[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, MASS., KY., OKLA., USA, PENN., MO.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Tue Oct 11 11:36:06 CDT 2011
What can the Texas Legislature do to reduce prosecutorial misconduct?
In the wake of Michael Morton's recent DNA exoneration in Williamson County -
in which prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence for more than 2 decades
before DNA proved another man committed the murder for which he was convicted -
prominent state leaders are now asking what exactly could be done at the Texas
Legislature to reduce prosecutorial misconduct. According to the head of the
Texas District and County Attorneys Association, Rob Kepple, however, the
problem can't be fixed with new laws. He told the Texas Tribune that:
a new discovery law would not have prevented the kind of misconduct alleged in
the Morton case. If a prosecutor or investigator decides to withhold key
information even in the face of the Brady rules that already require its
release, he said, a new state law will not spur their compliance.
“If somebody didn’t play fair back then,” he said, “I’m not sure exactly what
law we change today to address it.”
I wish Mr. Kepple had revealed his view that new laws won't fix ethical lapses
many years ago. If he had, maybe Texas wouldn't now have more than 2,400
felonies on the books, including most recently a new 3rd degree felony for
misrepresenting the size of a fish. But let's set aside for now Kepple's
new-found and likely short-lived skepticism that changes in criminal law are
capable of altering undesirable behavior. On the assumption that the
Legislature is not completely impotent to address the problem, what steps might
be taken to reduce prosecutorial misconduct?
In this writer's view, the best, simplest fix would be to to eliminate
"absolute immunity" for prosecutors. While Texas legislators can't overrule
federal court decisions ("absolute immunity" exists in no statute but is a
judicial creation from the US Supreme Court), the Lege would have to create
it's own version of the federal civil rights statute (USC 42, Sec. 1983) to
allow civil suits in state court against prosecutors engaged in misconduct.
State Rep. Lon Burnam filed a bill last session which would do just that in
reaction to the Anthony Graves case. (See Grits' coverage of the legislation.)
There was a committee substitute offered on that bill that would have given
prosecutors "qualified immunity," which is the same as for police officers,
instead of eliminating immunity entirely. Personally I'd prefer no immunity -
the same standard under which defense attorneys operate. Cops' get qualified
immunity - which still protects them from virtually all civil liability -
because they make split-second decisions later second guessed in court. But for
intentional misconduct, in rare instances, they can still be held liable. By
comparison, prosecutors have all the time in the world to make decisions, or
correct them. Ironically, this suggestion could be seen as a slap in the face
to the Obama Administration, which has adamantly argued that prosecutors
shouldn't be held liable in civil court even for egregious, intentional
misconduct and that there is no "free-standing due process right not to be
One of the boldest ideas I've seen came from Dallas DA Craig Watkins, who at
one point proposed criminal liability for Brady violations by prosecutors. That
wold certainly turn around the incentives for win-at-all-costs prosecutors who
currently have little disincentive beyond their own, personal integrity to
avoid cheating to win.
Yet another possible solution I'm gravitating towards: The problem with, say,
prosecutor-turned District Judge Ken Anderson in the Morton Case is that the
statute of limitations on grievances against lawyers is only four years, so no
matter how bad his misconduct the State Bar can't touch him. Grits would like
to see the statute of limitations on Brady violations begin to toll when the
concealed information is discovered, not at the time of misconduct as is
currently the case. Indeed, when Craig Watkins suggested criminal sanctions for
prosecutors withholding evidence, ironically that's the fix Williamson County
DA John Bradley preferred! The Dallas Morning News reported (no longer online)
that while Bradley considered criminalizing Brady violations "ridiculous," he
did not argue against "changing state bar rules to allow grievances to be filed
when they are discovered rather than within four years of the alleged
misconduct, as currently required. There is no recourse when Brady violations
are discovered decades later," reported the News.
That makes loads of sense to me. The whole problem with "Brady" violations -
i.e,. prosecutors withholding exculpatory evidence - is that if they conceal
the evidence, nobody knows to file a grievance against them. In the Morton
case, the statute of limitations on Judge Anderson's alleged misconduct should
begin tolling from 2008 when the hidden, exculpatory evidence was discovered,
not from 25 years ago when the apparent conspiracy to conceal that information
began. Ditto for John Bradley who, as the Trib mentioned, "resisted efforts by
Morton’s lawyers to use public-information laws to gain access to evidence in
the original prosecutors’ files."
Another rather minimalist but potentially powerful idea: make courts actually
name prosecutors responsible for Brady violations or other misconduct in their
rulings. Right now when courts find Brady violations, court orders do not name
the lawyer who withheld the evidence so it's impossible without monumental
research efforts to figure out who was responsible. To get an idea of what's
required to uncover prosecutorial misconduct, see the methodology from this one
of a kind report (pdf) from California by the Veritas Initiative in California
on prosecutorial misconduct to see how difficult it is right now to even gather
that information. (They found that out of 707 cases where courts found
misconduct, only 6 prosecutors were disciplined by the state bar, which is 5
more than we've seen in Texas over the same period.) California's court
information structures and ours are similar on this score, and the exact same
method would be required to identify Brady-violating prosecutors here.
A report by the Justice Project ("Improving Prosecutorial Accountability: A
Policy Review," no longer online), suggested these reforms:
States should require that prosecutors’ offices adopt and enforce clearly
defined policies on the appropriate use of prosecutorial discretion.
States should adopt open-file discovery in criminal cases, increasing the
transparency of the criminal justice system and reducing the risk that
prosecutors will withhold evidence from the defense.
States should effectively respond to misconduct by establishing prosecutor
review boards with the power to investigate and sanction prosecutors.
States should require that all prosecutors participate in training and
continuing legal education.
Of suggestions from the Justice Project, Grits views mandating an "open file
policy" as a major, positive step, but the others strike me as feel-good
approaches that wouldn't do much in practice. Prosecutors in Texas have fought
legislation to mandate an open-file policy tooth and nail, arguing that they'll
only agree to it if defense attorneys are required to open up their files as
well. (The difference, of course, is that defendants have a 5th Amendment right
against self-incrimination, while prosecutors are required to seek justice, not
Finally, perhaps as or more important than any of the above reforms would be
simply to re-invigorate Texas' open-records statute so non-lawyers can access
more law-enforcement information without going to court. In the Morton case,
exculpatory evidence was found via the Public Information Act in 2008 instead
of through discovery, and that's how a lot of Brady violations are discovered,
often years after the fact.
20 years ago, Texas had the first or second strongest open records law in the
country on police records, but first the Texas Supreme Court then the Lege
completely gutted access to law-enforcement records under the Public
Information Act in 1996-1997. In recent years state Rep. Harold Dutton has been
carrying a terrific bill to change the law back to the Jim Mattox-era Attorney
General interpretations that the Lege and courts overturned in the '90s. As a
practical matter, that might be the best way to expose prosecutors withholding
exculpatory evidence, essentially crowd sourcing the task to interested parties
around the state who file thousands of open records requests with law
enforcement and DAs offices each year. That won't hold prosecutors accountable,
per se, at least in the sense of punishing them, but it's probably the best way
to ensure more exculpatory evidence is eventually found. Now that access to
such records in Texas has been gutted like a fish, Florida's statute is
probably the best-in-the-nation example of what open-records law should look
like for law-enforcement in a free and open society.
That's pretty much the array of reform ideas I've come across, but Grits
welcomes reader suggestions for other approaches that might get at the problem
from creative or unexpected angles. There's more than one way to skin this
particular cat and only now - thanks in large part to the Anthony Graves and
Michael Morton cases - are policymakers in Texas beginning to seriously discuss
exactly how the Legislature might go about reining in over-ambitious
prosecutors who are willing to cheat to win.
(source: Grits For Breakfast)
Last person executed in RI honored with memorial
The last man to be executed in Rhode Island has been honored with a memorial
John Gordon, an Irish immigrant, was hanged in 1845 at age 29 after being
convicted of killing wealthy Cranston mill owner Amasa Sprague. Historians now
say the evidence against him was circumstantial, and that prejudice against
Irish Catholics compromised his trial.
The Providence Journal reports ( http://bit.ly/p2jdlX) that Gordon was honored
Saturday at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Pawtucket with the unveiling of a memorial
headstone, including a plaque that reads, “Forgiveness is the Ultimate
(source: Boston Globe)
The last public hanging in America----An estimated 15,000 watched 1936
execution in Owensboro
The reaction of Brian Williams and the mainstream media to Republican cheers
for presidential candidate Rick Perry's execution record suggests they've never
heard of Rainey Bethea or, for that matter, have little understanding of the
American character and history. Whites, especially southern whites like the
Texas governor, kill blacks, especially when times are tough. And they revel in
Bethea has the historic distinction of being the last human being publicly
executed in the United States. He was hung on Aug. 14, 1936, in Owensboro, Ky.,
120 miles southwest of Bloomington. The New York Times story on his death
began, "Ten thousand white persons, some jeering and others festive, saw a
prayerful black man put to death today on Daviess County's 'pit and gallows.'"
"The crowd grew so large that, at 4:20 a.m., officials at the foot of Locust
Street opened a gate to a wire enclosure surrounding the lot in order to permit
the horde to filter inside. The crowd grew until it reached Second Street." -
The Last Public Execution in the United States
The Times headline said the crowd jeered Bethea, and "Some Grab Pieces of Hood
for Souvenirs" as doctors pronounced him dead.
The 1992 book The Last Public Execution in the United States described the
pre-hanging atmosphere in downtown Owensboro. "The crowd grew so large that, at
4:20 a.m., officials at the foot of Locust Street opened a gate to a wire
enclosure surrounding the lot in order to permit the horde to filter inside.
The crowd grew until it reached Second Street. Phil Hanna tested his trap door,
but the door stuck. At the time, some estimated that the crowd had grown to
15,000. Several spectators climbed onto the roofs of buildings in order to get
a better view."
Much like a rock concert, the execution drew spectators from a wide geographic
area. The Owensboro Messenger reported that the crowd came from 9 counties in
Kentucky as well as 5 states."
One Evansville man, in a rush to see the execution, lost his life when he tried
to pass a truck, ran off the road into a ditch and died instantly.
The Ohio River community of Owensboro today is Kentucky's 4th largest city and
is located about 35 miles east of Indiana's third largest city, Evansville. The
Daviess County seat's primary connection to the world is U.S. 231 and the Ohio
River. It is not a place that people pass through or happen upon.
Aside from being the site of America's last public execution and actor Johnny
Depp's hometown, Owensboro's distinctions are few. Its children grow up
surrounded by some of the worst pollution anywhere in the world. The local
hospital is the largest employer, health care its largest industry.
[note: From news coverage of the Troy Davis execution in Georgia I learned that
America's last public execution occurred in Owensboro, Ky., where I devoted
more than 200 hours of my time in summer 2010 and spring 2011 writing the Ohio
River town's hospital-care history. I researched the subject and found that I
have walked many times past the spot where the execution took place in 1936. I
also discovered the 1992 book The Last Public Execution in the United States by
Perry T. Ryan, from which this account was culled. - sh]
Situated about 40 miles northwest of Bill Monroe's hometown of Rosine, Ky.,
Owensboro is home to International Bluegrass Museum, located on Second Street 6
blocks east of Bethea's execution site.
Daviess County's population of 94,000 is roughly twice what it was when Bethea
was put to death. Over the course of the 20th century, the ratio of blacks to
whites declined precipitously, from 12.6 % in 1910 to only 4.3 % in 2000.
Bethea was executed at the height of the Depression, an era that spawned the
birth of organized crime, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and the assassination
of populist Louisiana Sen. Huey Long, which in turn ushered in a
get-tough-on-crime attitude that took root in Owensboro.
"A sort of 'cowboy' approach pervaded justice in 1936, and when someone got too
far out of line, he would be dealt with severely," The Last Public Execution
says. "It should have been no surprise to a man charged with crimes that he
would receive a harsh sentence for his misdeeds. Blacks were particularly at
risk, since many people believed that they were 'troublemakers,' by nature."
Rape had always been a capital offense in Kentucky, but in 1936 state law
offered limited sentencing options: 10-20 years in prison or death. Of the 5
men electrocuted for rape between 1911 and 1920 in Kentucky, 4 were black.
Electrocution was in fact the only legal method of execution in Kentucky until
1920, when state lawmakers revised the law to mandate hanging for rape and
attempted rape. Those sentenced for these offenses "shall be executed by
hanging the condemned in the county in which the crime was committed," the law
Other than directing the sentence be executed by the county sheriff, the new
law was nonspecific about the circumstances, which led judges in some, like
Daviess Circuit Judge George S. Wilson, to allow public executions.
Again, the new provision's application had distinctly racial overtones. 9 men
were hanged for the crime of rape, 8 of which involved blacks who raped white
women. The only white had raped a pregnant white woman.
Negative press coverage of the public executions, especially Bethea's, as
"carnival-like events, both disgraceful and uncivilized" led the state to
conduct the last two hangings in private and to repeal the hanging provision in
Gov. Albert B. "Happy" Chandler later expressed regret for signing the repeal,
saying, "Our streets are no longer safe."
Rainey Bethea was a Roanoke, Va., native whose age was unknown. His mother died
in 1919. And records suggest he left home after his father died in 1926.
By 1933 Rainey was in Owensboro, living in the basement of a home on Seventh
Street, where he worked for a family. He moved a couple more times before being
imprisoned in June 1935 for walking into a beauty shop on the main north-south
drag Frederica Street and stealing two purses.
"Blacks were particularly at risk, since many people believed that they were
'troublemakers,' by nature." - The Last Public Execution in the United States
A medical exam at the Kentucky State Penitentiary said Bethea was 5' 4" tall
and weighed 128 pounds. He was paroled and released from prison on Dec. 31,
1935, and returned to Owensboro, living and working as a laborer at his former
Seventh Street residence.
Although Bethea's parole conditions mandated he be returned to prison for any
criminal activity, Daviess County officials did not notify state authorities
when he was arrested for breaking into a house and being drunk and disorderly.
He served 4 months in the county jail.
So rather than being in prison in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 7,
1936, an inebriated Rainey Bethea used a trash can to climb onto an outbuilding
roof and skittered across a series of rooftops to the Fifth Street bedroom
window of one of his former employers, a 70-year-old widow named Lischia
Bethea raped and strangled Edwards and stuffed one of her dresses like a sack
with her jewels. While trying on one of her rings, he left one of his own on
her kitchen cabinet. When police showed the ring to members of Owensboro's
African American community, they quickly learned who its owner was.
While police searched for Bethea, the community demanded blood.
"Not a stone should be left unturned that will help to point out the criminal,"
the Messenger editorialized on June 9. "When and if he is caught, there should
be no undue delay in his trial. Whether he is hanged or sent to the electric
chair, there should be a minimum amount of delay. He was without mercy for his
defenseless victim. Why should he be shown the slightest degree of mercy? The
quicker such a beast is destroyed the better it will be for Daviess County."
While an article the newspaper ran the same day said Bethea was the primary
suspect, police temporarily held two others. On June 10, Judge Forest A. Roby
issued a warrant for his arrest.
Meanwhile, a lynch-mob mentality had enveloped the town. "Owensboro citizens
were at first alarmed by the attack, but their fear turned into hatred," The
Last Public Execution says. "Had Rainey Bethea fallen into the wrong hands, it
is quite possible that he would have been severely beaten, if not tortured,
before being lynched. In fact, various leaders in the black community of
Owensboro offered to lynch Rainey Bethea, simply because they felt victimized
by Bethea who had brought about unjustified contempt of the blacks and had
injured the otherwise amiable relationship which the blacks had enjoyed with
the whites of Owensboro."
Bethea was spotted behind a grocery story on the afternoon of the 10th and was
apprehended by police after a brief chase to the river.
Owensboro was besieged with news media before and on hanging day, in part
because the law mandated that the execution be carried out by the sheriff, who
in 1936 was Florence Thompson. She had assumed the position upon her husband
sheriff's death and would have been the first woman U. S. history to perform an
"He was without mercy for his defenseless victim. Why should he be shown the
slightest degree of mercy? The quicker such a beast is destroyed the better it
will be for Daviess County." - Owensboro Messenger editorial
But Thompson instead delegated the deed to another, and the press subsequently
humiliated the city. The New York Herald Tribune headline proclaimed, "Town Gay
for Public Hanging," while The Chicago American reported, "20,000 Have Good
Time As Law Hangs A Slayer."
Several wire services proclaimed that the crowd was disorderly and out of
control, while some said the crowd hissed the priest as he prayed with Bethea.
Others said the crowd rushed the scaffold as the dead body swung from the rope.
Still others, like the Times, said the crowd grappled for souvenirs, tearing
the hood and clothes from Bethea's body.
"Almost overnight, the fair city of Owensboro fell victim to ridicule and
scorn," The Last Public Execution says.
The Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer on Aug. 16 took umbrage at the Fourth Estate's
behavior in an editorial titled "Panderer's Galore."
"Ambitious and irresponsible reporters and photographers who swarmed into
Owensboro for the Bethea hanging dipped their ready hands into the cloaca of
evil designs and plastered over the name of this fair city the dirty results of
their pandering," the editors wrote. Far from a mob, "a calm, quiet demeanor
characterized their behavior, as a group, throughout their long wait,
surprisingly moderate for an occasion on which the law was exacting the supreme
"There was not the semblance of ‘mob impulse' or ‘eagerness for the kill,'' the
editors concluded. "For the sensation seeking star scribes of quacks of
American journalism, it was entirely too tame an affair. This is the reason
that some of them reported it as they wanted it to be—not as it was."
The same day as the Messenger-Inquirer editorial, the Louisville
Courier-Journal published its opinion on the hanging in an editorial titled "A
(source: Steven Higgs, The Bloomington Alternative)
Oklahoma death-penalty critics point out problems
Critics of the death penalty outlined problems with its application on Monday.
The Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty held a Capitol news
conference in connection with "World Day Against the Death Penalty," which
began in 2003, said Kenny Fikes, co-chairman of the state group.
"It is inhuman, cruel and degrading," Fikes said. "The dreadful conditions on
death row inflict extreme psychological suffering, and execution is a physical
and mental assault."
23 countries carried out executions last year, with the highest numbers in
China, Iran, North Korea and the United States, Fikes said. He said Amnesty
International reports that 2,024 death sentences were imposed in 67 countries
"That is assuming all the reporting is correct, which we know, in most cases,
it is not," Fikes said.
But there is a trend toward abolishing capital punishment, he said, adding that
each year executions and death sentences decrease.
He said 139 countries have abolished the death penalty because of pressure from
the international community.
Since 1973, 138 death-row inmates in 26 states have been exonerated, said Susan
Sharp, a University of Oklahoma professor and author.
"We are No. 4," Sharp said. "We have had 10 in the state of Oklahoma, but being
No. 4 is misleading because we are much smaller than the first 3 states,
Florida, Texas and Illinois. But per capita, we are more like No. 1."
Faulty witness testimony, improper forensics, failure to preserve evidence and
false confessions contribute to wrongful convictions, Sharp said.
Stan Basler of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches said the death penalty is in
opposition to God's will for human life.
(source: Tulsa World)
Death row: America's torture chamberInmates are locked up for 23 hours a day in
solitary confinement for an average of 14 years. That meets the definition of
Just over two weeks ago, in a highly publicised event, Troy Davis was executed
by the state of Georgia despite global protest and significant evidence of his
innocence. Since then, three other men have been executed by the states of
Texas, Alabama and Florida, with little public outcry. All 4 were tortured by
the United States government.
Monday being the 9th anniversary of the World Day Against the Death Penalty
seems an appropriate moment to examine why I believe this.
According to the Convention Against Torture, a treaty ratified by the US in
1994, torture is defined, in part, as "any act by which severe pain or
suffering, whether physical or mental, is inflicted on a person for such
purposes as […] punishing him for an act he […] has committed or is suspected
of having committed." The experience of American death row inmates fits this
Among the approximately 3,250 prisoners on death row in the US, the vast
majority will serve years in solitary and crippling conditions, awaiting
execution. Of the 34 states that still kill people, at least 25 hold death row
inmates in solitary confinement for 23 hours or more a day. Sensory deprivation
is prevalent. On death row in Texas, hundreds of condemned men are isolated in
60-square-foot, single-person, solid-front cells for 23 hours a day. The
prisoners exercise alone for one hour each day in a metal cage. Meals are
served through a locking metal flap in the cell door. There are no work or
group recreation programs; nor can the prisoners speak to each other through
the solid cell walls and door.
Death row prisoners in the United States spend decades in these dehumanising
conditions. Of the 52 people executed in the United States in 2009, the average
length of time on death row was 169 months – over 14 years. Many spend much
longer. Manuel Valle, for example, was executed last month by the state of
Florida after 33 years on death row. Over those decades of lost time, it is not
uncommon for prisoners repeatedly to come within hours of death, only to get a
temporary reprieve, and then a new execution date.
While the details of Troy Davis's underlying prosecution became common
knowledge to his legions of supporters, few knew that he had already come
within minutes of execution before last month's 11th-hour ordeal. In 2008,
Davis came within 90 minutes of execution – he was strapped down on the gurney
when the US supreme court granted his stay. Later that year, he again came
within three days of an execution date. In 2007, he came within a day.
Torture is a crime against humanity, a war crime and a violation of the Geneva
conventions, as reflected in the statutes of the International Criminal Court,
the international tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and the international
tribunal for Rwanda, among other judicial authorities. Over the last 15 years,
a substantial body of law has developed that sets forth the elements of torture
under customary international law, which largely reflects the definition of
torture under the Convention Against Torture. Torture has been found to be "a
violation of personal dignity and is used for such purposes as intimidation,
degradation, humiliation and discrimination, punishment, control or destruction
of a person".
Did anyone who closely followed Troy Davis's execution, and his temporary
reprieve from the supreme court, doubt that the hours leading up to his
execution – the hope and then betrayal – amounted to torture? Is there any
meaningful difference between mock executions, long recognised as torture by
the international community, and Davis's repeated last-minute temporary
reprieves? Can we conceive of 30 years in a small gray cube, without access to
another human being beyond mere sight of the hands of the guard who slides your
food tray through a slot in your cell door, as anything but torture?
(source: Rachel Meerpol, The Guardian)
Why the death penalty should be abolished
The recent controversial and highly publicized execution of Troy Anthony Davis
shines a light on the long-standing debate of the death penalty in the U.S. The
reasons to support the death penalty pale in comparison to the reasons why the
U.S should abolish it entirely.
Law enforcement agencies across the nation have rejected the belief that it
deters murder. Economically speaking, looking at the death penalty for what it
is (a state program), it is costing the state far too much money and not
providing any benefits. And last, but certainly not least, who are we to play
According to a survey conducted in 2009 of the former and present presidents of
the country’s academic criminological societies, 88 percent of these experts
disagreed with the notion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder.
Death row inmates go through a long, tedious process spanning years, if not
decades, well after the crime has been committed. There is no immediate
retaliation of the murders these criminals are being incarcerated for, and as
psychologists have learned from the little Albert experiment, classical
conditioning can only work when the effect is immediate with the action.
These criminals are getting to live longer than the victims whom they viciously
stole lives from. There is no lesson to be taught. Two wrongs don’t equal a
right. Fighting violence with violence has not proven to be successful.
The 2010 FBI Uniform Crime Report showed that the South had the highest murder
rate, while it accounts for over 80 percent of executions. All the while the
Northeast, which has less than 1 percent of all executions, tied with the West
for the lowest murder rate.
Programs that cost less but actually help lower crimes, like community policing
and new technologies that focus on high crime areas, are alternative methods
that are proactive instead of reactive like the death penalty. It costs more to
kill death row inmates than to have them serve life without parole. Instead of
wasting millions of dollars on one execution, let’s take that money and put it
to better use by hiring more police officers.
“States are letting prisoners go early, curtailing ambulance services and
closing schools. Programs that clearly benefit the safety of society are being
slashed because of the budget crisis, but death penalty expenditures continue
to rise,” wrote Richard C. Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty
Information Center, in an article about death penalty debates. The cost of the
death penalty is measured in more than just dollars. Executions risk innocent
lives that once taken cannot be undone.
Since the death penalty has been reinstated, more than 135 inmates have been
exonerated, taking the families of both the victims and inmate along on an
emotional roller coaster at each appeal. The decision of who lives and who dies
cannot be rationally explained. The death penalty is not a commodity for
victims’ families; it doesn’t bring back their loved ones and it doesn’t
assuage the loss of every victim’s family. Not all murder cases end with a
death penalty verdict.
Do their loved ones not matter? There is no consistency and no excuse for
taking a person’s life away for whatever reason. I don’t mean to downplay the
savage, heinous, evil crimes these criminals have committed, but we shouldn’t
sink to their levels and become murderers too. Why should we let them get off
easy? Let them live with the guilty unease of what they have done for as long
as their miserable hearts beat.
Let’s not let ourselves be ruled by the rage that inflames our chest when we
hear of what these low-lives have done. Just like they had no right to decide
who lives and who dies, neither do we.
(source: Opinion, Maribel Casteneda; The (Cal State-Fullerton) Daily Titan)
Former Pa. soldier's death penalty double murder trial delayed again, will
offer PTSD defense
A former soldier's death penalty trial for a double murder prosecutors allege
occurred during a central Pennsylvania sandwich shop robbery has been delayed
until January, because his defense hopes to argue post-traumatic stress
disorder contributed to the veteran's alleged crimes.
Jury selection in the case against Nicholas Horner, 31, of Altoona, had been
scheduled to begin Oct. 18 at the Blair County Courthouse in Hollidaysburg, but
a judge delayed it.
Horner's attorneys have been trying to get statements he made to police thrown
out of evidence on the grounds that he was too intoxicated by medication,
alcohol or both to waive his right to an attorney during questioning. But new
motions filed late Friday advise the court that attorneys have an expert they
hope can testify about the alleged affect that PTSD had on Horner during the
April 2009 Subway store robbery in Altoona in which a clerk and bystander were
Horner defense attorney David DeFazio confirmed the delay Monday but declined
to comment further on the defense motions. Thomas Dickey, the defense attorney
who will handle the penalty phase of trial, did not immediately return a call
and county prosecutors could not be reached for comment because of the Columbus
Horner's estranged wife, family and friends have long claimed that his
struggles with PTSD stemming from 2 tours in Iraq drove him to rob the store,
fatally shooting 19-year-old clerk David Garlick and wounding a second clerk on
April 6, 2009.
Horner also is charged with murdering Raymond Williams, 64, whom the veteran
allegedly encountered blocks away as he was looking for a getaway car. Williams
happened to be outside gathering his mail nearby when he was shot.
Horner's original attorney, David Shrager, told the court he was considering
pursuing the PTSD defense, but said he needed Horner's service records and
other information to do that. DeFazio became Horner's attorney after the
soldier's family cited differences with Shrager, and Dickey was later appointed
to assist with the penalty phase of the trial, which will occur only if Horner
is convicted of first-degree murder in either killing.
Lost in that shuffle, and several delays granted by President Judge Jolene
Kopriva, was any formal notice that Horner's attorneys would present a mental
health defense until DeFazio filed a "notice of insanity or mental infirmity
defense" late Friday, according to the electronic court docket. Because such a
defense requires expert testimony — and because prosecutors are entitled to
call their own expert to rebut such claims — the defense must notify the court
Horner's estranged wife, Windy, who filed for divorce a year ago, has told The
Associated Press that Horner searched for roadside bombs in Iraq and was
traumatized by seeing children killed by the artillery that cleared the way for
his Army unit. She said he was discharged because of his PTSD in January 2009,
about three months before the killings.
According to court records, Horner told police he remembered a female Subway
worker handing him money but otherwise recalled only bits of the day he was
arrested. "I just remember I was Tasered, then I was riding in the back of the
police car," Horner told one doctor who examined him.
Horner's wife said he often cried and talked of suicide, hid a loaded weapon in
the couch cushions when he'd watch TV and spent much of his time alone in the
basement. She said he had to be coaxed upstairs for meals or to play with his
(source: Associated Press)
Court rules in favor of 1-time Black Panther
The Supreme Court has rejected a request from Philadelphia prosecutors who want
to re-impose a death sentence on former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal,
convicted of killing a white Philadelphia police officer 30 years ago.
The justices on Tuesday refused to get involved in the racially charged case. A
federal appeals court ordered a new sentencing hearing for Abu-Jamal after
finding that the death-penalty instructions given to the jury at Abu-Jamal's
1982 trial were potentially misleading.
Courts have upheld Abu-Jamal's conviction for killing Officer Daniel Faulkner
over objections that African-Americans were improperly excluded from the jury.
The federal appeals court in Philadelphia said prosecutors could agree to a
life sentence for Abu-Jamal or try again to sentence him to death.
(source: Associated Press)
Kahler to be sentenced, could get death penalty
A former Columbia city official convicted of fatally shooting four family
members will be sentenced Tuesday.
A jury has already recommended that 48-year-old James Kraig Kahler get the
death penatly. Tuesday, a Kansas judge will officially decide, and he could
lighten the sentence to life in prison without parole.
The victims were Kraig's wife, her grandmother and the Kahlers' 2 daughters. A
psychiatrist testified during Kahler's trial in August that he was upset with
his daughters for siding with their mother while they were going through a
The shootings happened at the grandmother's Kansas home Thanksgiving weekend
More information about the DeathPenalty