[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----GA., CONN., NEV., ALASKA
rhalperi at smu.edu
Mon Oct 3 16:46:55 CDT 2011
Georgia Remains Center of Death Penalty Controversy
Ray Charles sings about Georgia being on his mind. But, as Troy Davis was laid
to rest last Saturday in Savannah, Georgia is also on the minds of distraught
death penalty opponents who saw him executed on the basis of questionable
evidence and despite an array of witnesses who had recanted their original
Georgia has been at the epicenter of the death penalty debate for almost four
decades. It was a case from Georgia – Furman v. Georgia – that led the U.S.
Supreme Court to rule in 1972 that the death penalty was unconstitutional
because it was being administered in an arbitrary and capricious manner.
After declaring a moratorium on executions, many states rushed to overhaul
their capital punishment statues to comply with the new Supreme Court’s
standard. In 1976 – Gregg v. Georgia – the court approved the modified death
penalty statues of Georgia, along with those of Florida and Texas, while
rejecting the approach adopted by North Carolina and Louisiana that required
all people convicted of murder to be executed.
But it was the case of Troy Anthony Davis, an African-American from Savannah,
that became Exhibit A in the re-energized movement to permanently outlaw the
death penalty. His plight drew international attention as well as support from
such unlikely sources as former President Jimmy Carter, conservative former
U.S. Representative Bob Barr [R-GA] and former FBI director William Sessions.
Davis was convicted of murdering Mark MacPhail, an off-duty Savannah policeman
moonlighting as a security guard. According to prosecutors, McPhail rushed to
the aid of a homeless man who was being pistol-whipped by Davis. However, no
gun was ever found, there was no DNA test linking Davis to the crime and more
than a half-dozen witnesses have recanted or changed their original testimony.
One of the witnesses, Antoine Williams, signed an affidavit saying, “…After the
officers talked to me, they gave me a statement to sign and told me to sign it.
I signed it. I did not read it because I cannot read.”
When it comes to the death penalty, race matters.
In 1990, a U.S. General Accounting Office report concluded, “In 82% of studies
[reviewed], the race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of
being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty, i.e., those
who murdered whites were found more likely to be sentenced to death than those
who murdered blacks.”
According to the Death Penalty Information Center (PDF), 76 % of the murder
victims in cases that resulted in executions were White, although only 50
percent of murder victims are White. Of defendants executed for murdering
someone of the opposite race, 17 were White – including Lawrence Russell
Brewer, who was executed in Texas the same night as Troy Davis for the 1998
dragging death of James Byrd, Jr. in Jasper, Texas – and 254 were Black.
A study of 2,000 potential death penalty cases in Georgia led by Professor
David Baldus of the University of Iowa found that the odds of receiving the
death penalty in Georgia were 4.3 times greater if the defendant killed a White
person than if he had killed an African-American. A report prepared for the
American Bar Association found the multiplier was 4.4 in North Carolina and 5.5
While race matters, it’s not the only thing that matters.
A 2007 investigation by the Cincinnati Enquirer found that judges on the U.S.
court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, which covers Ohio, Kentucky and
Tennessee, voted consistently along party lines. Judge Nathaniel Jones, who
retired from the circuit, told the Enquirer: “It’s a roll of the dice. When I
look at a lineup of a panel in this kind of case, you can almost go to the bank
on what the result is going to be.”
And the numbers support that view.
The newspaper figures show that federal judges appointed by George H.W. Bush
voted 50-4 against granting inmates’ capital murder appeals. Appointees of
George W. Bush voted 34-5 against granting such appeals. Reagan judges voted
39-13 against the requests. By contrast, Carter appointees voted 31-4 in favor
of granting inmates’ appeals. Bill Clinton’s appointees were not as firm,
voting 75-32 in favor of the appeals.
“Statistics like these do not prove that judges’ decisions are influenced by
their political leanings, but the stark contrast in outcomes strongly suggests
that judgments in death penalty cases are subjective and influenced by other
factors that interject a high degree of arbitrariness into the process,”
concluded a report by the Death Penalty Information Center titled, “Struck by
Lightning: The Continuing Arbitrariness of the Death Penalty.”
Still other factors also determine the fate of murder suspects.
“The system is too fraught with variables to survive,” observed H. Lee Sarokin,
a retired federal appeals court judge. “Whether or not one receives the death
penalty depends upon the discretion of the prosecutor who initiates the
proceeding, the competence of counsel who represents the defendant, the race of
the victim, the race of the defendant, the make-up of the jury, the attitude of
the judge, and the attitude and make-up of the appellate courts that review the
The next execution in Georgia is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 12, exactly two
weeks after Troy Davis was put to death in Jackson, Georgia. Both Angela
Sizemore, the victim in that case, and Marcus Ray Johnson, the man convicted of
murdering her, are White.
Don’t expect any all-night vigils in support of Johnson. Do not look for any
signs proclaiming, “I am Marcus Johnson.” And don’t expect protests in Paris or
anywhere else proclaiming Johnson’s innocence.
According to a summary of the case filed with the United States Court of
Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in the early morning hours of March 24, 1994
Johnson met Sizemore at Fundamentals, a west Albany bar. Sizemore had attended
a memorial for an acquaintance the previous day and had been drinking so
heavily that the bartender stopped serving her. Witnesses said Johnson was
deeply upset that another woman had spurned his advances early in the evening.
A court filing said, “The bar owner and its security officer (who both knew
Johnson) testified that they saw Johnson and Ms. Sizemore kissing and behaving
amorously.” The couple left the bar around 2:30 a.m.
“In a statement, Johnson said he and the victim had sex in the vacant lot and
he ‘kind of lost it.’ According to Johnson, the victim became angry because he
did not want to ‘snuggle’ after sex and he punched her in the face…”
That’s not all he did.
“Johnson sexually assaulted Sizemore with the limb of a pecan tree, which was
shoved into her vagina until it tore through the back wall of her vagina into
her rectum,” the court filing recounted. “…Jackson also cut and stabbed
Sizemore 41 times with a small, dull knife.”
Johnson’s trial lasted from March 23 to April 7, 1998. He was found guilty of
malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, aggravated battery and rape.
He was sentenced to death on the malice murder charge, life imprisonment for
rape and 20 years for aggravated battery.
In an unusual twist, the prosecutor was Gregory W. Edwards, who later became
the first Black District Attorney in Dougherty County, and the presiding judge
was another African-American, Willie Earl Lockette, now the Chief Judge on
Dougherty Superior Court in Albany. As of January, 3,251 persons were on death
row. There were 103 in Georgia, including Troy Davis and Marcus Johnson.
Nationally, 42 % of those on death row are Black, although African-Americans
make up only 13 % of the U.S. population. Latinos represent 12 % of those
The American Bar Association (ABA) called for a moratorium on all executions in
1997, a resolution that remains in effect.
“2 decades after Gregg, it is apparent that the efforts to forge a fair capital
punishment jurisprudence have failed,” the ABA resolution stated. “Today,
administration of the death penalty, far from being fair and consistent, is
instead a haphazard maze of unfair practices with no internal consistency.”
Even Ray Charles can see that.
No peace, no peace I find
Just this old sweet song,
Keeps Georgia on my mind.
(source: George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the
NNPA News Service; blackvoicenews.com)
Will Georgia Kill Again Despite Doubts?
Georgia is scheduled to execute Marcus Ray Johnson on Wednesday, October 5.
This date appeared on the calendar the morning after the Peach State put Troy
Davis to death despite unresolved doubts about his guilt.
As in the Troy Davis case, there is no physical evidence linking Johnson to the
1994 murder in Albany, Ga., of Angela Sizemore. According to Johnson’s
lawyers, his case was built on eyewitness testimony from individuals who did
not even witness the crime but only placed Johnson with the victim in the hours
before the murder.
Expert testimony about the problems with eyewitness identification evidence was
not allowed at Johnson’s trial. According to the Innocence Project, 75 percent
of wrongful convictions discovered by DNA testing have involved faulty witness
And while the Troy Davis case suffered for a lack of testable scientific
evidence, there may be some in the Johnson case. Last week Albany, Ga., police
discovered a box with new, never-before-seen biological evidence that could
allow DNA testing. Lawyers for Johnson filed “an Extraordinary Motion for New
Trial Based on New Evidence Produced by Albany Police Department” on Friday.
Will Georgia officials show an iota of concern for the possibility of executing
an innocent man in this case? Or will they recklessly proceed with another
execution, as they did with Troy Davis, despite serious and unresolved doubts
(source: Amnesty International USA blog)
Conn. death row appeals not going anywhere soon
As Connecticut prosecutors work to put Cheshire murder suspect Joshua
Komisarjevsky on death row, the appeals of those already awaiting execution are
moving at what legal experts say is a glacial pace.
Of the 10 men sentenced to death in the state, 3 have been awaiting execution
for more than 2 decades and 2 others have been on death row for at least 12
years. By comparison, the average time between conviction and execution in
Texas is 10 ½ years.
Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane recently told state lawmakers that death
sentences "will not be carried out in the near future, given the current state
of the legal proceedings. These oldest cases are not cases where the inmate
will be exonerated through DNA technology. Guilt is not at issue; it is delay
and delay solely for the sake of delay."
Judges, lawyers and victims' families blame foot-dragging by the courts and
lawyers, the complexity of the appeal system and a six-year-old, still-pending
lawsuit alleging racial and geographic bias in state death penalty cases.
While death penalty opponents continue to call for a repeal of capital
punishment, supporters are urging lawmakers to reform the appeal process.
None of Connecticut's death-row appeals have made it into the federal system,
where they will go after the state appeals have been exhausted.
Superior Court Judge Carl Schuman issued rare criticism of the process from the
bench in June, when he denied the latest appeal of convicted cop killer Richard
Reynolds, who was convicted 16 years ago. He blamed prosecutors, defense
attorneys and the courts for not moving the case forward and wrote that the
"lethargic movement of this case is contrary to society's need for finality of
convictions," adding that it "conflicts with all notions of sound judicial
Sedrick "Ricky" Cobb, convicted of raping and murdering a woman whom he
kidnapped from a Waterbury department store parking lot in 1989, has had an
appeal pending before the state Supreme Court since 2004.
4 death-row appeals are on hold because of the lawsuit alleging racial and
geographic disparities, which is set to go to trial next June. The case, which
will impact all death-row appeals, has been delayed for years by changes in
judges, two different studies commissioned by the inmates' lawyers and a
response from prosecutors that included several revisions.
Michael Courtney, head of the public defender office's Capital Defense Unit,
said there could be more delays as his office moves have the date updated to
include those sentenced to death after 2006.
He said subsequent federal appeals could also be lengthy, as defense lawyers
get their 1st chance to argue that Connecticut's death penalty violates the
U.S. Constitution by pre-screening what issues a jury can consider as
mitigating factors in a capital case.
"Until the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decides we're going to look at this or
we're not going to look at it, or decides one way or another whether
Connecticut is operating properly under the federal Constitution, there is not
going to be another execution in Connecticut, barring another volunteer"
In 2005, serial killer Michael Ross was given a lethal injection after he
pushed for his death sentence to be carried out, becoming the 1st person
executed in New England since 1960.
The lack of executions can be attributed at least in part to a unique set of
laws that allows for virtually unlimited numbers and types of appeals,
The direct appeal of a death sentence takes at least 4 years to litigate, they
Defendants also can file what are known as habeas corpus appeals in state court
alleging a variety of problems, such as the ineffective assistance of counsel,
or improper testimony. If they lose their first habeas corpus appeal, they can
file another, claiming problems in their first habeas corpus case, and so on.
Kane said 30 states have time limits on habeas appeals. He has supported
legislation that would limit the appeals in Connecticut to three years after
the imposition of sentence.
But Courtney said only one inmate in Connecticut has gotten to the point of
filing a 2nd habeas claim. He and others expressed concern that if appeals are
limited and the process sped up, the state could end up executing innocent
2 top state court officials, Chief Justice Chase Rogers and Chief Court
Administrator Barbara Quinn, declined to comment on the issue.
Stephen Bright, a lecturer at Yale University's law school and president and
senior counsel at the Southern Center for Human Rights, said there is little
reason to speed up the process until it becomes clear whether the state
legislature will repeal the death penalty.
"The courts have taken these cases, as they should, very seriously," he said.
"A lot of times just the complexity of the cases adds to the amount of time.
But when a death penalty is used as seldom as this one, the question becomes,
what is the point?"
Lawmakers, he said, are likely to repeal the death penalty for future crimes,
but only after a jury decides whether Komisarjevsky should be convicted and
sentenced to death for the 2007 murders of Jennifer Hawke-Petit of Cheshire and
her daughters, 11-year-old Michaela and 17-year-old Hayley. His co-defendant,
Steven Hayes, is already on death row.
"We seem to have the will in the legislature and we have a governor who will
sign a repeal if we can get a bill to his desk," said Ben Jones, the executive
director of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty. "I think you
can certainly say the death penalty would have already been gone in Connecticut
if not for the Petit case."
State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, a leader in efforts to get the
death penalty off the books, said he expects another repeal bill to be
introduced in 2012.
"I think we need to move past the sensationalism of the case," he said. "It's
hard to look at facts objectively when you have that case as a backdrop."
But Cindy Siclari of Monroe, whose sister-in-law was raped and killed in North
Carolina in 1993, testified during this year's repeal debate that the current
law is not working for victim's families.
"The death penalty in Connecticut offers a false promise to victims' family
members and delivers decades of additional pain," she said. "While no death
sentences are actually carried out, families suffer through years of appeals
where the details of the crime are replayed in the press over and over again."
A Quinnipiac University poll last March found that in the wake of the Cheshire
case, 67 % of Connecticut's registered voters favored the death penalty — a new
high. But the same poll also showed that 43 % supported life in prison as a
Chief Public Defender Susan Storey told state lawmakers that without a death
penalty, there would at least be some finality to the process, something that
doesn't exist now.
"I can't assure you that if we had triple our staff that it would make any
difference in the (current) process," she testified in March. "I think that the
way our court system is structured and our Constitutional protections, there's
only — it can only be shortened so much. And I think that we've seen that in
the past years that certain families have not seen finality."
(source: Associated Press)
Petit Home Invasion Trial Hit With New Mistrial Request
Lawyers have asked for another mistrial in the death penalty trial of Joshua
Komisarjevsky because a supporter of Komisarjevsky's alleged victims approached
a juror before court began today.
Komisarjevsky, 31, faces 17 counts in the gruesome home invasion case that Dr.
William Petit and his 2 daughters dead in the smoldering remains of their
suburban Connecticut home.
A juror told Judge Jon C. Blue this morning that a Petit family supporter
talked to him in the security line last week and said "Thank you for what
you're doing" as they entered court.
The juror told Blue that the encounter did not have an impact on his ability to
serve or to be impartial, but the defense immediately called for a mistrial.
Blue denied their request, but did issue a warning to courtroom spectators that
they could not approach jurors for any reason.
Walter C. Bansley, a defense attorney, said that he did not believe
Komisarjevsky could get a fair trial. Bansley called the spectator's actions
part of a "pattern of intimidation" by Petit supporters.
It's the 3rd time that Komisarjevsky's legal team has asked the court to
declare a mistrial. They made the request last week after the Petit family
arose en masse and walked out of court before the coroner gave detailed
testimony of the autopsy of Petit's 11-year-old daughter Michaela.
It was the 2nd time that the Petit family left the courtroom together before
gruesome testimony began.
Defense attorney Jeremiah Donovan called the move a "stunt" last week and said
it was highly prejudicial to his client. The judge rejected the request last
Blue also rejected a mistrial request last month when the judge stopped playing
Komisarjevsky's recorded and very detailed confession of what happened in the
Petit house because a juror appeared to be having trouble handling the gruesome
Komisarjevsky and his accomplice broke into the Petit family home in Cheshire,
Conn., in the early morning hours of July 23, 2007.
According to prosecutors and testimony in Hayes' trial, they beat Dr. Petit
about the head with a baseball bat and tied him up. They raped and strangled
Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48. The two daughters Hayley Petit, 17, and Michaela were
tied to their beds for hours and terrorized. Komisarjevsky also admitted to
sexually molesting Michaela Petit.
The house was doused with gasoline, including the girl's beds, and the home was
set on fire. Dental records had to be used to identify Hawke-Petit's body.
Experts have testified that the death of the young girls was likely agonizing.
Pictures of the attractive, smiling family torn apart by this vicious crime
have saturated Connecticut media for years.
Hayes was convicted last year for his role in the murders and given the death
penalty. He is currently on Connecticut's death row.
(source: ABC News)
Nevada Supreme Court hears Maestas death penalty appeal
The Nevada Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Monday regarding 3
death penalty cases that are under appeal.
One of the cases includes the conviction of a Las Vegas man who stabbed a
3-year-old girl to death in January, 2003.
Beau Maestas pleaded guilty in connection to the death of Kristyanna Cowan and
the stabbing of her sister, Brittany Bergeron, 10.
Maestas, then 19, and his sister, Monique, 16, were convicted in the case.
At issue in Monday's arguments in the case include those concerning misconduct
involving a juror and the prosecution.
The two other cases expected to be heard Monday include a 1996 Las Vegas murder
involving the strangulation of two women and a woman's 1984 shooting death.
The Maestas hearing is slated for 10 a.m.
The proceedings will be streamed live at http://www.nevadajudiciary.us.
(source: Fox News)
Death penalty draws Alaska protest
Alaska residents turned out for a death penalty protest Sunday even though the
state is not one of the 34 with capital punishment. Alaskans affiliated with
Alaskans against the Death Penalty and Amnesty International gathered in
Anchorage's Town Square.
Pastor Dan Bollerud tells KTUU-TV (http://bit.ly/nwOI3U ) that the groups meet
every October to read the names of people on death row, and their victims.
Members this year said a recent execution focused more debate on capital
The state of Georgia last month executed Troy Davis, who was convicted of
killing a police officer. The execution drew objections from people around the
world who believed Davis was innocent.
Bollerud said he personally feels the death penalty has no place in any
(source: Associated Press)
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