[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----CALIF., KY., ALA., OHIO
rhalperi at smu.edu
Fri Aug 26 10:43:25 CDT 2011
California death penalty foes to try for ballot initiative----After an
anti-death-penalty bill in California's Legislature is withdrawn, Taxpayers for
Justice announces its push for the November 2012 election.
Abolitionists have gained momentum in their campaign to ask California voters
to replace the death penalty with lifelong imprisonment, winning over
influential prosecutors, police chiefs and other law enforcement leaders who
have turned against the ultimate punishment as a failure on all fronts.
But one key forum has yet to join the battle against spending billions on a
dysfunctional death row: the California Legislature. On Thursday, backers of a
bill that would ask voters to renounce capital punishment withdrew the
legislation when it became apparent it was stalled.
Taxpayers for Justice, a coalition of death penalty foes galvanized by the
spiraling costs of keeping execution as a sentencing option, immediately
announced a citizens initiative aimed for the November 2012 ballot.
Civil rights groups have been attempting to call attention to the costs of the
death penalty for years. That message gained traction in June with the release
of a comprehensive study by a federal judge and a law professor showing that
taxpayers have spent $4 billion over the last three decades to carry out only
The authors, U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Arthur L. Alarcon and
Loyola Law School professor Paula M. Mitchell, testified before the Senate
Public Safety Committee earlier this week that the death penalty has become "a
Their findings show that taxpayers spend an extra $184 million each year to
keep death row inmates fed, guarded and represented by lawyers, money that
would be better spent putting cops on the street and investigators on the 46%
of murder cases that go unsolved, said Jeanne Woodford, the former San Quentin
State Prison warden now heading Death Penalty Focus.
Gov. Jerry Brown in April scrapped plans to build a new $356-million death row,
saying scarce budget funds were better spent on children and the elderly than
Sensing opportunity to erode support for capital punishment with the fiscal
argument, Taxpayers for Justice conscripted more than 100 law enforcement
leaders in their campaign for replacement of death sentences with life without
the possibility of parole. While a few counties already have renounced capital
prosecutions for ethical or expense reasons, a statewide initiative would need
to be passed by voters for the death penalty to be eliminated as an option.
Among the recruits to the anti-death-penalty forces is former Los Angeles
County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti. Dozens of capital murder cases were brought to
trial during his 32 years in the nation's biggest prosecution office.
"My frustration is more about the fact that the death penalty does not serve
any useful purpose and it's very expensive," said Garcetti. "Most people
understand and appreciate that the death penalty has never proven to be a
deterrent. It is simply retribution for family and friends of the murdered
There are 714 people on California's death row, but only seven of them have
exhausted all appeals and would be eligible for execution once legal challenges
to the state's lethal injection procedures are concluded. The last execution in
the state was nearly 6 years ago, and none are expected in the near future
because of new lawsuits questioning the origin and safety of one of the
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Bill to abolish death penalty in California killed
A bill that would have allowed voters to abolish the death penalty in
California was withdrawn by state Sen. Loni Hancock Thursday in Sacramento.
“The votes were not there to support reforming California’s expensive and
dysfunctional death penalty system,” Senator Hancock said in a statement. “I
had hoped we would take the opportunity to save hundreds of millions of dollars
that could be used to support our schools and universities, keep police on our
streets and fund essential public institutions like the courts.”
Hancock was pushing the legislation based on a widely circulated study that
said the state has spent $4 billion on capital punishment since voters decided
to reinstate it in 1978. In that time, only 13 death row inmates have been
executed, according to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
data. There are currently 714 inmates sentenced to die in California.
The lone death row inmate from San Francisco is 56-year-old Clifford Bolden, a
male escort who was convicted in 1991 for the 1986 murder of Michael Pederson.
Bolden has twice unsuccessfully appealed his case in state Supreme Court and he
is currently pursuing another appeal in federal court.
(source: San Francisco Examiner)
Bill to change laws for juvenile offenders serving life-without-parole
sentences fails in state Assembly
A bill that would have allowed juvenile offenders sentenced to life without
parole the chance to pursue freedom after a quarter-century in prison narrowly
failed to pass the state Assembly Thursday.
In an hourlong floor debate, Republicans seemed to sway wavering Democrats by
recounting details of vicious rapes and brutal killings.
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, argued that the bill was about much more
than "whether we're going to give people a chance at redemption." He said it's
about teens like Scott Dyleski, convicted of "slaughtering" his Lafayette
neighbor in 2005, so he could steal her credit cards and buy marijuana. Right
after the vicious crime, Donnelly noted, the 16-year-old had sex with his
Senate Bill 9 "is sending a signal we don't actually value life," Donnelly
added. "If you take a life, then the least we can do is say you have to give up
yours, whether it's life in prison, or the death penalty."
The bill by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, was backed by human rights
advocates and child psychiatrists. It was approved by the full Senate and
supported by all but a handful of key Assembly Democrats.
In a dramatic twist, although Yee counted 40 votes late in the day -- 1 shy of
passage -- his failure to convince enough Democrats ultimately doomed the bill
in a 36-36 vote, with 8 members abstaining when the final roll was called.
The legislation would have brought California in line with every other country
in the world and a growing number of states changing their sentencing laws to
reflect greater consideration of an offender's developmental stage when he or
she commits a crime.
Yee, a child psychologist who has authored 2 similar bills, said he will have
SB 9 considered one more time in the Assembly before the legislative session
ends Sept. 9.
His bill would allow those who committed crimes at age 17 or younger to
petition the court for a "resentencing" hearing. Judges could then reduce
life-without-parole sentences to 25 years to life, with the possibility of
appealing to parole boards.
But on Thursday, passionate Republicans argued that Yee's bill broke a promise
with the victims' families that they were done with years of torturous court
hearings. And in the rare cases where justice may not have been served, they
contended, the governor could issue a pardon.
Assemblyman Donald Wagner, R-Irvine, noted under the bill, the juvenile killer
of a California Highway Patrol officer on the Pomona courthouse steps in 2004
could one day "walk the streets again." But, he said, a widow's husband would
never have that chance.
Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, recounted the sexual crime of
17-year-old Samuel Puebla, describing how in 2003 he ripped off a 19-year-old
San Jose college student's clothes and hit her head so hard her eardrum burst
before he killed her.
Aggregate data on the 295 juvenile offenders serving life without parole
sentences, however, convinced supporters of SB 9 that there may be some inmates
who deserve a chance at parole. According to a Human Rights Watch examination
in 2007, 45 percent of the inmates had not actually committed murder, but were
nearby in getaway cars, standing lookout or had fled the scene after joining a
robbery-turned-fatal in which someone else was the shooter. The study also
found African-American juvenile offenders were 18 times more likely than whites
to be serving sentences of life without parole. Latinos were five times more
That was enough to persuade several Democrats who spoke on the Assembly floor.
"This is an easy vote," said Steven Bradford, D-Inglewood. "It's about
Bradford noted that the nation was founded by people with such an opportunity.
"Outside of Native Americans and slaves, everyone who came to this country came
here for a second chance," he said.
Under Yee's bill, petitioners would have to behave well in prison and
demonstrate remorse. And they would have to show evidence they had improved
their lives behind bars through education, religion or a vocation.
Opening the heated debate Thursday, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles,
tried to fend off concerns that bill backers were starry-eyed liberals.
"We're not talking about Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts," he said. "We're talking
about people who in many instances have ended the lives of others. Let's be
clear: They are not children; they are young adults who must be accountable."
He added, Yee's bill simply addresses whether in a civilized society those who
committed crimes before their brains were fully developed should have hope for
"Justice without mercy is hollow," Cedillo said. "It's hollow for the victims
and their families, and it's hollow for all of us."
(source: Contra Costa Times)
Ky. court turns away challenge to death sentence
Testimony about a rough and sometimes brutal childhood would not have changed
the death sentence handed to a man convicted of stabbing an eastern Kentucky
woman more than a dozen times during a robbery in 1985, the Kentucky Supreme
Court ruled Thursday.
The high court in Frankfort, in a unanimous, unsigned opinion, found that
60-year-old Benny Lee Hodge's attorney wasn't deficient by not presenting
testimony about how abuse and violence permeated his client's childhood. The
court found that the testimony may have offered jurors some insight into why
Hodge became a career criminal, as many criminals who commit "terribly violent
and cruel murders" have terrible childhoods.
"But, it offers virtually no rationale for the premeditated, cold-blooded
murder and attempted murder of 2 innocent victims who were complete strangers
to Hodge," the court wrote. "Even if the sentencing jury had this mitigation
before it, we do not believe, in light of the particularly depraved and brutal
nature of these crimes, that it would have spared Hodge the death penalty."
Hodge and 61-year-old Roger Dale Epperson were convicted of killing Tammy Acker
and attacking her father, Dr. Roscoe Acker, in their home in the Fleming-Neon
community in Letcher County, and stealing more than $2 million in 1985. Dr.
Acker survived a strangulation attempt, but Tammy Acker was slain, stabbed more
than a dozen times with a large kitchen knife. A college student, she had been
due to return to school the next day.
Epperson was also sent to death row. A third man, 52-year-old Donald Terry
Bartley, pleaded guilty and testified against Hodge and Epperson. Bartley is
serving a life sentence. Hodge claimed his trial attorney didn't perform any
investigation into his background to look for mitigation evidence.
Prosecutors agreed that the lawyer didn't conduct a reasonable probe, but said
it didn't negatively impact Hodge.
On appeal, Hodge said he would have presented testimony that one of his
step-fathers was abusive, regularly beating Hodge with a belt and metal buckle
and kicking and throwing him against walls.
Hodge was first arrested at age 12 and spent time in juvenile facilities in
Tennessee. He pleaded guilty to his first felonies at age 20. Hodge had been
paroled after 8 years in prison at the time of Tammy Acker's death.
"There is no doubt that Hodge, as a child, suffered a most severe and
unimaginable level of physical and mental abuse," the court wrote. Epperson and
Hodge were also sentenced to death for the June 1985 slayings of Ed and Bessie
Morris in the Gray Hawk community of eastern Kentucky.
Epperson is appealing a decision that DNA evidence found in the Morris home
does not warrant a new trial. The evidence, a hair, did not match Epperson,
Hodge, Bartley or Ed and Bessie Morris. A judge turned down the request in
June, ruling that other evidence points to Epperson's guilt.
The high court's decision closed one of the few remaining avenues Hodge had to
avoid execution. Kentucky is currently under an injunction halting all lethal
injections after a state judge found issues with the protocol for carrying out
executions. The state also does not have sodium thiopental, 1 of 3 drugs used
in lethal injections, because of a national shortage of the anesthetic.
The state has executed 3 people since 1976, with the most recent being in
(source: Associated Press)
Capital murder is charge against Joshua Russell
This morning police from agencies all across Calhoun and Etowah counties will
bring their “brother in blue” home.
More than 15 agencies were involved in the Wednesday manhunt for the man who
shot and killed Anniston officer Justin Sollohub. Now they will honor their
fallen colleague with a procession from Huntsville to Gray-Brown Funeral Home
“If citizens want to come out and be involved this morning, they’re more than
welcome to,” Anniston Sgt. Fred Forsythe said.
Officers asked that motorists on U.S. 431 yield to the procession, which is
expected to be on the highway in this area between approximately 10:30 a.m. and
The autopsy on Sollohub’s body was performed in Huntsville at the Department of
Meanwhile Sollohub’s alleged killer remains in custody in the Etowah County
Jail. Joshua Russell, 25, is charged with capital murder for shooting Sollohub
in the head during a chase Wednesday morning, police said.
As the Calhoun County community mourns the death of 27-year-old Sollohub,
Anniston police are working to ensure they build an airtight case against
“We’re moving forward with the case,” Anniston Capt. Richard Smith said. “We’re
doing everything we can to put it together to make it an unshakable case.”
Russell was found hiding in a wooded area near the intersection of 19th Street
and McCoy Avenue around 7 p.m. Wednesday, police officials said. His arrest was
preceded by an 8-hour manhunt that included assistance from agencies in
Smith said Anniston investigators were relatively certain Russell was in the
area because police responded immediately to the scene after hearing the
“officer down” dispatch call.
Police have few details about what actually happened between Sollohub and
Russell. They know that sometime around 11 a.m. Sollohub got out of his patrol
car to talk to Russell. A brief foot chase followed and when Sollohub rounded
the corner of a nearby house, Russell shot him, Smith said.
After hours of searching for Russell police arrested the Anniston man on an
attempted murder charge and booked him in the Calhoun County Jail. Smith said
the attempted murder warrant had already been signed by a magistrate hours
before they found Russell so as to speed up the arrest process.
That charge was upgraded to capital murder around 3 p.m. Thursday when Sollohub
was taken off life support at UAB Hospital in Birmingham and pronounced dead.
Russell had a 72-hour hearing Thursday morning at the Calhoun County Courthouse
and was then transferred to the Etowah County Jail in Gadsden. Russell is being
held without bond, officials said.
As a capital murder suspect Russell faces life without parole or the death
penalty, if convicted.
Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson said during a county commission meeting
Thursday that Russell is being held at the Etowah jail to ensure he is treated
Smith said that kind of custody decision happens occasionally in capital cases
that are high-profile in nature.
“No one is going to know him in Etowah,” Smith said.
Police officials said they developed Russell as their main suspect in the case
within an hour of responding to where Sollohub had fallen. Investigators
quickly went to work interviewing witnesses, compiling suspect profiles and
hosting photograph lineups at the police station.
Russell quickly became police’s main suspect. And Russell is a familiar face to
local law enforcement.
In addition to the capital murder charge, Russell is being held on 4 counts of
unlawful distribution of controlled substances out of Oxford. Anniston police
had a warrant for Russell’s arrest on a domestic violence charge. And Troy
police, meanwhile, had a warrant for his arrest on a felony charge of
assaulting an officer.
None of these were Russell’s 1st encounters with police. Court records show
Russell has pleaded guilty to five felony crimes over the past 2 years,
including 3 drug distribution convictions.
Russell was serving a 5-year sentence on one of those drug convictions when he
was released in October 2010 4 years early. Russell’s early release from prison
added to the frustration and grief that Anniston police feel over Sollohub’s
death, Smith said.
“Absolutely, it’s frustrating,” Smith said. “As fast as we put them in, they’re
back on the streets.”
Court dates have yet to be set in Russell’s case, officials said Thursday. In
the meantime, police will turn their attention to building the case against him
and commemorating their deceased friend.
Law enforcement officers from the following agencies were instrumental in
Russell’s Wednesday capture: Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office, Calhoun-Cleburne
Drug & Violent Crimes Task Force, the state ABC board, Alabama State Troopers,
Talladega County Drug Task Force, the Weaver, Jacksonville, Piedmont, Gadsden,
Oxford, Heflin, JSU, Ohatchee police departments, the Etowah County Sheriff’s
Office, the Etowah County Drug Task Force, the U.S. Marshals, the F.B.I. and
the U.S. Secret Service.
Anniston officials said they couldn’t have successfully captured Russell
without the help of these agencies. Forsythe said he is proud to have them
escort Sollohub home today.
“We’re all going to be bringing him home,” Forsythe said. “We’ll meet at the
Calhoun-Etowah County line … and bring him into Anniston.”
(source: Anniston Star)
Ohio faces snags in execution system
The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday set 2 new execution dates, but big questions
remain about how those executions will be carried out.
The state has acknowledged it will run short of its execution drug next year.
It also faces criticism of its execution methods from a federal judge whose
ruling has temporarily halted capital punishment in the state.
The prison system also has raised the possibility that the state's untested
backup method -- intramuscular injections that could cause vomiting or
convulsions -- could be used regularly as early as next spring.
Meanwhile, as supplies dry up of the execution drug currently used by Ohio and
several other states, a possible alternative is facing its own shortage.
The dates set Thursday were the furthest into the future the court has ever
scheduled death penalty procedures.
The first, March 6, 2013, was scheduled for Frederick Treesh, sentenced to die
for killing a security guard at an adult bookstore in Cleveland in 1994.
The second, May 1, 2013, was set for Steven Smith, sentenced to death for
raping and killing his girlfriend's 6-month-old daughter in 1998.
There are now 12 executions scheduled from September through May 2013.
Ohio is scheduled to execute Billy Slagle next month for stabbing a Cleveland
woman to death in 1986. U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost, who ripped the
state's lack of consistency in carrying out executions, is weighing a request
by Slagle's lawyers to delay that execution.
Setting dates as far out as 2013 reflects the prisons department's desire to
have at least a month between executions, along with a preference not to
schedule executions in December or January, Carlo LoParo, spokesman for the
Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said Thursday.
Ohio uses a single dose of the anesthetic pentobarbital to execute inmates, but
only has enough on hand to last through February, according to the DRC.
The state switched to the drug in 2009 after supplies ran out of the previous
anesthetic used by all states dating back to the 1980s.
Earlier this year, the Danish manufacturer of pentobarbital, under pressure
from anti-death penalty groups, announced it was putting systems in place to
keep the drug from being used in U.S. executions. Even before that decision,
Lundbeck Inc. had urged states not to use the drug to put inmates to death.
The exact amount of pentobarbital purchased by states is unclear, but it has an
expiration date of about two years, meaning most states will run out no later
Ohio officials "recognize that the feasibility of using pentobarbital, as the
drug administered in defendants' primary method of execution by lethal
injection, could become an issue, which could require further modifications in
defendants' procedures," the state said in a court filing earlier this month.
One possible alternative, the sedative propofol, is also facing its own
shortages, according to a bulletin from the American Society of Health-System
Pharmacists, which tracks drug supplies.
One manufacturer cited increased demand for the product, while another pulled
several lots of the drug in 2009 because of possible microbial contamination,
then stopped production altogether in 2010, according to the ASHSP.
Propofol is one of the drugs implicated in the 2009 death of singer Michael
The drug was mentioned as a possible death penalty drug in documents and
testimony in the Kentucky court case that led to the U.S. Supreme Court's 2008
ruling upholding the constitutionality of lethal injection.
Ohio also has a backup method that involves injecting two drugs directly into
an inmate's muscles, bypassing the veins. Under that method, the sedative
midazolam would be followed by the painkiller hydromorphone.
The method has never been used, however, and it comes with potential problems:
state officials previously warned reporters that the drugs could cause
convulsions or vomiting in inmates.
Under the state's old rules, the backup method was available only if
executioners had trouble injecting pentobarbital into an inmate's veins.
The new rules released last week allow the state to use the backup method, "if
pentobarbital could not be obtained for use in the execution."
LoParo said there are no plans to use the backup method soon, but said, "this
provides us with more flexibility in event our primary drug is not available."
That concerns Tim Young, the State Public Defender, who says Ohio would be
using a completely new way to execute inmates.
"Untested, anywhere, ever," he said.
The ASHSP also has tracked shortages of both midazolam and hydromorphone in the
past couple of months.
Execution date set for Mansfield man in 1998 baby rape, death----Steven Smith
raped, killed 6-month-old girl in 1998
An execution date is set for a Mansfield man who raped and killed his
girlfriend's 6-month-old daughter in 1998.
The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday ordered Steven T. Smith's death sentence to
be carried out May 1, 2013, at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.
"This is one of the most heinous crimes I ever dealt with as a prosecutor,"
said Mansfield Municipal Court Judge Jerry Ault, who was first assistant
prosecutor for Richland County when he tried the case.
Smith was convicted in 1999 of killing Autumn Carter, the daughter of his
live-in girlfriend Kesha Frye, on Sept. 29, 1998, at their apartment on Harwood
Drive. He was 31 at the time.
Prosecutors said Smith raped the baby, who died of trauma and compression
Authorities said her mother found the baby naked, next to her in bed, with
Smith, also naked, standing next to the bed.
When Frye screamed, "You killed my baby," Smith denied doing anything.
Medics were called, and the baby was pronounced dead at the scene.
Responding officers found a pair of men's pants under the baby's swing, the
child's pink sleeper under a coffee table and a shredded diaper on the floor,
according to court testimony.
They found Smith, who was drunk and disorderly, outside the apartment.
Defense attorneys Robert Whitney and Bernie Davis argued Smith was too
intoxicated at the time of the offense to have purposefully killed the baby.
Ault said Thursday that Smith was responsible for being intoxicated.
"It never appeared that he was so drunk that you couldn't know you were killing
someone. He had maybe 12 beers over the course of a day," Ault said.
The state in January 2003 set an execution date for Smith, but a stay of
execution was granted soon after, as Smith sought to have the U.S. Supreme
Court hear his case.
Ohio Attorney General's spokeswoman Lisa Peterson Hackley said Smith filed a
request in federal court for a writ of habeus corpus, an action which continued
the case until the end of 2010.
"At the beginning of 2011, the state requested an execution date, which the
Ohio Supreme Court set today," she said.
Ault said he is concerned there will be further delay.
"The state is doing a better job at getting these things done in a timely
manner, but these things drag out," he said.
If the execution takes place May 1, 2013, enough time will have lapsed that the
victim, had she lived, would be 15.
Smith, now 44, is in the Ohio State Penitentiary. He was transferred there in
late 2005 from Mansfield Correctional Institution.
One other inmate convicted in Richland County is on Death Row: August Cassano,
convicted May 18, 1999. He was found guilty of aggravated murder for stabbing
his Mansfield Correctional Institution cellmate, Walter Hardy, 75 times with a
homemade knife in 1997.
No Richland County defendant has been executed since May 24, 2007. Christopher
Newton was convicted of the 2001 aggravated murder of Jason Brewer. He was 1 of
8 "volunteers" -- inmates executed in Ohio after voluntarily waiving all
appeals rights -- since 1999.
(source for both: Mansfield News Journal)
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