[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, GA., ALA., USA, ILL., NEV., MD.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Thu Sep 22 16:13:16 CDT 2011
Troy Davis execution shines light on Rick Perry's execution record
Something extraordinary occurred Wednesday night as death row inmate Troy Davis
awaited word on whether his execution at the hands of the state of the Georgia
would go forward.
The merits of Davis’ case, as well as capital punishment, were debated on
Twitter around the world in real time as the U.S. Supreme Court took up Davis’
plea for a stay and the clock ticked. Some arguments were moral. Some were
based on evidence. And some were based on theories of governing. (Is putting a
man to death the ultimate in “big government?” Is it an example of states’
rights? Can you be in favor of abortion rights and oppose the death penalty?
The arguments raged, even as news broke that the high court had denied Davis’
petition and even as, finally, word came that Davis had been executed, a few
minutes after 11 pm EDT.
To those following along on Twitter, Davis was alive and fighting for his life
one minute and the next he was gone, maintaining his innocence to the very end.
Those who passionately argued against Davis’ execution were shocked,
crestfallen and shattered. Many viewed it as a defining moment in America’s
tortuous history with capital punishment.
Whether that’s true remains to be seen, but the question has relevance now that
campaign season is in full swing. And the ultimate sanction’s popularity with a
wide swath of the American electorate should not be underestimated. Earlier
this month, at the Reagan Library debate in California, the audience cheered as
moderator Brian Williams noted that Rick Perry had presided over 234 executions
as Texas governor. Williams was taken aback.
Perry was asked whether he ever worried that the state had executed an innocent
man. “I’ve never struggled with that at all. The state of Texas has a very
thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which — when someone commits the
most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go
through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United
States, if that’s required,” he said.
The crowd applauded. Williams asked Perry what he made of the crowd’s reaction.
“I think Americans understand justice,” he said. “I think Americans are
clearly, in the vast majority of — of cases, supportive of capital punishment.”
The governor is right on that score. Polls consistently show that a majority of
Americans support the death penalty, although the number has steadily declined.
And while Perry has taken his hits on the issue, Democrats Bill Clinton and
Barack Obama have also supported the sanction. (Obama, it should be noted, did
not involve himself in the Davis case nor did the more liberal members of the
court dissent from the decision to deny Davis’ petition. The vote was 9-0.)
While Obama was running for president, he said he disagreed with a
controversial Supreme Court decision that held that the death penalty was
unconstitutional in cases where a child was raped, but not killed.
“I have said repeatedly that I think that the death penalty should be applied
in very narrow circumstances, for the most egregious of crimes,” Obama said in
2008. “I think that the rape of a small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous
crime, and if a state makes a decision that under narrow, limited, well-defined
circumstances, the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that that
does not violate our Constitution.”
Unlike Obama, Clinton served as governor of a state that carried out
executions. In January 1992, in the heat of the presidential campaign, Clinton
flew home to Arkansas to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, who had
killed a police officer before shooting himself in the head. The shot made
Rector mentally impaired, but the execution went forward as scheduled. A decade
later, the Supreme Court would rule that executing the mentally retarded is
Clinton became more comfortable with the death penalty during his time as
governor—and if he had national ambitions, there was reason to do so. At the
time, Michael Dukakis’ response during a presidential debate in 1988 about
whether he would support the execution of a man who had raped and murdered his
wife had drawn national derision.
George W. Bush presided over 152 executions while governor of Texas, including
the death by lethal injection of Karla Faye Tucker, the first woman to be put
to death in the state in over a century. Tucker’s conversion to Christianity
while in prison resulted in an unusually large outcry over her sentence, but
Bush was unpersuaded. Advocates also believe that man executed under Bush’s
watch in Texas, Claude Jones, may have been innocent.
Twice this month, the Supreme Court has taken the unusual step of staying a
scheduled execution in Texas after Perry and other Texas officials declined to
intervene. In Duane Buck's case, jurors were told at trial that Buck posed a
greater danger to public safety because he is black. Cleve Foster, the 2nd
inmate, has maintained he is innocent of the rape and murder of a woman in
As the GOP frontrunner, Perry’s record on executions is being closely
scrutinized. The most controversial case involves Cameron Todd Willingham, who
was convicted of starting a house fire that killed his three daughters.
Willingham was executed in 2004, but several publications, including the New
Yorker and the Texas Tribune, have raised questions about his culpability.
The Tribune has examined several other cases during Perry’s tenure that it
argues should be reviewed “because of continuing concerns about the ability of
prisoners facing capital charges in Texas to retain quality legal
representation, the execution of those who were minors when they committed
their crimes, the ability of some prisoners to intellectually understand their
punishment and the international ramifications of executing foreign nationals.”
But if Perry does have some troubling marks on his record, will that matter to
the Republican base—or to the voting public at large? The question may be
revisited at Thursday night’s GOP debate in Orlando. But if the crowd there is
similar to that at the Reagan Library, there won’t be much doubt about the
(source: Los Angeles Times)
Columns Perry is right about the death penalty
It’s telling when a crowd erupts into raucous applause and praise for a
presidential candidate. It’s a showcase of how much they approve of the
candidate’s policies, how they feel about their take on major issues, and
overall just how much they like that candidate. But most audiences typically
wait for the candidate to actually finish speaking before bursting into cheers.
During the Sept. 8, 2011, Republican Presidential Debate, the crowd cut off
NBC’s Brian Williams with candid approval over Gov. Rick Perry’s outstanding
“Governor Perry, question about Texas,” Williams said. “Your state has executed
234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times.”
As soon as the record was stated, the studio audience stunned the usually stoic
Williams with whistles and thunderous applause. They were absolutely ecstatic,
as they should be.
Texas is known for a great many things — from cowboys, to barbecue, to rodeos.
But the one thing we should be known for the most in this modern era is how
willing we are to stand our ground on important issues like the death penalty.
In these modern times, the death penalty has been demonized by its opponents as
uncivilized and obsolete. Indeed, with the exception of a few Eastern European
nations, all of Europe, Australia, Mexico, Canada and parts of Southern Africa
have completely abolished the death penalty in their countries, equaling 96
countries in total.
9 countries have abolished it for ordinary crimes, and 34 have abolished it at
least in practice. Only 58 countries in the world today still retain their
adherence to the death penalty; among them are a vast majority of the Middle
East, Asia, and of course the United States.
“Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might
have been innocent?” Williams asked after the audience had died down a bit and
the anchor himself had regained a bit of his composure.
There’s always that heavy moral implication that you just might have the blood
of an innocent man on your hands. There is always going to be a chance that a
man may be accidentally convicted of a crime worthy of the death penalty.
However, in the US we have a fail-safe procedure in place to stop as many of
those accidental convictions from occurring as possible.
We have a highly refined, well-oiled and sharp-eyed justice department ready to
catch any mistakes that happen to fall through. Just like with any major
operation, whether it be for surgery or for a military maneuver, there will
always be a chance for error.
To regard a system as wholly perfect and as impossible to fail would just be
naïve and outright foolish. There is always the possibility of death during
surgery, but that is what medical school is for, to educate and prevent that
There is always the chance of civilian casualties in a combat situation, but
that’s why the military and the police drill relentlessly to prevent situations
like that from happening.
And that’s why there are so many systems of appeals for death row inmates, so
many routes for them to go through, so that if they truly are innocent, as they
claim, they can be cleared. Too often in these modern times we worry — fear,
even, the ends. If it even seems risky, we shy away from it.
A mistake in surgery or a mistake in combat can be instantaneously disastrous.
A mistake in the legal system always has the chance to be caught. Instead of
shying away from a gory proposition, hiding behind scant possibilities and
hoping for another, easier route, we should be heading towards it with
confidence in our ability to do things right. If we aren’t confident, then all
that means is that we need to fix the means, not the end.
Perry is an icon for this steadfast defiance in the face of doubt. He has full
confidence in how our legal system works.
“They get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they even go to
the Supreme Court of the United States if that’s required,” Perry said.
The same can’t possibly be said for people convicted of the death penalty in
China, who have for the last several years been one of the targets of choice
for various civil liberties groups. Our criminal justice system, although not
perfect, is truly held to the highest standard, and death-row inmates are
always given the chance to appeal the fate that they deserve.
But do they deserve it? Perry certainly thinks so.
“In the state of Texas, if you come into our state, if you kill one of our
children, you kill one of our police officers, you commit another crime and you
kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice and you will be
executed,” Perry said.
Perry only needs to point to his impressive 234 person execution record to show
how well he’s followed through on this promise. We need a steadfast man like
Perry who is hard on crime and hard in his resolve to stand by his position on
crime, as he showed earlier this year in his refusal to stay the execution of a
Mexican national successfully convicted of raping and murdering a San Antonio
Perry has a long campaign trail ahead of him. People will always try him on his
beliefs, as we all are tried every day.
People will try and bust him down, paint him as vile and evil for supplying
justice to those too weak to do it themselves. Others will decry him as an
uncouth monster with no regard of civil rights.
But Perry should pay no mind to them. The rapists, killers, and terrorists of
the world deserve to pay for their crimes. We cannot continue to let them
believe they can escape their due.
And with Perry at the helm, we can always be sure it will be paid in full.
(source: James Wang, The (Univ. Houston) Daily Cougar)
Execution bigger than just Troy Davis
Troy Davis was executed late Wednesday night after one of the most contested
and controversial death-penalty cases in the country's history. The SMU and
local community held a vigil in protest of his execution and to honor Davis'
"I was very glad we had a vigil here last night for Troy Davis," Dr. Rick
Halperin, the director of SMU's human rights program, said. "I wish we would
have one every night that someone in this country is executed."
However, Halperin believes that the Troy Davis case was outrageous on more
levels that just his potential innocence.
"The media consumption with the Troy Davis case was equally outrageous,"
Halperin said. "Don't get me wrong it merited a great deal of attention, but I
bemoan the fact that there was another execution here in Texas last night that
received no attention at all."
Lawrence Brewer, a white supremacist, was executed Wednesday night in Texas for
the dragging death of James Byrd Jr., a black man, in 1998.
According to Halperin, Ross Byrd, James' son, had forgiven Brewer and protested
"Where was the media on that case?" Halperin said. "This was a story about
forgiveness, compassion and redemption and the murder was equally as horrific."
Another execution is scheduled for tonight in Alabama. Derrick Mason is accused
of shooting 25-year-old Angela Cagle in the face during an early morning
"It's not right to out one case the way the media did on Troy Davis," Halperin
said. "Every case needs media attention."
To Halperin, these cases are also a measure of the value of human life in
"There were a million signatures garnered across the world last night to stop
the execution of Troy Davis," Halperin said. "He has the same value as a human
being as Mr. Mason, Mr. Brewer and everyone else condemned or not. Where are
the million signatures for Mr. Mason?"
Halperin also believes these executions are a reflection of the darkness of our
country. He thinks that continuing the death penalty will lead to further
immoral and criminal government behavior.
"The system failed Mr. Davis and it failed this country," Halperin said. "It
will fail Mr. Mason tonight and it will fail this country again."
(sources: SMU Daily Campus & Associated Press)
Will the Davis Execution Fuel Opposition to the Death Penalty?
A crowd of several hundred protesters sat on the ground at the Georgia State
Capitol to protest against the execution of Troy Anthony Davis.Let’s take one
more moment to digest the execution last night of Troy Davis.
The level of interest that the case generated was striking — political figures,
celebrities, and anti-death penalty opponents worldwide rallied to Davis’s
defense, pleading in recent days for Georgia to spare his life.
The question now is whether the debate over the Davis execution will fuel a
broader debate about the merits of the death penalty?
Before we address that, let us briefly recap that Davis was convicted for
killing police officer Mark Allen MacPhail in 1989. The conviction rested
largely on eyewitness testimony, and many of the witnesses later recanted or
altered their testimony.
Davis vigorously maintained his innocence up until the time he was executed.
The jury in Davis’s murder trial was aware that some of the eyewitness accounts
of the murder were shaky, as noted in this detailed AP account of the case. And
many, many judges reviewed the case but declined to overturn the conviction.
The level of interest in the case seems to owe in part to the skill of Davis’s
advocates in galvanizing broad based support. Change.org, which bills itself as
a platform for social change, released a statement yesterday noting that it had
helped launch petition drives that had gathered hundreds of thousands of
signatures from Davis supporters.
Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said anti-death
penalty groups were amazed at the public reaction to the case. “This case went
viral,” Cox said last night, speaking to reporters in Jackson, Georgia, which
houses the prison where Davis was executed with a 3-drug cocktail. “It took off
globally,” Cox said. “He’s now a household name.”
Perhaps, but to what effect? This Salon article tackles the question of what
the Davis case will mean for the broader death-penalty debate. In short, the
piece expresses doubt that the Davis case will move the needle of public
opinion about capital punishment. Gallup has found that support for the death
penalty has remained consistent for the past decade, with Americans favoring it
by a more than 2-to-1 margin, Salon reports, noting, however, that the level of
death-penalty support has declined from the late 1980s and early 1990s, when it
peaked at 80 %.
“The reality is that we have seen other cases like Troy Davis’ before,” the
Salon piece posits, “and it will probably take a lot more of them before
Americans ever give up on the death penalty for good.”
But at Slate, Dahlia Lithwick theorizes that the Davis case could tip the
scales against the death penalty, because it has generated such an unusual
level of attention, even reaching the likes of Kim Kardashian, who has tweeted
about the case. (According to the Christian Post, Kim Kardashian released a
series of tweets Wednesday expressing disgust over the possible execution. “I
want to vent about the execution of Troy Davis! He is getting the death penalty
tonight but I believe he is innocent!!! #TooMuchDoubt”)
Lithwick writes that the Davis case underscores the fact that the fight over
the death penalty is now happening at a more grassroots level. “The desire for
certainty is finally beginning to carry as much weight as the need for
finality,” she writes. “Americans are asking not so much whether [Davis] should
be killed as whether this whole capital system is fair.”
Meanwhile, as witnessed by the Davis execution, those advocating for the death
penalty tend to comprise a relatively silent majority.WSJ reporter Cameron
McWhirter, who covered the execution last night in Jackson, noted that while
Davis supporters were barraged with media attention, a small group of
pro-execution advocates sat at a picnic table, removed from the media crush.
They carried signs declaring, “Georgians for Justice.” Asked about the case,
the group declined comment.
(source: The Wall Street Journal)
Troy Davis execution: Did the death penalty deliver justice?----For his
supporters, the execution of Troy Davis marked a grave injustice and showed the
death penalty at its worst. But others found their faith in the justice system
reaffirmed by the fact that the Davis verdict stood after an abundance of case
A last-ditch appeal to the Supreme Court pushed back Troy Davis's execution by
several hours, but in the end, Mr. Davis died by lethal injection Wednesday
night in a prison in Jackson, Ga.
"I am innocent," were his last words to the family of Mark MacPhail. "I did not
have a gun."
Mr. Davis was convicted of the 1989 murder of Mr. MacPhail, a Savannah, Ga,.
For thousands around the world, Mr. Davis's death marked a grave injustice,
given vexing questions and new doubts about his guilt.
But while many saw the execution as symbolic of a fallible justice system, and
an immoral punishment, others found their faith in the system reaffirmed by an
abundance of court and executive reviews that, time after time, let the verdict
against Davis stand.
The Davis case is but one in a long series of death penalty cases that push
individual states to debate the morality, legality, and efficacy of the death
This week alone, the US Supreme Court ordered stays for 2 men in Texas
scheduled to be executed, while a 3rd, Lawrence Brewer, was executed Wednesday
night for the dragging death of James Byrd near Jasper, Texas, in 1998. Alabama
has an execution scheduled Thursday.
Davis was convicted in 1991 for the shooting death of off-duty police officer
MacPhail, who had come to the aid of a homeless man being beaten near a
Savannah, Ga., Burger King. A jury of 7 blacks and 5 whites found that Davis
had shot a man earlier in the evening and used the same gun to fire into
MacPhail's face and chest, killing the young father of 2 before he had a chance
to draw his weapon.
The murder weapon was never found and defense lawyers cast doubt on a
ballistics test that linked shell casings at the scene to casings found at
another shooting for which Davis was convicted.
Since the verdict, 7 of 9 witnesses in the case changed or retracted their
accounts, and new witnesses have pointed to the possibility that another man at
the scene fired the weapon. But Federal District Court Judge William T. Moore
said those new statements amounted to "smoke and mirrors" to obfuscate the
On Tuesday, a Georgia clemency board, for the 4th time, declined Davis's
request to commute the sentence to life in prison. The Georgia board has
commuted three other death row sentences in the last decade.
President Obama, through his press secretary, said he had no jurisdiction to
intervene in a state court matter, although experts say executive power under
the Constitution includes the power to commute sentences.
One problem, legal analysts say, is courts are vested in jury verdicts, which
can be fallible. Doubts alone are rarely enough to overturn a finding of guilt,
but in cases like Davis's, where there is impassioned belief of innocence, it
"raises doubts about whether the legal system can tolerate this potential error
in allowing a person to be executed," says James Acker, a criminologist at
State University New York in Albany.
But the Davis case also had powerful emotional impact that made him a cause
célèbre among human rights activists working to end the US death penalty. A
black man being executed for the murder of a white man in the Deep South raised
longstanding and deep-seated concerns about racial inequities in the justice
Davis's execution stood in sharp contrast to the execution the same day in
Texas of Mr. Brewer, a white man convicted and sentenced to death for a heinous
hate crime against a black man.
"Can we have the death penalty and actually avoid the possibility of killing
innocent people?" writes Rashad Robinson, executive director of the activist
group Color of Change. "In a criminal justice system that routinely
misidentifies black suspects and disproportionately punishes black people,
black folks are more likely to be wrongfully executed."
Death penalty opponents often point to the fact that over 130 death row inmates
have been released since the 1970s given new evidence, including DNA. But
proponents of the death penalty use the same data to argue that those numbers
validate what Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist once called
executive branch "fail-safes," such as clemency boards, that prevent the
execution of the innocent.
President Jimmy Carter said the Davis execution should result in the abolition
of the death penalty in the US. "If one of our fellow citizens can be executed
with so much doubt surrounding his guilt, then the death penalty system in our
country is unjust and outdated," Carter told the AP.
64 % of Americans support the death penalty to punish egregious murder,
according to a 2010 Gallup survey.
Whether the Davis case has an impact on the use of the death penalty in the US
in the future is an open question. Already, the number of executions in the US
has been steadily dwindling over the past 15 years, even in Southern states
where capital cases are most common.
Meeting with activists before his execution, Davis reportedly said, "You have a
choice. You can either fold up your bags after tomorrow and go home, or you can
stand and continue to fight."
Some still see the uproar over Davis's execution as "manufactured" emotion
smartly packaged by activists and the media to build opposition to the death
"We have consistently won the case as it has been presented in court," said
Spencer Lawton, the original prosecutor in the Davis capital murder case. "We
have consistently lost the case as it has been presented in the public realm,
on TV and elsewhere."
(source: Christian Science Monitor)
Derrick Mason apologized to victim's family years ago, an anti-death penalty
An official with an anti-death penalty group said Alabama death row inmate
Derrick Mason apologized to Angela Cagle's family years ago for killing her in
a 1994 convenience store robbery.
Mason, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection tonight, did not wait until
his execution date neared to apologize, Esther Brown, executive director of
Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty, said in a Wednesday email.
"He did this many years ago by letter, not prompted by an imminent execution
date but driven by deep remorse and sadness for the parents' loss of their
precious daughter, Angela Cagle," Brown said.
Gov. Robert Bentley on Wednesday afternoon declined to commute Mason's sentence
to life in prison without the chance of parole. Mason's appeals lawyers have
filed an emergency appeal with the Alabama Supreme Court asking that the
execution be postponed for further review of the case.
Mason's execution is scheduled for 6 p.m. today at Holman Correctional
Institute in Atmore.
A vigil for Mason is scheduled for today from noon to 1 p.m. at Good Shepherd
Catholic Church on Chaney Thompson Road, according to Project Hope's website.
Several vigils are set for today across the state and even one in France.
Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty was founded and is run by Alabama
death row inmates. Mason is a member of the group's seven-member executive
Brown said Cagle's father, Steve Worsham, responded to Mason's apology a few
"He told Derrick to give his life to God," Brown said. "This he has done."
Cagle's brother, Scott Worsham, said in an email response to Brown's comments
that he spoke to his father, who said he wrote Mason a letter several years
ago. His father told him that Mason apologized in a letter to him 2 or 3 years
"My father said he then replied back to him that he forgave him as he was
commanded to do as a Christian, but that Mason still had to face the
consequences of his actions," Scott Worsham said. "This was a communication
between my father and Mason and was not a reaching out to the family as a
Bentley press secretary Jennifer Ardis said in an email statement Wednesday
afternoon that Bentley does not plan to intervene in the execution.
"The governor will honor the decisions of the jury which recommended the death
penalty for Mr. Mason and the trial court which ordered it, which has been
repeatedly and consistently upheld by every appellate court which addressed
it," Ardis said. "All courts which have been asked to stay the execution have
denied that request."
Bentley could have commuted Mason's sentence to life without the chance of
Mason, now 37, was convicted of killing Cagle, 25, at a Sparkman Drive
convenience store where she worked. She was found naked on a storage room table
with two gunshots wounds to her face.
The jury recommended by a 10-2 vote that Circuit Court Judge Loyd Little
sentence Mason to death.
Little agreed with the jury, but recently asked in a letter to Bentley that
Mason's life be spared. Little said he wrote the letter at the request of
Mason's appeals lawyers. He said he changed his mind about Mason's sentence
because the circumstances were not as "heinous, atrocious or cruel" as other
capital murder cases where the death penalty was applied.
Death row inmate Derrick Mason asks Alabama Supreme Court for emergency stay of
After being denied clemency by the governor, death row inmate Derrick O'Neal
Mason's lawyers have filed an emergency appeal with the Alabama Supreme Court
asking that his scheduled execution be postponed for further review of his
death penalty sentence.
Gov. Robert Bentley on Wednesday afternoon declined to commute Mason's sentence
to life in prison without the chance of parole.
Mason's execution for the 1994 murder of Huntsville convenience store clerk
Angela Cagle is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Holman Correctional Institute in
(source for both: Huntsville Times)
Ala. Governor Rejects Inmate's Clemency Request
Alabama's governor has turned down a last-minute request for clemency from an
Alabama death row inmate scheduled to be executed by lethal injection Thursday
evening at Holman Prison in Atmore.
Bentley said in a brief statement Wednesday that he saw no reason to overturn
the decision of the jury that found Derrick Mason guilty and recommended that
he be executed. Mason is scheduled to die at 6 p.m. Thursday for the March 24,
1994 shooting death of Huntsville convenience store clerk Angela Cagle.
The 37-year-old Mason is accused of shooting 25-year-old Cagle twice in the
face during an early morning robbery.
Mason is waiting to hear from a last minute appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court
challenging the competency of Mason's counsel during the sentencing phase of
(source: Associated Press)
Residual doubt, race, federalism and finality: which death penalty legal fronts
might the Davis case impact?
Even though Troy Davis has now been executed by the state of Georgia, there is
plenty more to say about the case and all the attention it garnered. Because I
expect lots of others to keep talking about the case's import and possible
impact concerning the death penalty, I doubt I will blog that much about the
case in the future. However, I did have a few (too quick?) thoughts about some
legal issues implicated by the Davis case which might become a focus for
attention and reform for those who feel strongly that justice was poorly served
or that the legal system looked bad in Georgia last night.
1. Residual doubt: I suspect that even those persons strongly confident about
Davis's guilt would at least acknowledge that it was reasonable for others to
have "residual doubt" about his guilt. The problem for Davis and his supporters
is that none of our current death penalty laws demand (or even arguably allow)
a defendant to get a lesser sentence or to be taken off death row based solely
on "residual doubt." Juries are told to convict unless they have a "reasonable
doubt," and a juror or reviewing judges can sensibly assert they have a
residual doubt but not a reasonable one. (In the hub-bub over the Casey Anthony
verdict, I surmise that critics of the jury acquittal might recognize
"residual" doubt about her guilt, but they still thought the jury should not
have deemed any doubt to be "reasonable.")
Often governors or clemency boards can and will commute a death sentence based
on what I am calling "residual doubt." Indeed, Ohio Governor John Kasich
commuted a death sentence on this ground just three months ago (blogged here)
in a case similar to the Davis case in some important ways. Perhaps reformers
will want to respond to the Davis case by more formally authorizing or even
requiring juries, judges and others involved in death sentence review to reject
or undo a death sentence based on only "residual doubt."
2. Race and federalism: I suspect that few would deny that race and geography
played a part at least in the way the Davis case was perceived, if not also in
the way it was handled. I believe Davis's lawyer has already labeled the
execution a "legal lynching," and one need not be a student of history to
appreciate the many ways in which the fact Davis was black, the fact his victim
was white, and the fact this was all going on in the deep south all contributed
to the case's salience for so many.
Still, in the wake of Supreme Court's landmark McClesky ruling now a quarter
century ago, only two states (Kentucky and North Carolina) have passed
legislation enabling defendants charged or sentenced to death to attack their
sentences based on claims of racial disparity. More broadly, in the context of
the death penalty, many continue to cling to federalism concepts as a defense
for why federal executive and legislative officials should have had no role or
even any say in what Georgia wanted to do. (The Terry Schiavo hub-bub a few
years back bears recalling here: the removal of life support seems to be
clearly a state law matter, but Congress got involved based on a commitment to
life in that case.) Perhaps reformers will want to respond to the Davis case by
pushing harder for Racial Justice Acts or for more federal oversight of state
capital systems (beyond judicial oversight via habeas).
3. Finality: The real fundamental issue in the Davis case was the issue of
finality: the judicial system is understandably (and justifiably?) loathe to
undo or even question the outcome of a fair and constitutional trial no matter
what future evidence emerges suggesting that the initial outcome was flawed.
The problematic practicalities (and costs) of allowing most anyone who claims
innocence after a lawful conviction to obtain a new trial based on new evidence
leads me to think that few reformers will seek after the Davis case to undercut
our legal systems' strong commitment to finality after a fair and
constitutional trial. But this critical and too often under-discussed judicial
commitment to finality is where the rubber always really hit the road in the
(source: sentencing.typepad.com----Sentencing Law and Policy, A Member of the
Law Professor Blogs Network)
2 faces on the death penalty coin.
Troy Davis and Nicholas Sheley. Therein lies the conundrum regarding the death
penalty in America.
On Monday Sheley was convicted of first degree murder, among other crimes,
regarding the slaying of 65-year-old Ronald Randall of Galesburg in 2008. The
jury took all of about 45 minutes to reach that conclusion. He also is accused
of killing 7 others, 5 in Whiteside County in northwestern Illinois and an
Arkansas couple in Missouri. His alleged victims ranged in age from 93 to 2,
which pretty much defines defenseless. While all of those were unspeakable
tragedies for those directly involved, how anyone could purposely snuff the
life out of a toddler ... well, that's a whole other class of human being. If
what Sheley is accused of is true, then the death penalty was tailor-made for
Alas, Sheley is not eligible for capital punishment in Illinois because the
state abolished the practice earlier this year after a history with it that was
nothing if not checkered and embarrassing, with 20 people released from Death
Row and from prison altogether who were found to be innocent following their
convictions and many years awaiting execution. A different fate may away Sheley
in Missouri, which still has the death penalty.
And then there is Georgia's Troy Davis, who at this writing was awaiting
execution Wednesday - pending a literally last-minute appeal to the U.S.
Supreme Court - following his conviction for shooting and killing a young,
off-duty police officer in Savannah, Ga., in 1989.
Davis had long maintained his innocence, claiming that his was a case of
mistaken identity. As more than two decades and three previous dates with
lethal injection came and went, seven of the nine witnesses who originally
helped convict him recanted. Multiple reports of egregious police misconduct
surfaced, everything from leading witnesses with his photograph prior to a
lineup to threatening those who did not give detectives the answers they wanted
to hear. There was no physical or ballistics evidence linking Davis to the
crime. Someone else confessed to it.
The case has drawn national attention, with the likes of Amnesty International,
former President Jimmy Carter, 51 members of Congress, Pope Benedict, Nobel
Prize laureate and retired Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu and former FBI Director
William Sessions - a death penalty proponent - taking up his cause. Some
630,000 letters were sent to Georgia's pardon and parole board, pleading for
mercy for him. Nonetheless, prosecutors insisted they had the right guy, as
prosecutors usually do.
Of course, many a prisoner proclaims his innocence. And many are lying. This
page is in no position to judge one way or the other Davis' guilt or lack
thereof. Don't know. And that's just it. The death penalty is the ultimate
punishment. If a government is to play God, it has to know, and with uncommon
That's why this page ultimately sided with the abolitionists last winter, not
with a Nicholas Sheley in mind but a Troy Davis. Far too often, Illinois came
unforgivably close to executing the innocent.
For the longest time, though long troubled by the seeming racial bias in the
system, the inequities in quality of defense, and the inconsistency of its
application - a serial killer gets life, a convenience store robbery gone awry
ends with the needle - the editors of this page argued that the death penalty
needed to remain for those most heinous of crimes that no society can abide. It
was not a lonely place to be, as every time one read of a crime like that which
took out nearly an entire family in the Logan County town of Beason in 2009,
every time one put himself in the shoes of the victims' families, that position
That resolve was eroded with one mistake after another ... after another ... in
Illinois. In good conscience, this page could no longer tolerate if not quite
support capital punishment, and neither could the Legislature and the governor.
What that means is that a few really awful, evil people get to spend the rest
of their natural lives behind bars, at taxpayer expense, but no longer a threat
to anyone outside those prison walls. It is not always easy to accept that, but
it is still preferable to err on that side than the other - executing someone
who didn't do it - and trying to live with yourself afterwards.
(source: Editorial, Peoria Journal Star)
Death penalty sought for 1 of 3 defendants in 68-year-old Vegas mom's slaying;
A 45-year-old will face the death penalty in the burglary-slaying of a Las
Vegas woman at her home in July, but the woman's daughter and an alleged
getaway driver will not.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that prosecutors decided Tuesday to seek
capital charges against Joseph Perez in the strangulation of 68-year-old
Perez is accused of burglarizing Cole's home with Cole's 44-year-old daughter,
Autumn Dudley Cole, and 38-year-old accused getaway driver Lorenzo Cardenas
The three have pleaded not guilty to felony charges including murder,
kidnapping and robbery.
Prosecutors allege they were burglarizing the home to get cash to buy drugs.
Trial is scheduled Oct. 24 in Clark County District Court.
(source: Associated Press)
Death penalty still possible for Md. inmate: Judge
An Anne Arundel County judge has ruled that the trial of a prisoner charged
with killing a correctional officer will remain a death-penalty case.
The Baltimore Sun reports that Judge Paul Hackner on Wednesday declined to
eliminate the possibility of capital punishment for Lee Stephens after hearing
that the victim’s DNA was found on Stephens’ clothing.
Stephens is 1 of 2 prisoners charged in the 2006 stabbing of Cpl. David McGuinn
at the House of Correction.
Maryland law reserves capital punishment for murders in which there is a video
of a confession of the crime or biological evidence linking the defendant to
Prosecutors say that they have DNA evidence, but his defense argues that
evidence links Stephens and other prisoners to the scene, but not the crime.
(source: Associated Press)
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