[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, VA., USA, N.C., S.C.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Mon Oct 3 16:45:10 CDT 2011
Texas counties used to handle prisoner executions
Texas executed its prisoners by hanging until 1924 when the electric chair was
introduced. By 1964 lethal injection became the most humane form of capital
punishment. Also, during the Civil War Texas used a firing squad 4 times.
The world watched via electronic media and in print as Lawrence Russell Brewer
paid with his life last month for the brutal 1998 dragging death of James Byrd.
His criminal case is one for the history books, if only because of the Texas
and national hate crime legislation that bears Byrd's name.
But most Southeast Texas killers who paid the ultimate price for their crimes
have been all but forgotten, their cases summed up as desperate men whose
violent lives finally led them down that last, long walk to the scaffold,
electric chair or gurney.
Jack Bunch was, apparently, the 1st man to be sentenced to death in Jefferson
Details are sketchy in Enterprise archive accounts, but Beaumont old-timers
said Bunch was hanged in the courthouse square in 1855 before a large crowd
that had gathered to witness the execution.
One of those witnesses was pioneering Beaumont resident Martin Hebert, whose
father took him to the public hanging, along with his brother, as a punishment
to the boys for having quarreled.
"He wanted us to see what happened to 'bad boys,'" Hebert would later say.
Sheriff James Engels (or possibly Ingalls - different spellings are given in
separate stories) had set up a scaffold with a heavy pole between 2 black gum
A long ladder and a rope were the only other implements needed.
Bunch was hanged for the murder of a man whose body he then threw into the
Sabine River. No further details were given in 2 brief mentions of the event
found in Enterprise archives.
The last public hanging in Jefferson County came to pass 48 years later.
"Spectators came by the thousands from far and wide to witness Jefferson
County's last public hanging staged in the old jail yard at the corner of Pearl
and Franklin in 1903," according to a 1955 Enterprise archive story. "Willie
Green was the ill-fated 'star' of the occasion, and the trap was sprung by
Sheriff Ras Landry."
The brief article doesn't mention Green's crime.
Hanging continued to be the state's method of execution until 1923, but whether
Jefferson County didn't- or did - hang anyone, or didn't do it publicly during
those two decades, wasn't mentioned either.
The state took over the final penalty in capital crimes in 1923.
The latest technology, the electric chair (dubbed "Old Sparky") was used for
many years until it was finally decided that lethal injection was more humane.
"Back 'in the good old days' Texas did away with highly undesirable persons
with dispatch and without all the fuss, furor, hoopla delays and protests,"
according to a 1984 Enterprise archive article headlined "No one clamored to
"It was usually only a matter of a few months between the time the guilty stood
before the judge and heard the death sentence and the time "Old Sparky" snuffed
out his life up in Huntsville," the delicately worded article went on to say.
4 of the first 5 Texans to end their lives in Old Sparky's embrace were
Southeast Texans, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice death
Mack Matthews, 39, of Tyler County; George Washington, 39, of Newton County;
and Melvin Johnson, 20, and Ewell Morris, 23, both of Liberty County; along
with Red River County resident Charles Reynolds, all were executed February 8,
1924, in the electric chair's debut.
Newt DeSliva was the 1st Jefferson County resident sent to Texas's death row,
but his sentence was commuted to life in prison March 8, 1925.
The 1st Jefferson County resident to die in the electric chair was 38-year-old
Raney Williams on Aug. 8, 1930.
The last Jefferson County resident to meet that fate was Morton Abbey, 32,
whose appointment with Old Sparky came on Dec. 8, 1951.
On June 29, 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared capital punishment to be
"cruel and unusual," Texas Death Row housed 45 men, whose sentences were
commuted to life in prison, clearing death row by March 1973.
By the end of that year, a revised Texas Penal Code once again permitted the
death penalty, allowing executions to resume effective Jan. 1, 1974.
The 1st man sentenced to death committed suicide by hanging and it wasn't until
Dec. 7, 1982, that offender Charlie Brooks of Tarrant County was executed.
He was also the 1st to die by lethal injection, a method adopted by Texas in
Jefferson County resident James Autry, 29, followed him March 14, 1984.
Autry was sentenced to die after shooting a convenience store clerk to death
after an argument about the price of a 6-pack of beer on April 20, 1980. He
then shot 2 witnesses, a former Catholic priest and a Greek sailor.
The priest died and the sailor was severely injured, according to the Texas
death row website.
(source: Beaumont Entrprise)
VIRGINIA----new execution date
Execution set for man who killed 4 people in Norfolk
Anthony Juniper is scheduled to be put to death next month, the Norfolk Circuit
Court ordered last week.
Juniper was found guilty of killing 4 people, including his ex-girlfriend and 2
small children, in 2005 in Norfolk.
Last month the Virginia Supreme Court denied the death row inmate’s request to
have his case re-heard, explaining that it could not find any error in its
Juniper will be executed Nov. 10.
(source: The Virginian-Pilot)
Choosing life over cheering death----We are not predisposed to choosing life,
for loving, listening, and connecting can leave us fragile and exposed;
choosing life is choosing to be vulnerable.
Earlier last month, Republican presidential candidates held a debate in
California, touching on the much-contested practice of the death penalty in the
During the debate, the moderator asked Texas Governor Rick Perry to comment on
the fact that his state had executed 234 inmates during his tenure, by far the
most under any American governor in modern times.
When the moderator mentioned this staggering number, the studio audience burst
into applause, once again cheering after the Texas governor gave his defense of
capital punishment in his state.
Regardless of one's stance on the morality (or lack thereof) of capital
punishment, it is difficult not to find the crowd's reaction alarming. “Even
supporters of the death penalty used to consider execution a solemn state
responsibility, not an occasion for celebration," the New York Times said in an
editorial titled "Cheering on the death machine".
This raucous celebration of execution is all the more chilling when one
considers the fact that the judicial process in capital cases is frequently
error-laden. In 2004, Governor Perry oversaw the execution of Cameron Todd
Willingham, despite well-known and egregious flaws in the forensic evidence.
And just days after Republicans debated the sentencing of Troy Davis, whose
innocence in the shooting of a police officer was supported by celebrities and
human rights groups, he was executed in Georgia. Many witnesses have recanted
their testimony in the case, saying that police pressured them to implicate
But the death penalty is symbolic of a much greater societal need; even if a
system is heavily flawed, capital punishment symbolizes, for many, security in
an unpredictable world.
Many feel that executing those who wrong restores moral order, hoping that by
eliminating the cause of insecurity, predictability and calm can be restored.
Capital punishment, which grants our judicial system power over life and death,
gives many the illusion that we are somehow in control and able to prevent harm
from reaching our doorstep.
It is therefore no surprise that in such uncertain times an audience would
cheer on death with such enthusiasm and gusto, celebrating the one thing –
death – that is assured and final in such turbulent times.
The crowd encouraging Perry in his capital punishment efforts is a
manifestation of a much more dangerous process that is going on in our world
and in our hearts, with many of us channeling our fears and uncertainties into
Many are embracing anger at both an individual and a societal level, feeling we
must harden our hearts in cynical defense.
The Torah warns us against giving into this very human, yet very
self-destructive, tendency. In one of the Torah’s most powerful statements
(Deuteronomy 30:19-20), Moses instructs the Children of Israel: "I call heaven
and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and
death, blessing and curse. Choose life, so that you and your children may live,
by loving the Lord your God, by listening to God’s voice, by clinging to God.
For thereby you shall have life…"
The Torah instructs us to choose life – not death – to love, listen and connect
with each other. As Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson explains, choosing life is a
commitment to personal happiness, knowledge, meaning, integrity, and dynamism.
Choosing life means building relationships and communities that are grounded on
principles of mutual love, joy, just treatment for all, and peace. Choosing
life is about helping life flourish and thrive among all of God's creatures.
We are not predisposed to choosing life, for loving, listening, and connecting
can leave us fragile and exposed. Choosing life is choosing to be vulnerable.
The Torah acknowledges this fear, calling on us to be strong and courageous and
not to fear.
Attempting to control our world by choosing death is illusory and
counter-productive. It shuts us off and shuts us down. In a scary world, the
only thing we can control is whether or not we will be afraid.
Choosing life is about finding the courage to embrace vulnerability and the
strength to stand up to our fears. Can we stand at the ready with resilience
and faith to face whatever the future may hold? Can we embrace the best in
ourselves and in each other? Can we drive out the fear and narrowness that
leads us to cheer on death, and supplant them with a raucous standing ovation
for open-hearted empathy?
It is up to us to decide how to handle the unpredictability of life. We can
succumb to anxiety, fear, doubt and uncertainty, latching on to whatever gives
us a sense of control, or we can face our destiny using the Torah as our guide.
The Torah outlines a path of courage in which we choose to love, listen, and
connect, inviting us to strongly and bravely choose life.
Michael Knopf is the Assistant Rabbi of Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley,
Pennsylvania, and a recent graduate of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
in Los Angeles.
(source: Michael Knopf is the Assistant Rabbi of Har Zion Temple in Penn
Valley, Pennsylvania, and a recent graduate of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic
Studies in Los Angeles----Ha'aretz)
The capital punishment conundrum of Catholic politicians
Judging by many Catholic public officials' record on capital punishment, you
would think that Catholicism has no problem with injecting lethal chemicals
into the veins of human beings. Just last week Supreme Court Justice Antonin
Scalia erroneously claimed current Catholic teaching does not view the death
penalty as "immoral."
I wonder how many of the faithful at this Sunday's Red Mass at the Cathedral of
St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C. agree. The Mass, celebrated by
Archbishop Donald Wuerl, is often attended by political luminaries such as
In my home state of Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Corbett, who is a Republican and
a Roman Catholic, has already signed 8 death warrants since taking office in
January 2011. Corbett has said "the pro-life movement has to keep reminding
everyone that these are living human beings." His opposition to abortion is
commendable. But, he is also on record as saying that as a district attorney he
has "convinced a jury to seek the death penalty" and that he would never
support a moratorium on capital punishment. Among the 50 states, Pennsylvania
now has the 4th highest number of inmates on death row -- 219 -- more than
twice that of Georgia.
Many Democrats are not much different on this issue. For example, Pennsylvania
U.S. Senator Robert Casey Jr. is a Roman Catholic. He deserves credit for
co-sponsoring the Pregnant Women Support Act, which aims to reduce the number
of abortions in the U.S. by 95% over ten years. But he too believes that death
is an appropriate "punishment" for "the most heinous crimes."
The list could go on, from both sides of the aisle.
The problem is this position squarely violates Catholic teaching against the
death penalty. Last week, more than 300 Catholic theologians, scholars, and
social justice advocates issued "A Catholic Call to Abolish the Death Penalty."
The signatories acknowledge that justice must always be served. But they
maintain, as Blessed Pope John Paul II did, that "the dignity of human life
must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil."
The death penalty is "cruel and unnecessary" and must be abolished, the pontiff
declared. He recognized, as do many criminal justice experts and most nations,
capital punishment is not necessary in modern society because prisoners can be
kept safely in penal facilities. Thus, state-sanctioned killing of criminals is
no longer justifiable.
Catholicism does not accept retribution as a reason for execution.
Nonetheless, many Catholics hang their pro-capital punishment arguments on a
perceived loophole in the teaching. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
permits the execution of criminals, albeit in "very rare if practically
non-existent" circumstances. However, supporting capital punishment based on
this caveat is untenable for 2 reasons.
First, the church does not ever allow for "capital punishment," both in theory
and practice. Even on the level of principles, it only allows for "legitimate
defense." Thus, the Catechism (#2263-7) discusses cases where it may be
necessary to defend the public against an unjust aggressor in a section titled
"Respect for Human Life." There the Catechism does not even use the phrase
capital punishment because it forbids lethal punishment. It only permits
legitimate defense against an unjust aggressor as a last resort, i.e. when no
other means exist. E. Christian Brugger explains this current teaching in much
greater detail in his careful scholarly work on the subject.
Clearly, as John Paul II and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
have argued, other means of deterring an unjust aggressor exist in the
contemporary United States. Research has shown that the death penalty is not
even necessary to prevent murderers from killing again. Thus, execution may not
be used as a legitimate defense.
There, are of course, many other important reasons the church rejects capital
punishment. "A Catholic Call to Abolish the Death Penalty" raises many of them.
But the issue for pro-capital punishment Catholics boils down to this simple
question: Can anyone seriously argue that the only means of defending society
against further harm from Troy Davis, or Lawrence Brewer for that matter, was
to kill them? In other words, they would have to be considered unjust
aggressors who posed a threat to society up to and at the moment of their
execution. That's the argument Justice Scalia needs to make in order to
maintain, with a clear conscience, that the death penalty is not immoral.
It looks like he -- and other pro-death penalty Catholic political leaders --
need to reconsider their positions.
Understandably, the church's teaching against capital punishment is not always
easy to assimilate, especially for those who have been harmed or lost a loved
one in a violent crime. But we have a witness of the possibility for
forgiveness and need for restorative justice in Blessed John Paul II. After
recovering from the assassination attempt on his life, he not only forgave the
man who almost killed him, he also befriended him and his family. Groups like
Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights have also powerfully testified to the
demands and promise of the Gospel while advocating for the abolition of the
death penalty. May our nation's Catholic leaders draw insight and inspiration
from these disciples of Christ.
(source: Gerald J. Beyer is Associate Professor of Christian Social Ethics at
Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. PA. He is one of four co-authors who
recently wrote "A Catholic Call to Abolish the Death Penalty"----National
Majority of Americans in favor of death penalty
In this Sept. 21, 2011 file photo, a man chants during a vigil for Georgia
death row inmate Troy Davis In Jackson, Ga. Davis insisted for years, up until
his final words in Georgia's death chamber, that he was wrongly convicted of
killing a police officer based on faulty testimony from witnesses to the crime.
62 % of Americans support the use of the death penalty in the U.S. Justice
System, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center. In light of the
controversial execution of Troy Davis, this study is extremely relevant.
Davis was executed on Sept. 21 for the murder of Savannah policeman Mark
MacPhail in 1989. Despite numerous appeals and several court-ordered stays of
execution, the Georgia State Board of Pardons denied his appeal. He appealed
his case on grounds of questionable witness accounts (7 out of 9 witnesses
recanted part or all of their testimonies) and a lack of physical evidence. A
last ditch effort to appeal to the Supreme Court was also denied.
According to the Pew study, Republicans are more likely to favor the policy
than Democrats. In general, however, support has declined slightly since 2007
when Pew did a similar survey.
The study also highlights the correlation between one's view on the death
penalty and one's religious beliefs, showing that Protestants and Catholics are
more likely to favor the policy than other religious groups. Moreover, it
claims that religion is a strong influence on some people's decisions.
Father Joe Williams, a community minister at DePaul, cited the pope's negative
reaction to the execution of Troy Davis when illustrating what he believes
Catholic perspective on the issue is.
"We support human life from beginning to end," Williams said. "The Catholic
position officially is that the death penalty is wrong."
He also noted that some groups and religions firmly believe in an
eye-for-an-eye but that Catholics should not.
"We don't ask the state to do that for us, to murder for us," he said.
Williams also described some of the death penalty's emotional implications.
"The death penalty is such an emotional reality," he said. "The moral issues
around the death penalty have to do with respect for life."
Patrick O'Neill, a sophomore, believes there are several important factors to
think about when determining if someone should be executed. He suggested
considering whether or not a murder was premeditated, the number of victims in
the case and the gruesomeness of the murder.
"In extreme circumstances, the death penalty should be enforced," he said.
"Capital punishment sets an example."
He also claimed that justices need to be certain before they decide to take a
person's life."I don't think you should do it if there's any gray area,"
One of the biggest controversies surrounding the Troy Davis case is the
question of his innocence. Dr. David Barnum, a political science professor at
DePaul, said this kind of controversy is nothing new.
"I have no doubt that innocent people have perhaps been executed," he said.
Barnum also noted that the issue used to be leverage for politicians in the
1970s, but now people in office tend to stray away from it.
"They've got nothing to gain by having a position at all," he said. "There are
a lot of issues that have kind of pushed the death penalty aside."
Additionally, Barnum claimed that the judicial system has removed the debate
from the courtroom after an inconclusive discussion about the death penalty's
constitutionality in regard to the Eighth Amendment.
"Legislators and the public are entitled to their own views," Barnum said.
"They've pretty much made it clear that the death penalty is not necessarily
(source: The (DePaul Univ.) DePaulia)
NC man accused of killing 3 women and dumping 2 bodies in SC set to go on trial
in 1st case
A North Carolina man accused of killing 3 female acquaintances and dumping 2 of
them in South Carolina is scheduled to go on trial for capital murder in one of
Jury selection was scheduled to begin Monday in the first of what will likely
be three trials for 49-year-old Danny Hembree Jr. Hembree could face the death
penalty if he is convicted.
Hembree goes on trial 1st for the 2009 killing of 17-year-old Heather
Catterton, whose body was found near Clover, S.C. He's also charged with
killing 30-year-old Randi Dean Saldana, whose burned remains were found near
Blacksburg, S.C. (source: Associated Press)
SC high court upholds death penalty for torture
The South Carolina Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of a man
convicted of killing a childhood friend during 36 hours of torture.
The state's high court ruled Monday that the conviction and death sentence of
William Dickerson were warranted.
Dickerson was convicted in 2009 of 1st degree murder, kidnapping, and criminal
sexual conduct in the 2006 death of 29-year-old Gerard Roper in a Charleston
Authorities said Dickerson wrongly thought Roper was the man in a video having
sex with his girlfriend.
Evidence shows no single injury killed Roper. He received more than 200 wounds.
He was chocked, tied up, sodomized with a gun and broomstick, burned, and
Prosecutors say Dickerson called his girlfriend and others during the torture
to discuss what he was doing.
(source: Associated Press)
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