open, and Jackson is still conscious, his
arms crossed over his chest.
The catheters, barely visible, will carry the lethal cocktail of three drugs -
an anesthetic, then a muscle paralyzer, and finally potassium chloride to stop
respiration - to Jackson's body.
Jackson's execution is the 1st in Virginia this year, and the 1st in the state
to use the anesthetic pentobarbital, which is normally used to euthanize
Several states switched to the drug this year instead of sodium thiopental for
their lethal injections after the sole US supplier ceased production.
Jackson's face is largely hidden by the bulk of his body, but his chest can be
seen rising and falling. His toes twitch.
Prison warden George Hinkle looks at Jackson. "Do you have any last words?"
Jackson appears to say "no," but no one is really sure.
Hinkle steps away, and the injections begin. A clock above the door marks the
time: 9:08 pm.
A minute passes, and Jackson's toes stop twitching. To the witnesses, Jackson
looks completely inert.
At 9:14, an official declares, to no one in particular, "the order of the court
was carried out."
Jerry Jackson is dead. The curtain is drawn once again, and the witnesses -
some of them shaken - stand up. No relatives of the murder victim are in
Outside the chamber, in a dark parking lot of the prison, a pickup truck waits
to take delivery of Jackson's body.
(source: Agence France-Presse)
Jerry Terrell Jackson was killed in the name of the people of the State of
Virginia last night shortly after 9:00 PM. His vigil outside the prison at
Jarratt was a circle of remembrance and protest. His family, attorneys,
friends, and supporters gathered in prayer and shared stories of the love and
kindness he had showed to them and their families during his time on the row.
He was the 109th inmate to be executed since 1982 and the first to be lethally
injected using pentobarbital as one of the deadly mix.
God be with ye, Jerry Terrelll Jackson.
(source: Jack Payden-Travers, Social Responsibility Educator/Organizer)
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