[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----USA, ALA., FLA., GA.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Sun Oct 9 11:22:39 CDT 2011
Error rates a sobering aspect of death penalty
For a minute there, we paid attention to the death penalty.
Death sentences aren't something we contemplate often here in New York, where
the death penalty is on the books, but not in force because our state's highest
court found its implementation too flawed to be just.
But Georgia just executed a man whose guilt was in doubt.
Texas executes people like it's the official state pastime.
And it's Texas and Georgia that have brought the death penalty back to public
consciousness in recent weeks.
While Rick Perry, the Texas governor and presidential hopeful, was getting
creepy cheers from a debate audience for his state having executed so many
people during his tenure, Georgia was fixing to stick a needle in the arm of
Troy Davis for the 1989 murder of police Officer Mark Allan MacPhail — despite
7 of the 9 key prosecution witnesses recanting or backing off their statements.
Georgia executed Davis on Sept. 21.
Texas just released a man — not on death row, but who served nearly 25 years
behind bars — who was wrongly convicted of his wife's murder.
New York has had its share of exonerations over the years, and some close
Let's not forget our own Christopher Bowman, charged with a murderous rampage
through Middletown on Valentine's Day 1998. It was a 1st-degree murder case,
death-eligible at the time. Bowman even confessed under questioning by police.
But Bowman didn't do it.
While New York state isn't using the death penalty these days, the feds still
have theirs. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is currently pursuing a capital case
against seven Newburgh men charged last year as part of that big Latin Kings
roundup, and re-indicted in February on charges including murder in aid of
I'll grant that, should they be convicted, it's a hard slog to argue in support
of the lives of the people responsible for three murders on the streets of
Newburgh — in particular, the slaying of 15-year-old Jeffrey Zachary, an
The feds are also pursuing capital cases against some of the Newburgh Bloods
charged in a September indictment, which also includes murder conspiracy
On the other hand, the Southern District of New York is not the killing floor.
Federal prosecutors here sought the death penalty against four bombers from the
1998 embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania.
The jury deadlocked on the sentence, and the terrorists got life in prison
without parole. That's not a cushy sentence.
I'm not advocating a life of candy and flowers for violent felons. But the
saying in the world of law is "death is different." The idea is that the state
must meet higher standards if it wishes to execute someone. But capital cases
are as fraught with human error as any others. How many innocent people have
been executed? We don't know.
Since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, 1,271 death-row
inmates have been executed, and 138 have been exonerated.That's a pretty high
(source: Column, Heather Yakin, Stockton Record)
(source: Atlanta Post)
Alabama capital murder cases rekindle debate over ‘judge override’----Study:
Elected judges often choose death sentence over life in prison
The 2008 murder of Auburn University freshman Lauren A. Burk horrified Lee
County and the surrounding community. But last fall, 12 jurors recommended life
in prison for Courtney Lockhart, the man convicted of abducting Burk and
forcing her to disrobe before fatally shooting her.
Despite the jury’s consensus, Circuit Court Judge Jacob A. Walker III overruled
the recommendation and sentenced Lockhart to die by lethal injection. The judge
attributed his decision to a series of robberies involving Lockhart, saying
jurors likely would have been swayed toward capital punishment if they had
considered those alleged crimes.
Walker now is tasked with a similar choice in another high-profile case in
which jurors rejected a death sentence for Gregory Lance Henderson, the
Columbus man convicted Tuesday of running over and killing a deputy sheriff.
The Lee County cases have drawn attention to a controversial statute that
allows Alabama’s elected judges to make life-or-death decisions entrusted to
jurors in other states.
Gregory Lance Henderson was convicted of capital murder last week. A jury
recommended life in prison. Judge Jacob A. Walker III, who can overrule the
jury’s sentencing choice and give Henderson the death penalty, will decide his
fate on Jan. 31.
Walker’s decision in the Lockhart case this March drew criticism from death
penalty opponents and advocates for eliminating the option of “judge override.”
“When a jury of your peers decides after saying you’re guilty of capital murder
that you shouldn’t be sentenced to death, there’s a reason for that,” said
Randy Susskind, an attorney with the Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery,
Ala., nonprofit that opposes executions and represents indigent defenders.
“Override is just too susceptible to abuse and arbitrariness.”
Alabama’s capital punishment statute is unique. Florida and Delaware also allow
override in capital cases, but both states require a more stringent standard to
justify intervention from the bench.
Florida’s law requires “the facts suggesting a sentence of death” to be “so
clear and convincing that virtually no reasonable person could differ.” In
Alabama, however, judges are only required to “consider” the advisory verdict.
An Equal Justice Initiative report published this year found evidence that
judges override jury life recommendations more frequently in cases involving
white victims than black victims, and that the proportion of death sentences
due to override is often higher during election years.
92 % of 107 overrides since 1976 converted life recommendations to death
sentences, the report found. 3 of those occurred in Russell County, including
the high-profile case of Robert Lee Tarver Jr., the Pittsview, Ala., man
convicted in 1985 of murdering 63-year-old Hugh Sims Kite. Jurors voted for
life in prison in that case, but then-Judge Wayne T. Johnson overrode the
recommendation and sent Tarver to death row.
Tarver was executed in 2000 after the courts rejected his claim that the
electric chair was unconstitutionally cruel. (Alabama law now provides for the
lethal injection, but still offers electrocution as an option to the
condemned.) Critics contend that Alabama’s override law is flawed, and that
judges apply it inconsistently. The Equal Justice Initiative report found judge
override to be “the primary reason why Alabama has the highest per capita death
sentencing rate and execution rate in the country,” noting 21 % of inmates on
the state’s death row were put there despite a jury recommendation of life
Judges also may override death recommendations to life but have done so just 9
times since 1976, the report found.
“No one person should be trusted or burdened with the decision of whether
another human should die,” said James F. Barger Jr., a Birmingham attorney who
opposes the death penalty and is defending a capital case in Russell County.
“We developed the jury system a very long time ago to speak for the will of the
people in such important matters.”
Others point to potential advantages of override, noting the option to go
against a jury recommendation can cut both ways, in theory if not in practice.
“When there is a case of a miscarriage of justice either way, that judge would
have the power to set things right,” said Bill Veitch, chief deputy district
attorney in the Bessemer division of Jefferson County, Ala., who noted many
judges are experienced and have seen their share of heinous crimes. “The most
favorable light to the override power is the judge is in a position not to be
so moved by passion, prejudice or sympathy.”
Judge Albert Johnson of Russell County Circuit Court said he has not yet
presided over a case that justified an override.
“I’ll never criticize a judge for either overriding or not overriding a jury’s
decision because that judge is the judge that tried the case and knows the
facts of the case,” he said.
Johnson said he is skeptical of reports such as the Equal Justice Initiative
study that criticized jury override.
“I’ve taken several graduate statistics courses, and I can take raw data and
make any point I want to make for any position I want to take,” he said. “So I
don’t give a whole lot of credence to that.”
For defense attorneys, override adds an element to capital cases that can be
impossible to predict. In the Lockhart case, defense attorney Jeremy W.
Armstrong said he was surprised on at least 2 occasions.
The 1st twist, he said, was the unanimous recommendation of life without
parole, which flew in the face of the county’s conservative reputation.
“I didn’t think we had a fair chance at all in Lee County with this type of
case, but those Lee County jurors proved me wrong,” Armstrong said in an
interview in his Phenix City office. “They really looked at this case
thoroughly, and I was really shocked in terms of them returning a 12-0 life
without parole verdict.”
But Armstrong said he was even more surprised -- and disappointed -- by
Walker’s decision to override the recommendation. He noted several mitigating
factors in Lockhart’s case, including his problems after returning from
military service in Iraq.
“A lot of people disagreed with those jurors, but those people didn’t sit there
day in and day out and listen to everything in that courtroom,” Armstrong said.
“If the community does not have the final say-so in terms of what a punishment
should be for a crime in their community -- and the judge can override -- what
sense does it make for us to have a penalty phase?”
[to vote in a poll about judges overriding jury death verdicts, see:
(source: Columbus Ledger-Enquirer)
Despite advice, diagnosed schizophrenic is own attorney in double-murder trial
For someone who could face lethal injection, Bill Marquardt smiles a lot.
Marquardt, 35, who was extradited from a psychiatric hospital in Wisconsin to
Sumter County to answer capital-murder charges in the decade-old killings of a
Central Florida grandmother and her daughter, not only was ruled competent for
trial here but is serving as his own lawyer in the death-penalty case, which
"I'm pretty intelligent," he happily insisted when Circuit Judge William "Bud"
Hallman warned Marquardt that he was foolish to represent himself in any court
case but especially in a criminal matter with such serious consequences.
Marquardt, diagnosed in Wisconsin with paranoid schizophrenia and ordered to
serve a 75-year psychiatric commitment for animal-cruelty convictions, denies
he killed Margarita Ruiz, 72, and her daughter Esperanza Wells, 42, on March
15, 2000, inside a sun-beaten cottage in tiny Tarrytown, an hour's drive west
of Orlando on State Road 50.
The women were baby sitting when Ruiz was shot twice and stabbed 3 times, and
Wells was shot once and stabbed 8 times. 2 toddlers, Ruiz's grandchildren, hid
under a dining-room table and were not harmed.
In Wisconsin, a court refused to let him represent himself, partly because of
his delusional disorder.
Marquardt, who has a high-school education and once professed to be a prophet
"foretold by Nostradamus," the reputed 16th-century seer, was twice examined
for mental competency here but met Florida's minimal standards to proceed.
Because of the complexity of the death-penalty process, a defendant charged
with a capital crime in Florida is entitled to a lawyer with special
certification, but Marquardt also "has a constitutional right to represent
himself no matter how stupid that may be," said Robert Batey, a criminal-law
expert at Stetson University's College of Law.
Batey said a judge must decide whether the defendant is competent to "knowingly
and intelligently" give up his constitutional right to a lawyer and understand
the consequences — but not whether the defendant will put up a good defense.
In his opening remarks to the jury last week, Marquardt blamed the murders on a
father and son, fellow drug dealers in Wisconsin who ordered the killings to
frame him. He also claims they arranged the murder of his mother, who was shot
and stabbed to death in her home, March 13, 2000, 2 days before Ruiz and Wells
Marquardt said he has never been to Tarrytown, but forensic evidence says
"He left his DNA inside the home," said Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino,
a veteran homicide prosecutor who recently won manslaughter verdicts in the
case of a couple whose pet python strangled a toddler.
An analyst from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement who examined blood
spatters and other DNA samples collected from carpet, furniture and walls
inside the cottage testified that Marquardt was a "possible contributor."
Sumter County sheriff's Maj. Gary Brannen, who called the killings "totally
random," said the murders baffled Florida investigators until 2006, when
Marquardt was acquitted in Wisconsin of killing his 54-year-old mother, Mary
In the wake of the not-guilty verdict, the frustrated district attorney in
Wisconsin, Jon Thiesen, helped Florida authorities crack their unsolved case,
providing them with a folding knife removed from Marquardt's pants when he was
arrested in his mother's death. Thiesen suspected Marquardt had other victims
but wasn't sure where until he scoured the Internet and found a flier about the
mysterious murders in Central Florida.
A forensic report showed the knife blade bore the DNA of 4 people: Marquardt,
Mary Jane Marquardt and "two biologically related females" who were ultimately
identified through testing as Ruiz and Wells.
Wearing an ill-fitting suit and tie and an odd, constant grin, Marquardt
quizzed prosecution witnesses last week about the knife, bloodstains and other
forensic evidence linking him to the killings, including bullets and casings
found in the cottage that were fired from a gun found under a refrigerator in
Marquardt's home in Wisconsin.
Since he arrived at the Sumter County Jail more than two years ago, Marquardt
has filed stacks of court motions. He has written to the judge to prevent "any
silly tricks the DA may try" and to forbid the state from telling the jury
about graphically violent, satanic music lyrics he wrote, including a song
titled "Slit Your Throat."
He also has filed requests more common to capital cases, including a change of
His tactics have tested the patience of the judge and prosecutor, who was
annoyed by a witness list that included Paige Ruiz, one of the frightened
toddlers who hid while her grandmother and aunt were killed.
It's unclear how many of his 35 witnesses he will call.
The judge has ordered Charles Vaughn, a seasoned criminal-defense attorney, to
stand by to lend legal advice if Marquardt changes his mind. But at Marquardt's
request, Vaughn sits in the court gallery and not the defense table.
(source: Orlando Sentinel)
Death penalty and the Davis effect----Jury is still out on how Sept. 21
execution will impact Joshua Drucker's sentence
The fate of Troy Anthony Davis weighed on Cobb County death penalty defendant
Joshua Drucker as his trial neared.
It remains to be seen whether it will weigh on the minds of jurors, too.
Court-watchers say a backlash against the death penalty in Georgia could make
it harder for prosecutors to get the ultimate punishment for Drucker if he is
convicted. Drucker is on trial for the April 5, 2004, shootings of an
acquaintance and his girlfriend.
His attorneys hope to convince a jury Drucker doesn’t deserve to die. But they
don’t know if Davis’ case will help or hurt, if it affects jurors at all.
“You never know,” said defense attorney Jimmy Berry, who is representing
Drucker and has handled about 50 other death penalty cases over his long
“My opinion is that the death penalty is pretty archaic,” Berry said. “We are
the only civilized country that still has it.”
The Davis case garnered national media attention when he was executed Sept. 21
for the 1989 murder of Savannah police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail. Prosecutors
expressed faith in the guilty verdict, but Davis supporters pointed to a number
of witnesses who recanted their trial testimony to bolster their claim that he
had been wrongly convicted.
In the dramatic moments before he received the lethal injection, Davis
proclaimed his innocence one last time from the death chamber gurney.
Jury selection in the Drucker case was in its second week when Davis was
executed. Two potential jurors brought up the controversy. One said they were
“a little more concerned about the death penalty now and whether it was
appropriate,” Berry said. Neither of those individuals was ultimately picked
for the jury.
Thomas Clegg has been on both sides of a death penalty trial as a former DeKalb
County prosecutor and as a defense attorney. He said he would not be surprised
if Davis’ case affects some jurors.
“If there was any sort of doubt in my mind, even if it didn’t rise to a level
of reasonable doubt, I would not vote and I don’t think most jurors would want
to vote for it,” Clegg said. “I would think a lot of jurors have a bad feeling
in their mouth about the death penalty. I know I do.”
Jerry Word, who heads the Georgia Capital Defender Office, also believes the
Drucker jury could be impacted by Davis’ execution.
“It makes jurors realize that we do execute people, and sometimes the evidence
can be questioned even after someone is found guilty,” Word said.
Cobb County District Attorney Pat Head said he has no hesitation about seeking
the death penalty if the facts of the case warrant it. Drucker’s case qualified
because it was a double homicide and because it was excessively cruel and
inhuman, Head said.
During the trial, which began Sept. 28 and is expected to last about a month,
jurors have seen gruesome crime scene photographs of David Andrew Robertson,
40, and his girlfriend, Lora Nikolova, 25. The pair were found shot to death in
Robertson’s home near Marietta.
Drucker, 33, once served as a youth minister at the church his father formerly
pastored, Gospel Outreach Church in Stockbridge.
Drucker allegedly became addicted to methamphetamine, and he spent several
years in and out of prison for first-degree forgery and an assault on a
He is accused of shooting Robertson after telling a friend, Melissa McCrayer,
that they were going to Robertson’s house to buy drugs.
McCrayer cried on the witness stand this week when she described the slayings.
She said Drucker turned his gun on Nikolova when she started hitting at him and
shouting, “You killed him, you killed him.”
Nikolova was on all fours, spitting up blood, when Drucker allegedly dispatched
her with a final, fatal gunshot wound to the head.
Drucker told detectives in a videotaped confession that he killed Robertson
because he had given Drucker’s sister drugs that caused her to overdose in
February 2003. She suffered severe brain damage and is now confined to a
Head said he is confident the jury will convict Drucker. “There is no doubt
whatsoever that he committed the crime.”
Cobb County residents are considered primarily conservative, which has helped
Head’s office obtain the death penalty 3 times since he became district
attorney in 1998.
Andrew Grant DeYoung was the most recent defendant from Cobb to be put to death
for murdering his parents and his 14-year-old sister in 1993. He was executed
In July 2008, Lawrence Rice was the last person to be convicted in a death
penalty case in Cobb. 8 people on death row in Georgia were convicted in Cobb.
The district attorney said it would be a shame if jurors opted not to vote for
the death penalty in Drucker’s case because of Davis.
Head said he read the 102-page order issued by the federal judge in Davis’
appeal, and it was clear to him the judge had “no doubt whatsoever” about
“The people who have pushed the Troy Davis case really didn’t know a thing
about it,” Head said. “They just know what they’ve been told.”
Drucker operates an Internet ministry from jail with the help of his fiancee.
He writes sermons posted on his website,?TodayChristianMinistries?.org.
In a sermon dated July 18, Drucker drew a parallel between Davis and the
biblical figure of Joseph, who was sold into slavery and wrongly imprisoned
before he rose to become one of the most powerful men in Egypt. Joseph was also
known to interpret dreams. Drucker said Davis must have been kept alive by his
dreams. He exhorted readers to keep dreaming.
Drucker’s sermons have never discussed what ultimately happened to Davis. But
he ended that sermon by reflecting on his then upcoming trial:
“As I pen these words, I myself am facing an IMPOSSIBLE situation,” Drucker
wrote. “I have been locked up since April of 2004 for double murder in Cobb
County, Georgia. And I am waiting for a death penalty trial. And my lawyers
(which are the best in this state) tell me daily that there is no way I’ll ever
be free. I refuse to accept.”
In his own words
Joshua Drucker writes sermons in jail that appear at
TodayChristianMinistries.org. Some excerpts:
About his hopes: “Everyday, I get out of the bed and hope for my freedom.”
Expressing disappointment in his trial being delayed from July to September:
“Not only am I tired, but my family is tired as well. Tired of waiting, tired
of all the legal meetings, and most of all tired of not knowing what will
become of me and my future.”
About his decision to start an Internet ministry after he said God spoke to
him: “I thought to myself, ‘An Internet ministry? Why? How?’ As my Spirit was
rejoicing, my mind was yelling — ‘You are crazy. You are in prison. No one is
going to listen.’ ... I then told God, ‘Lord, if this is your will, then I will
leave it up to you to make it happen.’”
His thoughts as his trial neared: “I am exactly 36 hours away from the biggest
day of my life. As I pen these words, today is Saturday, Sept. 9, 2011. It is
about 9 p.m., and I have just come back to my cell after watching college
football for most of the day. I chose to watch football ALL DAY so that my mind
would not be consumed with this trial. For the most part, it has helped. Today
has been a good day.”
His thoughts on jury selection: “ It has gone EXTREMELY SMOOTH so far and I am
looking forward to better days ahead.”
(source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
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