[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----ORE., ARK., VA., N.C., CALIF., MONT.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Tue Aug 23 22:34:30 CDT 2011
Does a Killer Have the Right to Die?
Gary Haugen wants to die. Or at least that's what he says. He is a convicted
killer who has repeatedly asked to have his appeals waived. Haugan beat to
death his girlfriend's mother in 1981, and in 2003, killed a fellow inmate, who
ended up with a crushed skull and 84 stab wounds. Haugan was to be executed at
the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, Oregon, on August 16, but his execution
has been postponed until a judge orders a mental competency evaluation.
Haugen says it's his right to die. And he believes that the courts are a
mockery of justice. In a statement before the court at his recent hearing, he
read from his hand-written remarks: "I sit in my little cage on the row and
watch, as everyday rulings are made that reinforce the fact that there is no
such thing as equal protection ..."
The state did a practice run on August 16, Haugen's original execution date.
According to the Oregonian, a corrections official threw a notched belt at
Haugen, ordering him to measure his neck, arms, wrists, ankles, and legs, but
did not explain why. Haugen guessed that the prison needed measurements for the
straps which will hold him down when he receives the lethal injection. "It
needs to be done in not only an ethical way, but in a moral and dignified
manner," Haugen said.
If there is no reprieve, Haugen will be the first man executed in Oregon since
September 6, 1996, when Douglas Franklin Wright died by lethal injection.
Wright lured five homeless men to a remote spot, promising jobs, only to shoot
four in cold blood. The fifth man escaped and told the story. Wright was
convicted on October 6, 1993, and confessed to another kidnapping and murder in
1984, this one of a 10-year-old boy.
Several of us parish ministers visited the governor to ask that he commute
Haugen's sentence to "life in prison with no possibility of parole." The
governor had the power to do so, but said that his hands were tied because "the
people have spoken."
As a minister, I was invited by a local television station to be present at the
station for an interview immediately following Wright's execution. When the
reporter asked me how I felt upon hearing that Wright was dead, I said that I
felt sick to my stomach. I said that as a citizen of Oregon, I felt responsible
for the death of this man. If it is morally wrong for an individual to kill,
then it is also wrong for the state to kill, I said. I remember that the
atmosphere at the station was something of a circus. I left as soon as
There is no practical reason for supporting capital punishment, for we know
that it is no deterrent. We also know that it is more expensive to execute a
prisoner than it is to keep one in prison for life, because of the cost of
appeals. And we know that the death penalty is widely practiced with prejudice
and unequal application of the law. Recently cases have been re-examined with
DNA evidence, and we now know that some innocents have been on death row. The
only remaining motive for capital punishment is vengeance, and that motive is
The state of Oregon instituted capital punishment in 1864, by statute. In 1903,
by law hangings were carried out only at the Oregon State Penitentiary, to
avoid the spectacle of public attendance. Twice since then capital punishment
has been repealed and then reinstated, the last time in 1978, with 64 % of the
vote. At the moment, there is a strong movement in the state against the death
penalty, and I hope Oregon will soon join the 16 other states who have outlawed
this practice, one that has been given up long ago by other countries in the
Some people say that Gary Haugen has the right to die, if he so wishes. I
disagree, for if he dies at the hands of the state, then his blood will be upon
all Oregon citizens. We are the "people who have spoken." I, for one, do not
want to be guilty of taking a life. He has no right to make me a killer.
(source: Marilyn Sewell, Unitarian Univeralist minister, writer----Huffington
Beebe: No plan to pardon West Memphis 3
Gov. Mike Beebe said today he does not intend to pardon 3 men who were released
from prison last week after serving 18 years in the deaths of 3 West Memphis
“I don’t consider pardons until the entire sentence has been completed,” Beebe
told reporters. “They still have, as I understand it, a sentence to be
Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jason Misskelley were convicted of capital
murder in the 1993 killings, with Echols receiving the death penalty and
Baldwin and Misskelley receiving life sentences. On Friday, a Craighead County
circuit judge vacated their sentences, allowed them to plead guilty to reduced
murder charges and sentenced them to time served, plus 10 years of probation.
Beebe said today he would not consider pardoning the men before their probation
is completed “unless there was compelling evidence that somebody else was
Supporters of the men commonly known as the West Memphis Three have said their
focus has shifted from the freeing the three to clearing their names and
obtaining pardons for them.
The 3 entered “Alford” pleas, which are guilty pleas that allow them to
continue maintaining their innocence while admitting that the state could
produce enough evidence to convict them if they were tried again.
Capi Peck of Little Rock, a co-founder of Arkansas Take Action, one of several
groups formed in support of the West Memphis Three, said today she understood
the governor’s position.
“I get that the people responsible need to be found,” she said. “So that’s
going to be our mission: To continue with the investigations, to continue with
the tip line and amassing this information and presenting it to clear their
names and to find the person or persons responsible.”
Peck said she did not know when supporters would be ready to make their case
that Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley are innocent in the deaths of 8-year-olds
Christopher Byers, Stevie Branch and Michael Moore, whose bodies were found
bound and beaten not far from their homes.
Lonnie Soury of New York, a publicist for the West Memphis 3, said that in the
past few days the tip line has received some calls, but no new credible
evidence has come to light.
“But we’re open and we’re looking for any new evidence that’s out there,” he
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said Friday he continues to believe that the
men are guilty.
(source: Arkansas News)
Death penalty on table in quadruple slaying----Commonwealth's Attorney Howard
Gwynn said he's considering charging capital murder in case
Newport News' top prosecutor said Tuesday that capital murder charges — which
could lead to a death sentence — are being considered for the man accused of
killing his wife and three stepchildren last week.
Commonwealth's Attorney Howard Gwynn said the prosecution against John Moses
Ragin, 36, of Newport News, "qualifies as a capital case."
So far, Ragin has been charged with four counts of 1st-degree murder,
punishable by up to life in prison. Gwynn said he's still considering whether
to pursue it as a capital case, which is punishable by the death penalty.
"That's a decision that has to be made once all the evidence is in," Gwynn
He said family members of the victims of the case, including Crystal Ragin's
mother and the three slain children's biological father, would be fully
involved in any such decision.
"I will talk with them to see how they feel about it," Gwynn said. "We have to
go through the process."
There are 15 kinds of cases that could qualify for the death penalty under
Virginia law. Those include "the willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing
of more than one person as a part of the same act or transaction," and "the
willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of a person under the age of 14
by a person age 21 or older."
After 2 p.m. Friday, Crystal Ragin and her three children — 15-year-old Sierra,
10-year-old Lakwa and 6-year-old Rasheed — were found dead in an apartment on
Old Courthouse Way. All four were stabbed and had burn wounds. Sierra was
burned beyond recognition, police said.
John Ragin, 36, was arrested Saturday after calling police at 2:30 a.m.
Saturday to tell them he was in South Carolina. He is fighting extradition to
Newport News, where he faces four first-degree murder charges.
If Gwynn decides to prosecute the case as a death case, it would be the first
death penalty prosecution in a Newport News case since the 2009 federal trial
against David Runyon in the murder-for-hire slaying of Navy officer Cory Alan
Voss. Runyon was sentenced to death.
Gwynn said he's working through the governor's office to have John Ragin
extradited back to Virginia.
(source: Daily Press)
Mom heard 'different scream' the night infant daughter died
The mother of an infant who Raleigh police say was sexually abused and killed
at the hands of her stepfather said Tuesday that she had second thoughts about
going to work at Fort Bragg on the night her daughter died Nov. 8, 2009.
"I actually had thought about driving back home, but I didn't," Brittany Yarley
testified Tuesday in her ex-husband's first-degree murder trial. "He had
advised me that she had fallen off the couch and that she had a rug burn and
that it wasn't that serious."
It was a "very different scream," Yarley recalled, almost as if 10-month-old
Cheyenne Yarley were "extremely hurt," but Joshua Stepp had been able to handle
situations like that before, she said.
It was the last time, she said, she heard her daughter's voice.
Stepp called 911 a short time later, reporting that his stepdaughter had choked
on some toilet paper inside their Raleigh home.
Doctors at WakeMed in Raleigh worked for more than 15 minutes to try to revive
her but were unsuccessful. By then, Yarley said, she had talked to Stepp a 2nd
"The defendant got on the phone and said it was really bad," she said. "At that
time, a nurse on site had picked up the phone and had advised me that I needed
to come to WakeMed."
When she arrived at the hospital, Yarley said, Dr. Sammy Saad told her they
noticed injuries to child's body that could have been from sexual trauma and
head injuries that weren't consistent with a fall from a couch.
"Her mom's first response was Josh would not do that," Saad, a pediatric
emergency physician, testified, "and we ended the discussion at that time. She
didn't have any further questions."
Prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty against Stepp, 28, say he
sexually assaulted, beat, shook and slammed Cheyenne's face into the carpet for
nearly an hour, leaving her with a scarlet mask of burns and injuries.
Defense attorneys don't deny that he killed the girl but say Stepp, an Iraq war
veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, can't explain why he did
what he did. He had been drinking at the time and had taken a heavy dose of
Stepp, they say, will tell his story to the jurors when he testifies on his own
They do dispute the sexual assault claim. They say Cheyenne was injured when a
frustrated Stepp had to repeatedly change her dirty diaper. Defense attorneys
say investigators found none of the girl's DNA on Stepp, even though her blood
was found in his underwear.
Saad, though, said that, based on his experience, that the bruising and tearing
in her anal and genital regions were consistent with sexual trauma and that
they could not have been caused with a finger or knuckle, as the defense
When he confronted Stepp, he said, Stepp said nothing.
"I told him that Cheyenne died and that she had some injuries that are not
consistent with falling off the couch. I explained there was some evidence of
physical and sexual abuse," Saad said. "His face was down, as far as I
remember, and he walked away."
(source: WRAL News)
The costliest executions in America
Judge Arthur Alarcon, 86, has arguably had more experience dealing with the
death penalty than anyone in California. He was a deputy district attorney in
Los Angeles County for a decade, advised Gov. Pat Brown on clemency appeals,
chaired the state parole board, spent 15 years as a Superior Court judge and,
since 1979, has been a federal appeals court judge.
So he speaks with some authority when he renders his verdict on it. He calls it
a "multibillion-dollar debacle."
In June, Alarcon and law professor Paula Mitchell published the first
comprehensive study to detail the total costs of prosecuting and litigating
death-penalty cases in California and of incarcerating those sentenced to death
Their conclusion: Since capital punishment was reinstated in California in
1978, it has cost taxpayers $4 billion over and above what it would have cost
had the maximum punishment been life in prison without possibility of parole.
Further, the state is poised to spend nearly $1 billion on a new death row that
is designed to house 1,000 condemned inmates and is likely to be filled to
capacity by 2014.
The study's conclusion and its timing hit Senate Public Safety Committee
Chairwoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, like a lightning bolt. She'd just been
through another round of massive budget cuts, having voted to slash state
support for public universities, cut holes in the public safety net and reduce
funding for the day-to-day operations of the courts.
She quickly put together a bill that, if approved, would ask California voters
this question: Do you want to continue to spend an average of $125 million a
year on a system that's resulted in 13 executions since 1978, or would you
rather change the maximum criminal sentence to life without parole and spend
that excess money to hire teachers or put cops on the street?
The bill has the potential to become the brightest flash point of the final two
and a half weeks of this year's legislative session, which will end Sept. 9.
Whether it becomes that will be decided Thursday, when the Assembly
Appropriations Committee will decide whether to allow Hancock's SB 490 and 110
other bills to pass through its legislative bottleneck.
On Tuesday, Hancock invited Alarcon and Mitchell to the Capitol to make the
first public presentation on their findings before her committee.
If she was expecting an over-the-top endorsement of her bill, she didn't get
Alarcon did, in fact, recite all the particulars of his indictment of a
Because the state does not spend enough on lawyers to handle death penalty
appeals, he noted, the backlog in California is three times the national
average. Because the state requires direct appeal to the Supreme Court, death
penalty cases make up 20 percent of the court's workload. It takes four or five
years just to appoint a defense attorney to handle the initial appeal, and
another three years or more to appoint counsel for habeas corpus proceedings.
"The cost of maintaining the death penalty has become an onerous financial
burden on California taxpayers," he testified.
But Alarcon offered some ideas other than abolishing capital punishment: amend
the Constitution to allow appellate courts to handle capital appeals; change
the evidentiary standards so that prosecutors could seek the death penalty only
when they have extraordinarily strong evidence such as DNA samples; put an
extra $85 million a year into hiring attorneys at the state's Habeas Corpus
The bottom line of Alarcon's and Mitchell's findings is that the system is
horribly broken and has become a bottomless money pit. It has become, they
write, "the most expensive and least effective death penalty law in the
Because voters established it, only voters can fix it. And voters can't be
expected to make sound decisions unless they know all the facts — and until
now, no one has ever told them how much it costs.
Mitchell testified that every time Californians have been presented with a
ballot initiative to expand the circumstances under which the death penalty can
be sought, the fiscal analysis in the official voter pamphlet has told them the
costs would be insignificant. Each time, she said, they were misinformed.
The point of the study, Alarcon said, is to initiate a fact-based discussion so
that Californians can do their own cost-benefit analysis of the death penalty.
"It's so voters know the truth," he said, "so they can make an informed
decision whether they want to continue a dysfunctional system or replace it
with something else."
(source: Ventura County Star)
Attorney says death penalty unconstitutional
An attorney for accused double murderer Tyler Michael Miller argued that
Montana’s death penalty statutes are unconstitutional Tuesday during a brief
hearing in Flathead District Court.
Miller, formerly known as Cheetham, was arrested on Christmas Day 2010 hours
after allegedly gunning down his ex-girlfriend Jaimi Hurlbert and her
15-year-old daughter, Alyssa Burkett.
Miller’s attorney Ed Sheehy reiterated his written arguments included in a June
filing opposing the state’s practice of allowing judges rather than juries to
issue capital sentences.
He also noted that Montana law dictates that there must be a presence of
aggravating factors and an absence of mitigating factors for a court to
pronounce the death penalty to a defendant.
“It is only when there are no such circumstances that the death penalty can be
imposed and that is a decision that must be made by a jury and sadly not by the
court alone,” Sheehy said.
One such mitigating factor potentially could be mental deficiency or disease,
an avenue being explored by Miller’s defense.
Experts retained by Miller’s defense have concluded that Miller has long abused
drugs and suffered from various mental disorders.
The Flathead County Attorney’s office is pursuing capital punishment in part
because of the alleged premeditated nature of the murders, which is one of the
possible aggravating factors the office has identified.
Sheehy said Montana law allows judges authority that is broader than what the
He said the issue already would have found its way to Montana Supreme Court had
convicted murderer David Thomas Dawson not chosen to be executed in 1996.
“Under our statute — and I think this would be in direct violation of the 14th
amendment — we could have in the 22 judicial districts of the state of Montana,
22 different judicial determinations as to how to weigh those mitigating
circumstances and what the burden of proof is,” he said. “So, that’s another
basis in our view for declaring this procedure unconstitutional.”
Deputy County Attorney Lori Adams did not provide verbal arguments, instead
telling District Judge Stewart Stadler that the prosecution would rely on its
legal briefs already filed with the court.
Stadler did not provide a timetable for when he might rule on Miller’s motion.
He said the timing of future rulings and hearings will be contingent on whether
or not Miller is ruled competent to stand trial. Two mental health
professionals from the Montana State Hospital recently were scheduled to
(source: Daily Inter Lake)
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