[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----MD., USA, OHIO, ALA.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Mon Oct 17 13:34:05 CDT 2011
In Bishop case, Maryland death penalty law gets first trial----Towson
murder-for-hire case may test revised statute
The man accused of fatally shooting a Towson gas station owner in a
murder-for-hire scheme is due in court this week — the first trial under
Maryland's revamped death penalty law, legal experts say.
And the trial of Walter P. Bishop Jr., scheduled to begin Tuesday with jury
selection in Harford County Circuit Court, could eventually test Maryland's
definition of a capital case, as his lawyers argue that police improperly
obtained a crucial piece of evidence.
Considered one of the most restrictive capital punishment laws in the 34 states
that have the death penalty, the Maryland statute that went into effect two
years ago put new limits on such prosecutions. The death penalty only be sought
only in cases where there is DNA or other biological evidence, a video
recording that "conclusively" links the defendant to the crime or a video of a
"voluntary interrogation and confession."
Prosecutors have a video recording of Bishop talking for hours to homicide
detectives in an interrogation room at Baltimore County police headquarters on
March 6, 2010, the day he was arrested in the slaying of William R. Porter.
Bishop sat there from the afternoon into the night and, according to an
investigator's report, he confessed to killing Porter at the Hess station on
East Joppa Road on the morning of March 1, 2010.
But defense lawyers say police never told Bishop his words were being recorded
— or the consequences that those words carried. "He was never told that by
giving a videotaped confession, he was making himself eligible for the death
penalty, where otherwise he would not be eligible," said Stefanie McArdle, one
of his public defenders.
Bishop, who is from Essex, at first told police he was not involved in the
killing, but eventually he admitted that he was. According to the
investigator's report, he asked for a piece of blank paper and drew a diagram
of the gas station, showing how he got a signal from Porter's wife to walk into
the station that Monday morning, how he stepped into the hallway to the office
and pointed a handgun at the 49-year-old Porter. He told them he closed his
eyes and fired several shots.
Bishop, 29, is one of six people implicated in the killing, including Porter's
wife, Karla, her sister, brother and nephew.
He told detectives that Karla Porter had paid him $300 to $400 for the killing,
had promised him $9,000 more, and had asked him more than once in the weeks
before if he would kill her husband, court records show. He also told police
where they could find the handgun he used.
Karla Porter is scheduled to be tried next year on a charge of 1st-degree
murder, and will also face the death penalty if convicted, said John P. Cox, 1
of the 2 assistant state's attorneys handling the Bishop trial.
2 others implicated in the killing have been convicted and 2 have pleaded
guilty, but the death penalty does not apply in their cases, Cox said. No
sentences have been handed down in those 4 cases.
Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger believes the Bishop
case is the first death penalty trial under Maryland's new law. Byron L.
Warnken, a University of Baltimore law professor who teaches and publishes on
criminal law and constitutional criminal procedure, said he knows of no other
death penalty cases that have come to trial since the state law was changed.
Court documents show that Shellenberger chose last year to pursue the death
penalty because of an "aggravating factor" — that Bishop carried out the
killing under an agreement or promise of compensation. The basis for the death
penalty is the same in the Karla Porter case, Cox said.
Under the new law, though, prosecutors could not pursue the capital case
without the video recording of Bishop's incriminating statements, because there
was no biological or DNA evidence and no other recording that would link him to
Judge Mickey J. Norman ruled the recording of Bishop's statement to police can
be used as evidence in the trial. A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge,
Norman moved with the case when it was assigned to Harford County. The defense
asked for the change of venue, but argued against a move to Harford or Carroll
county, saying that neither would be far enough from Baltimore County to avoid
the prejudicial impact of "excessive publicity" about the case.
Defense lawyers lost that argument, as well as their attempt to bar the
recording from being used in the trial. Bishop's lawyers, McArdle and Harun
Shabazz, both working for the Maryland Office of the Public Defender in
Baltimore City, entered 10 motions to strike the prosecutor's move to seek the
death penalty, according to court records.
They argued that Maryland's execution procedures had been struck down by the
courts, rendering the sentence illegal. They argued that the video confession
requirement in the new law was "arbitrary and capricious" and unconstitutional.
They argued on the basis of the 2 well-publicized reports that found flaws in
Maryland's death penalty, including racial and geographic disparities, effects
on families of victims and the high cost compared to cases where the punishment
sought is life without parole.
Norman denied each motion.
Defense lawyers also contended in a motion that without the recording, Bishop
"would not have committed capital murder" as the new law defines it. Before he
talked to the police, Bishop "had not committed the 'confession' element of
capital murder," they said.
The lawyers argued that the police action of drawing out Bishop's confession
therefore meets the U.S. Supreme Court's definition of "entrapment" — when
government officials lure people into committing crimes.
Bishop was read his Miranda rights and waived them, court records show. That
meant he was giving up his right to have a lawyer present and to remain silent,
and knew that his statements could be used as evidence against him.
But the impact of a recorded confession was not explained to Bishop, McArdle
said in an interview. She wondered whether the revamped law meant Maryland
would need "some sort of heightened Miranda standard."
The questions Bishop's lawyers are raising about the recorded confession could
end up before an appeals court, said Warnken.
"If [Bishop] is convicted and given the death sentence, then this is an issue
on appeal," said Warnken. Unless Maryland legislators made it clear as they
were drafting the law that the suspect's knowledge of the recording was not
relevant, he said that question could be "problematic for the state."
On the other hand, said David Gray, associate professor at the University of
Maryland School of Law, the courts have given police wide latitude in
interrogations. Police cannot lie to a suspect about the penalty for a crime,
but Gray said he did not believe investigators would be legally obligated to
tell a suspect the specific legal consequences of a recorded confession.
"I can't think of an argument of why the police officers would have to inform
him of the purpose of their questions," said Gray, who specializes in criminal
law, procedure and philosophy of law. He expects the Bishop case to end up
before the Maryland Court of Appeals.
Lawyers on both sides say they expect the trial in Harford County to run 3 to 4
(source: Baltimore Sun)
Death Penalty America: The Zen of Retribution
The death penalty cost Rick Perry no sleep over the guilt, or lack of it, of
its 234 victims under his governorship. About a month later, DNA tests caused
Michael Morton's release from a Texas prison after 25 years. Meanwhile, Georgia
executed Troy Davis despite grave doubt about his guilt by nearly everyone
involved in the case, including prosecution witnesses.
In 16 states, death as a punishment for taking a life is only indulged in when
a federal case includes it. In the other 34, death is touted as the only
righteous response to death. It is described as justice, the Talmudic "eye for
an eye," the only 'fair' response to one human killing another... but is it? Or
is the death penalty simply retribution... getting even? Does it truly seem
like justice to have the State appoint a person to kill another, as justice for
the first victim?
And what if the convicted killer... isn't. Prosecutors are astonishingly
persuasive. They regularly persuade juries of the guilt of innocent people—not
a lot of people, perhaps not even one or two percent, but enough. The Innocence
Project has shown that so many innocent people were convicted in one state that
the governor ultimately commuted the sentences of every prisoner on death row.
That result doesn't even include the prisoners for whom DNA evidence is not
available, for there is nothing else right now, although DNA or not, all death
row prisoners were part of the commutation. In response to this success, some
prosecutors have sought to have exculpatory DNA evidence denied by the courts
on the grounds that it is too late. One has to wonder what sort of mind thinks
Is it truly justice? The international community sees the death penalty as a
human rights violation (the irony here is that the USA makes human rights a
mainstay of negotiations with countries it considers inimical to it). Is it
retribution? The international community considers barbaric the USA practice of
allowing the families of victims of murder to witness executions, in the
interest of "closure" for the families.
How do proponents justify the death penalty (even, in the case of Rick Perry's
statement, cheer the number of people killed by the State) in the face of
evidence that the States are killing innocent people? It has been said that
murderers might be freed and kill again, or might escape any but the most
California has 12–14 cases that have been waiting for a federal court decision
on lethal injection for as much as six years. While an opposition group works
to put the end of the death penalty on the November ballot, a team of lawyers
works feverishly to get those 12–14 people executed before such a law could be
voted on... and another 720 convicted prisoners await resumption of executions
after six years. Something is drastically warped in that picture. In the
meantime, some inmates wait as long as 33 years for execution.
Cost to taxpayers high in death penalty cases----Trial of alleged gang member
scheduled to start Oct. 31
Death penalty cases in Butler County cost taxpayers 3 to 4 more times the price
of life-without-parole trial, a local judge said.
Hector Alvarenga Retana, allegedly a member of the MS-13 gang, goes on trial in
a death penalty case on Oct. 31. If past cases are any indication, his trial
will be costly for the county. Retana is accused of a 2008 gang-style double
homicide in a Fairfield restaurant parking lot.
His accomplice, Edel Hernandez-Martinez, also faced the death penalty for the
Casa Tequila slayings but he received a 78-year-to-life sentence in March.
Butler County Common Pleas Judge Michael Sage said it’s hard to pin a hard
dollar amount on the cost of death penalty cases.
He estimates the price tag around $250,000, which is low comparably.
An Indiana analysis by the Legislative Services Agency for the General Assembly
found the average cost to a county for a trial and direct appeal in a capital
case was over 10 times more than a life-without-parole case. The average death
case cost $449,887, while the average cost of a life-without-parole case was
A recent case in Cleveland cost taxpayers more than $600,000.
Sage said the salaries for himself and his staff, prosecutors, the clerks
office, sheriff’s deputies who provide security and others can’t be factored
exactly. Certain direct costs, such as jury expenses and attorneys fees for
indigent defendants can be calculated. The whole cost to taxpayers is elusive,
but he knows it’s expensive, and that’s just at the trial level.
“It is so great we can’t afford to pay for that directly out of our ongoing
budget,” he said. “All the costs associated with that we take directly to the
commissioners. If you include the direct costs and indirect costs I think it
would be somewhere around $250,000 per case.”
Sage presided over the Calvin McKelton double homicide — he killed his
girlfriend and the man who witnessed the slaying — last fall and the direct
cost tally was $58,140.
The direct costs included food and hotel rooms for jurors, more than $40,000
for the defense attorneys because McKelton was deemed indigent and transcripts
needed for the appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Most death penalty defendants are indigent, which means the county has to pay
for their defense. The law provides that two death penalty certified attorneys
must be on the case and money is also allotted for some experts.
This week, more taxpayer costs were asked for in the Retana case. Attorney Greg
Howard asked Judge Craig Hedric for money for clothes for his client to wear in
court and $2,500 to bring witnesses here from North Carolina. The judge hasn’t
ruled on the motions yet. However, some of the counties expenses for these
trials are partially reimbursed by the Ohio Public Defenders Office.
The current reimbursement rate is 35 percent, according to Court Administrator
If a defendant is sentenced to death, his case is automatically appealable to
the Ohio Supreme Court. The prosecutors handle that appeal and the state Public
Defenders Office takes over the defendant’s defense. Tim Young, director of the
OPD, said he doesn’t have a breakdown of how much is spent on capital crime
appeals, but the maximum fee allowed for Butler County is $10,000.
Most capital cases also flow through the federal courts and can drag on for
decades. A study done for the Kansas Legislature pegged the total cost if a
case lands at the state supreme court from $1.2 million to $2.4 million.
Capital cases where the death penalty was not sought were estimated to cost
between $700,000 to $1 million.
Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser said he does not take the decision to ask
for a death penalty lightly.
“It is the type of case that shocks the conscience, and I hope that I have the
conscience of the community in mind when I make that decision...,” he said.
“There are cases where the individual is beyond redemption. When the facts are
clear and the conduct shocks and the person is perceived to be beyond
redemption, the jury ought to have the opportunity to say ‘we don’t want to
just lock you up we think you deserve not to breathe in our world anymore.’ Now
that’s pretty cold, but let’s face it, the death penalty is a legal penalty
under our law.”
Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor recently convened a panel of
stake holders to study the death penalty and how it is working in the state.
She said she doesn’t have any preconceived outcomes, but the discussion needs
“It’s not a panel to look at whether we should have the death penalty in Ohio
because that’s a legislative and executive decision,” she said. “This is more
the application, how it’s utilized. We want to take a look at everything from
the charging decisions that are made, the defense that is available to
defendants, the type of attorneys that are available, that whole system, how
courts deal with it, how they process it, considerations with costs. Everything
that goes into how the decision is made to charge to the final decision for
Chris Pagan, who has defended in several death penalty cases, said he sent
O’Connor a letter asking to be part of the discussion because he has some ideas
he thinks would benefit the system he is phasing himself out of. He said he
can’t afford to handle these cases anymore, with the paltry fees he is allowed.
He also pointed to the Cleveland serial killer Anthony Sowell’s case, where the
defense attorneys collected nearly $600,000 worth of taxpayer money and never
called a single defense witness, as evidence the system is unfair.
“The costs here are extremely low compared with the costs in other metropolitan
areas,” he said. “The funding has to be leveled out in a statewide reasonable
way.... Here they get a great bargain and I don’t know that the funds are
sufficient. I’m not doing it anymore I can’t afford it. You get 40 bucks an
hour and my overhead costs more than that. And it’s a thankless job.”
(source: Middletown Journal)
Ala. death row Inmate set to be executed Thursday.
An Alabama death row inmate is scheduled to be executed Thursday at Holman
Prison in Atmore for the February 2005 death of his infant son.
Christopher Johnson has refused to pursue appeals in his case and filed court
papers in May saying he didn't want anyone to go to court on his behalf.
Johnson was convicted of killing 6-month-old Elias Ocean Johnson at the
family's home in Atmore.
The 38-year-old Johnson represented himself during part of his trial and
testified he hit and suffocated his son because he hated his wife and didn't
want to be near her.
The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals completed a mandatory review of his case
in December 2009 and upheld his conviction.
Johnson has refused to pursue further appeals in state and federal court.
(source: Associated Press)
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