[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----CONN., S.C., OKLA., NEV.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Tue Oct 4 23:16:40 CDT 2011
Appeals of Death Row Inmates in Connecticut Move at Glacial Pace
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, three 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 first 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 first 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 second 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: Litchfield County Times)
Death Penalty: 14 Year Old Executed in USA May Have been Innocent
Activists are seeking to clear the name of seventh grader George Stinney Jr,
one of the youngest people ever to receive the death penalty in America.
In 1944, George Junius Stinney Jr was just 14 years old, when he became the
youngest person ever to be executed on the electric chair. Activists have
questioned the validity of the sentence for decades, but now South Carolina
attorney Steve McKenzie has asked Claredon County Attorney General Ernest
Finney to reopen the file.
Mr McKenzie cited no physical evidence linking the boy to the murder of 2 young
girls, a coerced confession and a fundamentally flawed trial. The case is
igniting another fierce debate over the use of the death penalty in America.
Ending Child Executions in America
Mr McKenzie told the Grio that he is not seeking an end to the death penalty
per se - he believes that it is warranted in some cases - but that 'juveniles
should never be executed'. As well as looking to rectify a miscarriage of
justice, this is the issue which he hopes that the George Stinney Jr case will
***************************** Death sentence upheld for Dickerson----Justices:
Ruling fits for man who tortured rival for 36 hours
The S.C. Supreme Court on Monday upheld the death penalty conviction of a man
who tortured a rival to death on James Island in 2006, brutalizing him for more
than 36 hours.
A jury needed about 2 hours to recommend the ultimate penalty for William O.
Dickerson Jr., 35, who was convicted of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and
then murdering 29-year-old Gerard Roper.
The court wrote that imposition of the death penalty was warranted and that his
trial was correct.
"Although Dickerson's attorneys did a commendable job representing him during
both phases of trial, the gruesome nature of Dickerson's acts fits squarely
within the aggravating circumstances for which the jury recommended the death
penalty," the justices said.
"Furthermore, there is no indication that the proceedings were tainted in any
way or that the sentence was anything other than a rational response to the
Dickerson was convicted of kidnapping Roper in March 2006 from another James
Island home, then taking him to a Fleming Road apartment where he burned him,
cut him 200 times, knocked out his teeth and sodomized him with 2 objects
before finally killing him by strangulation, the trial found.
The 2 men had actually been childhood friends. During the torture, Dickerson
made several phone calls to various people where he discussed what he was doing
to Roper. Many of the calls were to Dickerson's girlfriend, who recorded one of
the calls containing his description of the attacks and Roper's own
confirmation of what was happening.
Dickerson was sentenced by Circuit Judge R. Markley Dennis.
Defense attorneys said Dickerson was under the influence of drugs at the time.
(source: Post and Courier)
Oklahoma death row inmate asks court for new trial
An Oklahoma death row inmate convicted in the machine-gun slayings of 4 people
on Memorial Day 2005 should have his convictions and sentences reversed, a
defense attorney told an Oklahoma appeals court Tuesday.
Gilbert Ray Postelle, 25, was found guilty by an Oklahoma County jury of four
counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of James Alderson, Terry Smith,
James “Donnie” Swindle Jr. and Amy Wright on May 30, 2005. Their bodies were
found outside a south Oklahoma City mobile home and each had been shot multiple
Postelle received two death sentences and two sentences of life in prison
without parole. But defense attorney Andrea Miller of the Oklahoma County
Public Defender's Office told the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals that
Postelle should get a new trial because of legal errors at his 1st trial, a
troubled childhood that included early exposure to drugs and the fact that
others prosecuted in the case were not sentenced to death.
“It is not the appropriate sentence,” Miller said during oral arguments in the
Assistant Attorney General Seth Branham urged the court to uphold Postelle's
convictions and sentences, arguing that any errors during his trial were
harmless and that Postelle told two witnesses following the shootings that he
“Those admissions directly connect the defendant to these murders,” Branham
The 5-judge court took the case under advisement and did not indicate when it
may hand down a ruling.
Prosecutors accused Postelle of plotting with his father, brother and a family
friend to kill the victims. Prosecutors said they believed Swindle was
responsible for a motorcycle accident that crippled Postelle's father, Earl
Bradford Postelle, in February 2004.
Prosecutors claim the victims were herded out of the mobile home and that
someone emptied a 30-shot magazine of an AK-47 assault rifle into them. Another
6 shots were fired into Swindle's head with a rifle.
In 2007, Earl Postelle was declared incompetent to stand trial because of brain
injuries suffered in the motorcycle accident. Gilbert Postelle's older brother,
David Postelle, was convicted of 4 counts of 1st-degree murder and sentenced to
life in prison.
The family friend, Randall Wade Byus, also was charged with murder in the case
but those charges were dropped after he reached a plea agreement with
prosecutors and testified against Gilbert Postelle.
Miller told the appeals court that Byus' testimony is the reason Postelle got
the death penalty. She said Byus testified that Postelle committed the
shootings, but that no other evidence puts the assault rifle in his hands.
“The crime scene evidence contradicts Randall Byus' testimony,” said Miller,
arguing that Postelle's jury should have received a legal instruction that
accomplice testimony cannot alone support a conviction and must be
corroborated. She said that instruction was not given by the trial judge,
District Judge Ray Elliott.
“The jury should have had the opportunity to decide that,” she said.
Branham said the jury in David Postelle's trial did not receive the accomplice
corroboration instruction following the testimony of a different witness and
the appeals court ruled it was harmless error. But several judges, including
Presiding Judge Arlene Johnson of Oklahoma City, indicated the court might be
less inclined to rule that way in a death penalty case.
Miller said Postelle has an IQ of only 76 and suffers from neurological issues
because he has used methamphetamine since he was 11 years old. She also
complained that Elliott did not instruct jurors that Postelle's brother
received life sentences in the case although prosecutors had sought the death
“This jury should have been allowed to consider that nobody else was sentenced
to death,” she said.
(source: The Oklahoman)
Confessed child killer asks for death penalty reversal
A confessed child killer is asking the Nevada Supreme Court to let him live.
Beau Maestas was a teenager when he admitted to the brutal killing of a
2-year-old girl in 2003.
Maestas attacked 2 young girls with a butcher knife inside a motor home in the
town of Mesquite. After the attack, 2-year-old Kristyana Cowan was dead and
older sister Brittney Bergeron Himel was paralyzed. Prosecutors say Maestas
gained access to the girls after a drug deal went bad between the girls' mother
The jury that sentenced Maestas to death in 2005 was the 2nd jury to look at
what an appropriate punishment for Maestas would be. It was a unanimous
sentence. Today, Maestas' attorney, Tony Sgro, argued that's one reason the
Nevada Supreme Court should overturn his death sentence.
"We started with a hung jury, and so was an issue as to penalty initially in
the first go-around," said Sgro.
The other has to do with the second jury's foreperson. The juror allegedly said
she had seen defendants who had been sentenced to life without parole walking
the streets of Boulder City, where she lived.
Sgro argued that before the foreperson made that statement, between one and
three jurors wanted to sentence Maestas to life in prison without the
possibility of parole.
"After the statement is made that life without doesn't mean life without,
that's when the second vote was taken and the vote was changed," Sgro said.
FOX5 Legal Analyst Bob Massi says the court will have to decide whether that
juror made those comments and what effect it had on other jurors.
"Did it influence the jury at all, was it misconduct, would the outcome have
been any different than what the jurors found," Massi said.
The Supreme Court hasn't given a time frame for when it might make a decision.
Massi said if the court decides to reverse the death sentence, it could hand
down instructions on a new sentence. It could also ask a lower court to panel a
new jury and start an entirely new punishment phase.
(source: Fox5 News)
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