[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----USA, KAN., GA., PENN.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Mon Oct 10 12:11:01 CDT 2011
Families suffer grief of state-enforced death
On the eve of World Day against the Death Penalty (October 10), a Swiss
photojournalist gives his insight into the suffering of the families of the
Fabio Biasio came face-to-face with the grim reality when he travelled to the
execution capital of Texas for a reportage on capital punishment in 2003.
“I wanted to tell a story about the death penalty,” said Biasio about his trip
He soon realised that there was no welcome on the mat in Texas for him. “I
couldn’t get access to the execution room or death row,” Biasio told
“Huntsville is the capital of the Texan penal system. Every execution in this
US state is carried out there.”
After getting onto the visiting list of a prisoner, he could at least see the
death row visiting room. That’s how he got to know Tina Morris, the sister of
“Tina sat beside me, she was visiting her brother. It was the day before his
first execution date, which was then postponed.”
He saw in Morris the possibility of telling a special story – the fact that an
execution produces a second set of victims, the family of the perpetrator.
“The perpetrator has caused great suffering to the family of the victim, and
now the state causes great suffering to the family of the perpetrator,” Biasio
He called his story the “Diary of an execution”. The photos show Tina Morris in
the week before the execution of her brother James. “I was not just a
photographer but also her companion and chauffeur.”
Her family was important to her this week but on her last visit to death row
she felt so terrible that she did not want anyone from her family around her.
“It was too close for her. I think she did not want her sons or her partner to
see her like that. With me she didn’t care.”
“Tina, I will also photograph you when you feel really bad, when you’re
crying,” he warned her. She accepted that. “She wanted her story to be told.”
Colburn suffered from schizophrenia. “James committed a murder because of his
illness. He stabbed a woman with a kitchen knife,” said Biasio, who only had
contact with Morris’s brother twice.
“I spoke to him for around 30 seconds by telephone. The conversation was very
short, because it is forbidden to speak to inmates, without having an
invitation from them. At the 2nd contact, James was dead.”
When an inmate comes to death row he is locked away behind bullet-proof glass,
also from his relatives.
“The 1st physical touch takes place after the execution. There is no final hug,
no final squeezing of the hand.”
Made in the US
In the US it is very unpopular, according to Biasio, to campaign against the
death penalty. Even President Barack Obama steers clear of the subject.
“It would cost him too many votes. Only small human rights groups take a
position against the death penalty.”
Why is the death penalty in the US not seen in the same way as in Europe, where
only Belarus still implements it?
“I think that it is has a strong religious base: An eye for an eye, a tooth for
a tooth, the Old Testament approach, that is deeply rooted in the folk soul of
the US,” the photographer said.
Biasio sees the executions carried out by the state as delegated killing.
“For the final implementation of the judgment, two anonymous executioners each
press a button in a darkened side room. One of the buttons sets a mechanism in
motion that releases the deadly injection. The second button is not connected.”
Biasio recognises that society needs to be able to mete out punishment if it is
to function properly. "But it is often forgotten that every person should have
the chance to improve themselves.”
“I learned at that time that psychological torment can also cause physical
pain,” the photographer recalled. “I have never seen someone suffer as Tina did
during this week. That affected me personally a great deal.”
At the exhibition of his photos in Winterthur he met Morris again – a year
after her brother’s execution. She watched her story in the gallery of
pictures. “It was an unbelievably intense moment.”
Biasio also produced an internet slideshow of “Life and Death in Huntsville,
Texas”. “Tina looks at it every day. The execution is part of her story. She
has to live with this trauma.”
Studies have shown that the psychological state of murder victims’ relatives
does not improve after the convicted person has been killed. In the US there is
even an association of murder victims‘ relatives who speak out against the
“In my opinion it leads to a brutalisation of society when the state practises
a monopoly on this kind of violence,” Biasio said.
“Deep inside I know that the death penalty is wrong. When Switzerland spoke in
2010 about the reintroduction of the death penalty I hoped nothing would go
wrong. Because if something terrible happened, then you would get a majority in
Switzerland for the death penalty.”
Biasio saw in Texas that the death penalty brings immeasurable suffering, he
says. “I am glad for every society that takes responsibility and says: No we do
not want that here.”
(source: Etienne Strebel, swissinfo.ch)
Executions by County
After Amanda Knox, the capital punishment debate is over----Ian Dunt: 'It is
impossible to ethically justify executions'
When Amanda Knox left her jail cell, she forced people to do a lot of soul
searching. From the cynicism of the tabloid press to the inadequacies of the
Italian justice system, there was a lot to talk about. But it was capital
punishment proponents who should really be given pause for thought. Today is
World Day Against the Death Penalty and the facts have conspired to make the
Even in the UK, where the reintroduction of the death penalty is unthinkable,
we need to grab the oppourtunity it offers us. This summer, the right-wing
blogger Guido Fawkes tried to start up an e-petition to reintroduce capital
punishment. That attempt spectacularly backfired, killing the myth there is a
massive groundswell of support for the practise among voters. Government
e-petitions require 100,000 signatures to be debated in the Commons. All of us,
including opponents, assumed it would be a shoo-in. Actually, Fawkes' effort
barely made it past the 20,000 mark. The debate around the e-petition allowed
us to comprehensively demonstrate that capital punishment is not a deterrent.
Its failure showed there is no mass public support for it. Now, as events
highlight the weakness of sophisticated western judicial systems, we can
demonstrate why it is impossible to ethically justify executions.
As Knox prepared to leave Italy, something interesting was happening back in
her home country. Tuesday October 4th saw three men walk free from jail.
Michael Morton of Texas was exonerated of killing his wife in 1986 following
new DNA tests. Jacques Rivera of Chicago was released from jail after a 1990
conviction for gang-related murder was found to be based on false evidence.
Finally, Obie Anthony of Los Angeles had his 1994 conviction for murder
overturned after it emerged that the star witness in his case had lied after
cutting a deal with the police.
All these cases had the Innocence Project to thank, a remarkable organisation
set up in 1992 to exonerate people through the use of new DNA technology. So
far, it has seen 250 exonerated – 17 of them on death row. It's assessment of
the factors which tend to result in wrongful convictions is reflected by the
Of course, there are good reasons to suspect Knox. She confessed to being in
the house on the night Meredith Kercher was killed, for a start. Even if the
confession was made under duress, as she claims, she repeated it in a 5-page
memorandum the next day. Her boyfriend Sollecito could not back up her alibi
and their mobile phones and computers did not substantiate their accounts of
But the reasons Knox was acquitted tell us a great deal about the fundamental
flaws in all justice systems, flaws which make the moral argument for capital
punishment impossible. Prosecutors claimed Knox's DNA was on the handle of the
presumed murder weapon (a kitchen knife).
Kercher's DNA was found on the blade, they said. Sollecito’s DNA was found on
the clasp of her bra. A review from 2 independent experts from La Sapienza
University in Rome found the DNA samples to be too low to be reliable and so
tiny they could not be retested. The bra clasp was found 6 weeks after the
initial crime scene investigation, when it could have been subject to several
contaminations. The knife itself did not match 2 of the 3 wounds on the
victim's body or the bloody smear on her bedclothes.
It’s tempting to write that off as Italian police incompetence, but it would be
inaccurate. In fact, failures in DNA technology and practise are responsible
for many wrongful convictions - and the public sense of its reliability makes
the problem even worse. While DNA testing is a sound method, other techniques
have not been subject to proper scientific evaluation. These include hair
microscopy, bite mark comparisons, firearm tool mark analysis and shoe print
comparisons. Those techniques that have been properly tested, including blood
typing, are often improperly conducted or inaccurately conveyed.
Knox's case was also assisted by the eyewitnesses, who were desperately
unreliable. A homeless drug addict, Antonio Curatolo, testified that he saw
Knox and Sollecito arguing near the scene of the crime that night, but on
appeal his evidence was confused and contradictory. Rudy Guede, the Ivory
Coast-born man also convicted of the murder originally said Knox was not at the
house, but he changes his story months later, saying he spotted Knox's
silhouette outside the building.
This kind of inaccuracy is par for the course, with the Innocence Project
saying eyewitness misidentification is "the single greatest cause of wrongful
convictions" in the US, playing a role in over 75% of convictions overturned
through DNA testing. Eyewitness testimony is very convincing to judges and
juries, but it’s not as clear cut as you think. The human mind is not a video
recorder. It is a shambles, frankly, mixing and matching memories with
assumptions and emotions. Identifying someone of a different race is famously
dodgy and witnesses are very likely to offer inaccurate assessments when the
situation was one of distress or heightened emotions, which it usually is.
Moreover, the moment concerned rarely happens clearly in the light of day, but
often out the corner of the eye in a darkened environment.
Even when you discount the human errors, police tend to make serious mistakes
when collecting witness statements, including conducting line ups while knowing
the perpetrator, selecting fillers under inappropriate circumstances and being
consciously or unconsciously suggestive when instructing witnesses.
The inclusion of Guede's testimony highlights how unreliable witnesses can be
used in trials. But at least jurors would have known of Guede's conflict of
interest. Many jurors aren't so lucky. They are not informed that informants
are used. They are not informed when witnesses are paid to testify. They are
not informed when witnesses are offered their freedom from prison. They are not
informed when witnesses are testifying as the only way to avoid jail.
Knox's confession is also standard. The defence argued that Knox was
emotionally traumatised when she gave the confession. At the time she had her
hands cuffed above her head by a police officer and was being threatened with
decades in jail. She was questioned without a lawyer and could only use basic
In about 25% of US DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made
incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty.
Sometimes it is simply the emotional duress, sometimes it's because they are
under the influence of drugs or alcohol, sometimes they are mentally
handicapped or being threatened by a harsh sentence. Many people later say they
were under the impression they could go home, that the whole situation would
finally stop, if they just do what they were asked.
The Knox case was particularly inept but the errors are not unique to Italian
justice. They are present across the world, because they rest on new
technologies and human fallibility. The idea that one man should be put to
death by the state for a crime he did not commit is insufferable. But it has
happened, it does happen and if capital punishment proponents have their way it
will happen again. If the circus around Knox demonstrates anything, it's that.
In the face of uncertainty, there is no moral basis for capital punishment.
(source: Commentary: Ian Dunt, politics.co.uk)
World Day Against the Death Penalty: top 5 botched executions this year
Lethal injections are experimental and frequently botched - leading to an
agonisingly painful death for prisoners. Reprieve is today calling on
healthcare professionals to help us debunk the myth that this method is
Read our top 5 botched executions of the past 12 months. Help us stop them.
First, here's how it works: after an anaesthetic is injected to put the
prisoner to sleep, a paralysing agent immobilises him until a massive overdose
of potassium chloride stops his heart. If the first drug fails - often the dose
is too low or the IV is not inserted properly - the prisoner remains awake but
paralysed. The pain is excruciating - like "fire burning in the veins" - but
the prisoner is frozen in silence, unable to move or cry out. This is a botched
execution. The prisoner slowly suffocates in agony until the potassium chloride
finally shocks the heart so severely it stops beating.
Now here's the top 5 botched executions of the past year:
1) BRANDON RHODE
September 27, 2010: Brandon Rhode is executed in Georgia, but his eyes remain
wide open. Doubts are raised over the way sodium thiopental was administered.
Dr Mark Heath declares in an affidavit: “If the thiopental was inadequately
effective Mr. Rhode’s death would certainly have been agonizing... There is no
dispute that the asphyxiation caused by pancuronium and the caustic burning
sensation caused by potassium would be agonizing...”
2) JEFFREY LANDRIGAN
October 10, 2010: It takes several minutes for Jeffrey Landrigan to die in
Arizona. He is executed with sodium thiopental sold by fly-by-night British
drug company Dream Pharma. It appeared the anaesthetic may not have worked. It
took over 10 minutes for him to be pronounced dead.
3) EMANUEL HAMMOND
January 27, 2011: Emanuel Hammond is executed. Hammond closes his eyes, and
then re-opens them later. Professor Sheri Johnson, who watched particularly
intently because she knew there were doubts over the British thiopental’s
efficacy, said “he closed his eyes perhaps ten seconds after the drugs started.
But then, some time later, he opened them again”. Professor Johnson added that
this was quite unlike three thiopental executions she had seen before, when the
prisoners closed their eyes very quickly and remained “totally still”,
apparently in a coma. Josh Green, a reporter with the Gwinnett Daily Post,
confirms that Hammond first closed, and then re-opened his eyes some time after
receiving the thiopental, while Jill Rand, a Florida nurse who became Hammond’s
pen friend, said she saw him move his lips.
4) EDDIE DUVAL POWELL
June 15 2011: Eddie Duval Powell is executed by lethal injection in Alabama.
Powell closes his eyes. He then opens them again later. Seemingly confused and
startled, he jerked his head to one side and began breathing heavily, his chest
rose and contracted.
5) ROY BLANKENSHIP
June 23, 2011: Roy Willard Blankenship is put to sleep by sodium thiopental,
but dies with his eyes wide open. In a sworn affidavit, Dr David Waisel,
Associate Professor of Anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School, states: “…I can
say with certainty that Mr. [Roy] Blankenship was inadequately anesthetized and
was conscious for approximately the first 3 minutes of the execution and that
he suffered greatly."
Death penalty is justice
Columnist Kathleen Parker’s anti-death penalty screed, published Sept. 27 in
The Capital-Journal, should be dismissed by her fellow citizens as emblematic
of a person not concerned with being good but as one concerned with being
thought of as being good. It’s an age-old peroration that has haunted mankind
since we emerged from caves and transformed into political creatures.
Her rooting of capital punishment in the Old Testament is dismissive and
irrelevant. Even in its most crude translations, the Hebrew Scriptures are much
more poetic than Parker’s column attacking them.
On the substance of her complaint, she seems to be extrapolating from
reasonable doubt to “any level of doubt.” But any level of doubt is never a
One may doubt, on appearance, that the fellow in the dock is guilty because his
visage forms the antithesis of what we assume murderers look like. Witness Ted
Bundy, who made ample use of his good looks and obvious intelligence, even
charming Ann Rule, the number one crime writer in America. Like Troy Davis, he
too claimed to have found religion at the end.
Parker’s indictments of the audience cheering Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s stirring
defense of the death penalty deliberately ignores they were cheering the
administration of justice for those who were murdered. She has lost sight of
the victims. We, as a society, do not condone revenge. Most of us believe the
crime of murder harms us all. We seek to assure the victim’s loved ones we,
too, have been wronged. The death of the murderer restores the victim to his or
her place of importance and brings the victim’s relatives back fully into the
Parker’s belief that the death penalty is not a deterrent is contradicted by
the testimony of thousands of criminals. They do not fear prison — some of
their best friends reside there — but they do fear the hangman’s noose or its
Most people fear death. Visit the terminally ill, the aged and the infirmed and
watch as they cling tenaciously to life.
Troy Davis, the murder for whom Parker pleads, is dead. Justice, not just a
process but a result, has been delivered to the body politic and the victim’s
family. God, the author of those books Parker dismisses, will deal with him
Matthew O’Connell, Topeka
(source: Letter to the Editor, Topeka Capital Journal)
Death seen as likely sentence in 4 Kansas killings
A man convicted in Kansas of killing his estranged wife and 3 other family
members appears likely to be sentenced to death this week, but if he is, years
would pass before a team of officers would escort him into the state's
execution chamber and strap him to the gurney.
A jury in Osage County District Court took only 2 hours to conclude in August
that James Kraig Kahler was guilty of capital murder and less than an hour to
recommend lethal injection as his punishment. But the Kansas Supreme Court must
automatically review his case, and in other capital cases, that process has
Kansas hasn't executed a convicted murder in the 17 years since it reinstated
capital punishment in 1994, and there's a good chance it won't before marking
the 50th anniversary of the state's last executions, by hanging, in June 1965.
The Sunflower State has a history of ambivalence toward the death penalty,
abolishing it in 1907, only to reinstate it in 1935 after a spate of bloody
robberies of Midwestern banks. After a U.S. Supreme Court decision invalidated
the 1930s statute, supporters of capital punishment waited more than 2 decades
for enactment of a new law.
"The justices and the people come out of that and look on the death penalty
very carefully," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the
Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital
punishment. "There's not quite the rush on executions."
A sentencing hearing for Kahler, 48, is scheduled for Tuesday morning before
District Judge Phillip Fromme, who must decide whether the jury's
recommendation for a death sentence is supported by the evidence. But, as
defense attorney Thomas Haney noted, no Kansas trial court judge has rejected a
jury's recommendation in a capital case since the law was reinstated.
Kahler, who goes by his middle name, is a former utilities director in
Weatherford, Texas, and Columbia, Mo., moving back to Kansas to live on his
parents' farm outside Topeka after losing the job in Missouri in 2009.
According to testimony during Kahler's trial, his wife, Karen, was having a
sexual relationship with a Weatherford, Texas, woman, and seeking a divorce.
Kahler's attorneys contend he snapped mentally.
The victims were Karen Kahler, 44; her grandmother, Dorothy Wight, 89, and the
Kahlers' daughters, Emily, 18, and Lauren, 16. A psychiatrist testified during
Kraig Kahler's trial that he was upset with his daughters for siding with their
mother and believed Wight had a duty to push Karen Kahler to stay in their
The shootings occurred the weekend after Thanksgiving 2009 at Wight's home
outside Burlingame, about 30 miles southwest of Topeka. The Kahlers' son, Sean,
then 10, was at the home but escaped without physical injury and testified that
he saw his father shoot his mother. Law enforcement officers and emergency
medical personnel said Wight and Lauren Kahler identified Kraig Kahler as the
gunman before dying.
Michael Rushford, president and chief executive officer of the Criminal Justice
Legal Foundation, a Sacramento, Calif., victims' rights group that supports
capital punishment, said Kraig Kahler's case is "clear cut" enough that his
appeals should move relatively quickly through state and federal courts,
particularly because Congress limited federal courts' review of capital cases
"It's a pretty simple case," Rushford said. "He can't say he wasn't there."
The record in Kansas capital cases since 1994 has varied.
A dozen men have been sentenced to die for their killings, but 3 have had those
sentences overturned through the courts and are now serving life in prison. In
a 4th case, the state Supreme Court must decide whether a capital murder
defendant should be resentenced over questions about his attorney's work.
Gary Kleypas, convicted of raping and killing a Pittsburg State University
student in 1996, has no execution date approaching. The court is considering
issues about his death sentence for the third time, with attorneys still
preparing legal briefs.
Legal briefs are still being prepared for 6 other men's cases, with their death
sentences dating from November 2002 to March 2009. In May, the state Supreme
Court heard the case of Scott Cheever, sentenced to die for the 2005 shooting
of Greenwood County's sheriff during a drug raid, but it has yet to rule.
The Kansas attorney general's office declined to comment about the length of
time involved in death penalty appeals or about Kahler's case, because he
hasn't been sentenced.
But Rebecca Woodman, a state public defender who handles appeals in capital
cases, said she doubts Kahler's case will move quickly. Defense attorneys have
a greater burden in investigating their clients' cases on appeals that lawyers
in non-capital cases, she said, making death penalty cases more complex.
"The state has to conduct the same type of review," she said. "It's just much
more complicated than other murder cases."
And, even as he saw Kahler's case as straightforward, Rushford acknowledged
that states' appellate courts can slow down the resolution of capital cases and
delay executions, sometimes simply by giving attorneys years to finish filing
"The political environment in a state and the makeup of a supreme court can
make a lot of difference," Rushford said.
Critics of capital punishment believe delays in resolving appeals can work in
their favor, prompting states to consider whether the death penalty is worth
keeping. The cost associated with appeals in capital cases was an issue for
Kansas legislators in recent years, though bills to repeal the death penalty
law failed in the state Senate in 2005, 2009 and 2010.
Dieter noted that New Jersey reinstated the death penalty in 1982, had no
executions in 25 years and abolished capital punishment in 2007. New Mexico
executed only one criminal in 30 years before abolishing capital punishment in
"It does sometimes add up, when states don't see it going anywhere," Dieter
The case is State of Kansas v. James Kraig Kahler, No. 09-CR-270 in Osage
County District Court.
(source: Associated Press)
Death penalty trial delayed 2nd time----Suspect's attorney cites lack of
For the 2nd time in about 3 months, a death penalty case has been delayed days
before it was expected to go to trial.
Forsyth County Superior Court Judge David L. Dickinson made the decision Friday
afternoon to postpone the state’s case against Marcin Sosniak.
Jury selection in the case was expected to begin Monday.
Bill Finch, one of Sosniak’s appointed attorneys, said his client’s right to a
speedy trial has been violated.
“Because of the lack of funding from the state, so much time has transpired
that we believe that it is unconstitutional to continue going forward with the
case,” Finch said.
A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Oct. 21.
Forsyth County District Attorney Penny Penn could not be reached for comment.
The Georgia Public Defender Standards Council/Capital Defender’s Office is
responsible for paying Sosniak’s attorneys. In 2009, attorneys statewide began
asking to withdraw from cases because of the council’s inability to pay them.
Sosniak, Frank Ortegon and Jason McGhee each face the death penalty in
connection with a March 19, 2006, massacre at a farmhouse off Ronald Reagan
4 people, 3 of whom were teenagers, were killed in the attack.
The men have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them and will be tried
Greg Allen, Forsyth County Clerk of Superior and State Courts, said some 400
prospective jurors were expected to show up at the county administration
He said about half of them were notified Friday that the trial has been
“There will be several people that we didn’t have a phone number for or didn’t
have an e-mail address,” Allen said. “We’re going to send them away Monday
He said the clerk’s office Web site and the juror phone message were updated as
(source: Forsyth News)
Execution fuels new look at death penalty
The execution of convicted cop killer Troy Davis in Georgia last month amid
protests and claims of his innocence has renewed debate over the death penalty.
That kind of debate hasn't occurred here for quite a while because Pennsylvania
hasn't carried out a death penalty since July 1999 when Gary Heidnik received a
lethal injection for murdering two women he had imprisoned in his Philadelphia
Berks DA John Adams and defense attorney Allan Sodomsky have wrestled with the
death-penalty issue from both sides of the courtroom.
Adams said he's conservative when it comes to requesting the death penalty
because the consequences of it are beyond imagination.
"I have 2 clients (David Sattazahn and Roderick Johnson) on death row now from
cases I've defended," said Adams, a former prosecutor turned defense attorney
before his election as DA. "I've been on both sides of this. It's difficult if
you don't know the actual truth of whether a person is guilty or innocent."
Sodomsky, a former prosecutor, said he's seen things go wrong in the justice
system and has spoken to people who have been exonerated.
"Having asked for the death penalty and gotten it and being on the defense side
and represented people, I've come to the conclusion through years of experience
that it's appropriate, but I don't know if there should be a continuation of
it," he said.
Sodomsky was the trial attorney for Ronald Puksar, one of 11 inmates on death
row from Berks cases. Puksar's case, like those of the other 207 death-row
inmates in four state prisons, is on appeal.
Adams said the death sentences aren't carried out because of ongoing appeals,
the costs of which are outrageous financially and emotionally.
"The appellate process in death-penalty cases is probably troubling for the
victims' families because they never see closure," he said.
Sodomsky said the appeals, the evidence and the system need to be reviewed.
"The people that continue to monitor this are the protectors of our society, of
freedom," he said. "There has to be a dialogue. It can't be the status quo."
Adams doesn't foresee much will change: "I think it's going to remain a
Sodomsky believes society has reached a breaking point: "Human life is too
valuable to allow it to be taken at the hands of our system, and our system is
the best system in the world. It's just not perfect."
(source: Commentary, Dave Mowery, The Reading Eagle)
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