[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, FLA., CONN., ORE., MISS., CALIF., N.C.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Tue Aug 23 15:51:01 CDT 2011
Rick Perry holds the record on executions
Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry brings to the presidential race a
law-and-order credential that none of his competitors can match — even if they
In his nearly 11 years as chief executive, Perry, now running for the GOP
presidential nomination, has overseen more executions than any governor in
modern history: 234 and counting. That’s more than the combined total in next
two states — Oklahoma and Virginia — since the death penalty was restored 35
The number is partly explained by sheer longevity at the helm of a huge state
that has mastered the complicated legal maze of carrying out capital
But Perry has hardly shrunk from the task.
As the 2012 presidential race unfolds, Perry’s record will inevitably become
part of the debate in a country where the number of death sentences handed down
continues to fall, and some states are renouncing executions. Polls show that
capital punishment remains both popular and controversial. And although all of
Perry’s main competitors, including President Obama, support the death penalty,
Perry’s role stands out.
He vetoed a bill that would have spared the mentally retarded and sharply
criticized a Supreme Court ruling that juveniles were not eligible for death.
He has found during his tenure only one inmate on Texas’s crowded death row he
thought should receive the lesser sentence of life in prison.
And Perry’s role in the 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham — who
supporters said should have been at least temporarily spared when experts
warned that faulty forensic science led to his conviction — is still the
subject of investigation in Texas.
Perry has been unapologetic.
“If you don’t support the death penalty and citizens packing a pistol, don’t
come to Texas,” he wrote in his book lauding states’ rights, “Fed Up!”
It is a bipartisan tradition. The annual rate of executions was actually higher
when George W. Bush was the state’s governor, and Democratic Gov. Ann Richards
oversaw 50 executions during her four-year term without ever granting clemency.
“In the big picture, it is hard to see how Perry is much different from Bush or
Richards,” said Jordan Steiker, co-director of the University of Texas Law
School’s Capital Punishment Center.
That’s partly because Texans and their representatives give governors little
room to slow down the process.
Decisions to seek the death penalty are made by local prosecutors. Unlike in
some states, the governor does not sign death warrants or set execution dates.
The state constitution forbids the governor from calling a moratorium on
executions and allows clemency only when the Board of Pardons and Paroles
recommends it. Which is rarely.
Texas’s relatively streamlined process for death penalty appeals is overseen by
an elected court not known for reversals. Federal lawsuits go to the U.S. Court
of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans, which has the same reputation.
“In many states, executions are blocked because the state courts, the federal
courts or both are intensely hostile to capital punishment and look for any
excuse to overturn convictions,” said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the
pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in California.
(source: Washington Post)
Florida court rejects drug argument, clears way for execution
The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for the execution of a man
convicted in the 1978 killing of a police officer, rejecting arguments a new
anesthetic used to put condemned inmates to death would cause undue pain and
The court had temporarily halted Manuel Valle's execution last month after his
attorneys argued the state's use of pentobarbital in its 3-drug lethal
injection cocktail might not render Valle unconscious, thus subjecting him to
significant pain when the other 2 drugs were administered.
The court's 44-page opinion lifts the stay and also clears the way for future
The justices unanimously ruled there had been no credible evidence offered to
show that administering pentobarbital at 10 times the highest normal sedation
dosage would not render Valle unconscious.
Even a medical expert brought in by Valle's attorneys could not testify that
such a massive dose would not work, the court noted.
"By asserting that no evidence exists concerning whether pentobarbital will
render an inmate unconscious, Valle has failed to meet his burden of proof,"
the court said.
Valle's execution would be the 1st in Florida since the state, following the
lead of several others, replaced sodium thiopental with pentobarbital in its
lethal injection cocktail.
Similar challenges elsewhere to pentobarbital, often used to euthanize animals,
have generally failed to succeed.
By itself, the drug is considered lethal at the 5,000 mg dose administered by
the Florida Department of Corrections. It is followed by other medications that
paralyze the lungs and cause a heart attack.
A spokesman for Governor Rick Scott said a new execution date has not been set.
Catholic Bishops Ask Rick Scott for Stay in Death Penalty Case
6 of Florida’s Catholic bishops -- Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, Bishop
Gerald Barbarito of Palm Beach, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Bishop
Frank Dewane of Venice, Bishop John Noonan of Orlando and Bishop Felipe Estévez
of St. Augustine -- wrote Gov. Rick Scott appealing to him to stay the
execution of Manuel Valle, a convicted cop killer who has been on death row for
more than 30 years. The Florida Supreme Court issued a stay in July due to
concerns about the drugs that were going to be used to execute Valle.
“We renew our appeal to you to end the use of the death penalty in our state.
We urge you to stay the execution of Manuel Valle scheduled for September 1,
2011,” wrote the bishops. “We concede the right of the state to impose the
death penalty when absolutely necessary, that is when it is otherwise
impossible to defend society. However, given the ability of Florida to protect
its residents by incarcerating inmates for life without possibility of parole,
we pray you will exercise that option.
“Willful murder is a heinous crime; it cries to God for justice,” continued the
bishops. “Yet, God did not require Cain’s life for having spilt Abel’s blood.
While God certainly punished history’s first murderer, he nevertheless put a
mark on him to protect Cain from those wishing to kill him to avenge Abel’s
murder (cf. Genesis 4:15). Like Cain, the condemned prisoner on death row – for
all the evil of his crimes – remains a person. Human dignity – that of the
convicted as well as our own – is best served by not resorting to this extreme
and unnecessary punishment. Modern society has the means to protect itself
without the death penalty.
“The killing of Officer Louis Pena caused great suffering and pain for his
family and friends, and we pray they were consoled as they mourned the loss of
their loved one. We are hopeful that Officer Gary Spell and his family are
healed from his traumatic experience as he came to the aid of his fellow
officer. An execution re-opens the emotional wounds of victim’s families and
does not bring back or honor their loved one. True peace can only be achieved
by forgiveness,” wrote the bishops in conclusion. “Killing someone because they
killed diminishes respect for life and promotes a culture of violence and
vengeance. We affirm the right and duty of the state to assure public safety
and punish the guilty by incarceration, which allows the inmate an opportunity
for reflection on their offenses and sorrow for the pain they have caused
others. Governor, we ask you to stop state-sanctioned killing by sparing the
life of Manuel Valle, allowing him to serve out his sentence in prison for the
rest of his natural life.”
(source: Sunshine State News)
Home invasion suspect tries to avoid death penalty The second defendant in a
grisly home invasion case that left a mother and her two daughters dead made a
desperate attempt on Tuesday to avoid the death sentence given to his alleged
accomplice. Joshua Komisarjevsky's lawyers urged a judge in New Haven Superior
Court to remove his confession to police from evidence that will be presented
at his murder trial starting September 19.
The 90-minute taped conversation with Komisarjevsky about what occurred in the
home during the early hours of July 27, 2007 was described in court by Cheshire
Police Detective Joseph Vitello.
Komisarjevsky, in an orange jumpsuit and leg shackles and seated between his
lawyers, looked up as the detective testified that he three times waived his
right to remain silent, to have an attorney present and to talk freely.
The hearing to suppress evidence came a day after Komisarjevsky's lawyers lost
their effort to bar the family father and only survivor, Dr. William Petit Jr.,
from the courtroom during next month's trial.
It also came less than 6 months after a defense move for a plea deal to avoid
death row was struck down by the prosecutor.
Petit's wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit and 2 daughters Haley, 17 and Michaela, 11,
were killed when Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes invaded the family home in
2007, prosecutors said.
Hayes was tried and convicted of murder last year and sentenced to death.
Testimony from the trial revealed Komisarjevsky struck Petit several times in
the head with a baseball bat leaving him unconscious while his family was tied
up and terrorized.
Petit, who was bound in the basement, managed to free himself and escape to a
In addition to the murder charges, Komisarjevsky is charged with sexually
assaulting the younger daughter before the home was set on fire and the girls
and their mother perished.
Since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976,
Connecticut has only executed one person, in 2005, according to the Death
Penalty Information Center.
Death row inmate Gary Haugen to undergo mental evaluation today
Death row inmate Gary Haugen is scheduled for a mental health evaluation today
that could determine whether the 49-year-old twice-convicted murderer can
pursue his bid to be executed.
The Oregonian’s continuing coverage of Gary Haugen, an Oregon death row
prisoner, who wants to initiate the execution process.Portland psychologist
Richard Hulteng will conduct the evaluation at the Oregon State Penitentiary,
where Haugen is housed. Hulteng is expected to submit a report about two weeks
Hulteng is to assess Haugen's capacity to "engage in reasoned choices of legal
strategies and options" in accordance with a June order from the state Supreme
Court. That order, which blocked plans for an Aug. 16 execution, also called
for a hearing to assess whether Haugen is competent to waive his appeals before
an execution could proceed. That hearing is scheduled for Sept. 27.
Haugen has been on death row since 2007, after he was convicted in the 2003
murder of an inmate, David Polin. He had been at the Oregon State Penitentiary
serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole for the 1981 murder of
Mary Archer, the mother of his former girlfriend.
(source: The Oregonian)
New Details in Violent Mississippi Murder of James Craig Anderson
New details are emerging of the alleged racially motivated murder of Jackson,
Mississippi resident James Craig Anderson. The new information paints the
victim as a church-going man who was raising a 4-year-old girl with his
partner, James Bradfield, and the suspect as a wayward young man who struggled
with substance abuse.
Anderson was violently attacked and then run over by a group of white teens.
Deryl Dedmon 19, of Brandon, Mississippi is accused of intentionally running
over Anderson with his green Ford-250 and is now facing capital murder charges
because of evidence that he assaulted and robbed Anderson before allegedly
killing the man.
Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith said last week that he has
called on the FBI for help investigate the murder. On Friday, charges against
Dedmon were upgraded from murder to capital murder, the Clarion Ledger, a local
newspaper reports. If convicted, Dedmon could face the death penalty.
Although there were 7 other white teens involved in the alleged hate crime,
only one other teen, John Rice, has been charged with simple assault.
Anderson’s lawyer told The Times this week the family and others wonder why
only 2 of the 7 teenagers have been charged in the crime.
It’s unclear what the other teens were doing while Dedmon and Rice physically
attacked and robbed Anderson, but witnesses told police that one teenager
yelled “white power” and that Dedmon used a racial slur when he bragged about
running Anderson over later that night.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is currently working with the family and their
lawyer to investigate whether some of the teenagers involved may have ties to a
gang with white-supremacist leanings, the Times reports.
Anderson’s family has remained silent until recently. Although the family
created the James Craig Anderson Foundation for Racial Tolerance, they’ve
stayed away from the media due to fear of media and political scrutiny as the
case moves forward, the family lawyer told reporters.
Anderson was a gifted gardener and always genial, his family recently told the
Times. He liked his job on the assembly line at the Nissan plant north of
Jackson, where he had worked for about 7 years.
He sang tenor in the choir at the First Hyde Park Missionary Baptist Church and
was so good “he’d have you falling out,” his partner James Bradfield said.
“If you met him, the first thing you were going to see was that grand piano
smile,” Anderson’s sister Barbara Anderson Young also told the times.
If Dedmon, who’s currently being held in isolation, is successfully prosecuted
with a hate crime, it’ll be a first under the state’s 1994 hate crime law.
(source: ColorLines Magazine)
Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentence for Two Banning Killings----Justices, Over
Werdegar Dissent, Reject Claim Juror Was Improperly Excused
The California Supreme Court yesterday affirmed the death sentence for a
Banning man who committed two murders in that city in early 1994.
The court was unanimous in upholding a Riverside Superior Court jury’s verdict
that Crandell McKinnon was guilty of 2 counts of 1st degree murder and 2 counts
of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.
Justices also upheld the death sentence, 6-1. Dissenting Justice Kathryn M.
Werdegar argued for a new penalty trial on the ground that a juror whose
questionnaire suggested antipathy toward the death penalty was precipitously
Witnesses said McKinnon walked up to a stranger, Perry Coder Jr., 22, outside
the motel where the victim was living with his pregnant fiancée, then shot him
twice in the head for no apparent reason.
6 weeks after the Jan. 4 killing, Gregory Martin was shot and killed in another
part of Banning. The murder weapon was found in a car McKinnon was riding in,
and a cellmate testified that McKinnon admitted both murders.
A police sergeant testified that he had searched the area after the shooting,
and found a witness who testified that he witnessed an argument between
“Moto”—Martin’s nickname—and “Popeye,” a name with which the sergeant
associated McKinnon, that ended with Popeye taking two shots at Moto.
Testimony revealed that Martin had been a member of the Bloods gang, and that
McKinnon was a member of the Crips. The defendant’s cellmate, Harold Black,
said McKinnon told him the Martin shooting was in retaliation for the shooting
of a local Crips gang member by a member of the Bloods years earlier.
The jury found McKinnon guilty on all counts and found true the special
circumstance that he had committed multiple murders.
In the penalty phase, the prosecution focused on the nature of the murders and
the defendant’s prior crimes. He had been convicted of robbery and of illegal
handgun possession, and other evidence linked him to 5 other criminal episodes,
including a robbery of a teacher at a school cafeteria when he was a teenager
and the possession of a metal shank while awaiting trial for the murders.
The defense focused on his difficult childhood, including physical and
emotional abuse at the hands of his father, and later his stepfather.
Jurors returned a death penalty verdict. Judge Patrick Magers rejected the
automatic motion for modification of the verdict and imposed the sentence.
The high court rejected claims of error in the guilt and penalty phases of the
trial, including McKinnon’s contention that he should have received separate
trials for the murders committed 6 weeks apart.
Justice Marvin Baxter said any error in joining the two counts would have been
“Neither murder was especially likely, or more likely than the other, to
inflame the jury’s passions,” the justice wrote. “Each killing was cruel and
brutal and committed for seemingly trivial reasons.”
Baxter rejected the contention that the evidence linking the Martin killing to
a gang feud may have affected the verdict on the Coder killing, and thus
affected the sentence. That evidence, the justice reasoned, “paled in
comparison to the evidence of the most prejudicial facet of the Coder
murder—its absolute senselessness.”
Baxter also said there was no error in jury selection. The defense argued on
appeal that five venire members who had indicated opposition to the death
penalty were improperly excused without being given the opportunity to
establish that they could put aside those objections and judge the issue
The attorney general argued that the issue was forfeited because the defense
did not make it at trial.
Baxter said the issue was properly before the court because People v. Velasquez
(1980) 26 Cal.3d 425 held that no objection is required to preserve the
improper disqualification of a potential juror, based on reservations about the
death penalty, as an issue on appeal.
The justice agreed that Velasquez was wrongly decided, saying it had “no
support in either the United States Supreme Court or California decisional law
on which it relies,” and that it was inconsistent with the rule governing other
types of juror excusals.
Velasquez, he said, is prospectively overruled, so that in the future, it will
be necessary for the defense “to make either a timely objection, or the
functional equivalent of an objection (i.e., statement of opposition or
disagreement) to the excusal on specific grounds...in order to preserve the
issue for appeal.”
Turning to the merits, Baxter explained that where a juror questionnaire is
“replete” with responses indicating steadfast opposition to capital punishment,
and there is no other evidence in the record suggesting that the venire member
would be willing and able to put those views aside, there is no requirement
that the judge directly question the person about the depth of his or her views
prior to excusing him or her for cause.
Baxter was joined by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Justices Ming Chin,
Joyce L. Kennard, and Carol Corrigan, and Presiding Court of Appeal Justice
Paul A. Turner of this district’s Div. Five, sitting on assignment.
Werdegar argued in dissent that the trial judge abused his discretion by
excusing a potential juror, identified only as R.A., solely on the basis of his
“To be sure, R.A.’s written answers indicated he held strong views against the
death penalty. But he also acknowledged he could follow the law and the court’s
instructions, that nothing would prevent him from doing so in this case, and
given three choices in question No. 46, declined to indicate he would ‘ALWAYS’
vote for the death penalty irrespective of the evidence or ‘ALWAYS’ vote for a
life sentence, but instead chose the third alternative provided by the
questionnaire: : ‘I would consider all of the evidence and the jury
instructions as provided by the court and impose the penalty I personally feel
Given that response, and the ambiguity of the question whether a person would
“always” vote for or against the death penalty, the trial judge should have
“questioned R.A. in person, observed his facial expressions and his demeanor,
evaluated his vocal inflections and general bearing, and then made a conclusion
about the depth of his understanding of his duty as a juror as well as his
sincerity,” the justice wrote.
The case is People v. McKinnon, 11 S.O.S. 4612.
(source: Metropolitan News Company)
Defense blames PTSD for infant's beating death
An Iraq war veteran facing a possible death sentence for the death of his
10-month-old stepdaughter was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and
was self-medicating with alcohol and prescription painkillers when he beat her
to death inside their Raleigh home nearly 2 years ago, his defense attorney
told jurors Monday.
Attorney Thomas Manning said that Cheyenne Emery Yarley's death was a "perfect
storm" of substance abuse and PTSD that "blew up" as Joshua Andrew Stepp tried
to quiet and comfort the crying child.
"This attack was a singularity in Josh Stepp's existence. That's what the
evidence will show," Manning said. "Never before had it happened – had anything
Stepp, 28, is on trial for 1st-degree murder and 1st-degree sex offense in
Cheyenne's Nov. 8, 2009, death. He called 911, saying she had choked on toilet
paper, but an autopsy found she died of abusive head trauma.
Prosecutors said in opening statements that Stepp sexually assaulted, beat,
shook and slammed the girl's face into the carpet while her mother was at work,
leaving her face like a "grotesque scarlet mask."
"There was a constellation of injuries inflicted upon this child over an hour –
not a moment, not a second, but an hour," Wake County Assistant District
Attorney Adam Moyers said. "He was supposed to take care of her, and he
There was no indication that she choked on toilet paper, and Stepp's story that
she had also fallen off a couch and suffered a rug burn didn't make sense to
"The suffering was such that this baby girl, who barely had teeth, bit her own
tongue, lacerating it," Moyers said. "The physical damage to her brain was more
than her life could sustain."
There was also evidence of sexual assault, Moyers said, and blood on Stepp's
underwear matched Cheyenne's.
The defense disputed the sex assault charge, saying there were no internal
injuries and no blood or DNA on Stepp's body. The injuries that the state
contends are signs of sexual abuse, Manning said, happened while his client was
changing a dirty diaper.
"There's no dispute that (Stepp) injured this child and that his infliction of
injuries killed this child. The 'why of it' is very much the issue," Manning
Stepp had been an infantryman and weapons expert with the U.S. Army and was
training soldiers in the Iraqi military when members of his unit were killed by
an improvised explosive device, Manning said, and Stepp had to help collect the
body parts of his fellow soldiers.
"He never complained … but along the way, as a result of things that happened
earlier in his life and while in the Army, he developed the symptoms of PTSD,"
Instead of seeking treatment at a VA hospital, he turned to alcohol and
"He was trying to get back into the Army, and he was managing whatever was
wrong with him – and doing quite well," Manning said.
Stepp had been drinking heavily and taken 4 painkillers on Nov. 8, 2009, when
his wife went to work, leaving him to care for the child.
"There's no excusing what happened, certainly, and there is no pity being asked
here," Manning said. "But understanding what happened and why – and getting it
right and finding the correct crime, which Josh Stepp has committed, is very
much at issue."
"When all the evidence is in from the state," he continued, "we're going to be
asking you to convict him of the offense, which the evidence and all of the
evidence supports, not what the state contends."
(source: WRAL News)
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