[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----USA, FLA., OHIO, TENN.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Wed Sep 28 16:31:28 CDT 2011
USA----federal dp case
Death penalty case set for USS Cole defendant
A senior Pentagon official Wednesday referred the first death penalty case
under President Obama for trial by military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was charged in April by military prosecutors with
murder, terrorism and other violations of the laws of war for his role in the
October 2000 al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole in Yemen.
Mohammed to be tried by military commissionObama creates indefinite detention
system at GitmoMilbank: On Gitmo, Obama sounds like BushGet the latest from
PostPoliticsDeath penalty case set for USS Cole defendant.
Under military rules, the Pentagon official, known as the Convening Authority,
independently examines the charges filed by military prosecutors and decides
whether the defendant will be tried on all, some of none of the charges. In
Nashiri’s case, the Convening Authority, Ret. Admiral Bruce MacDonald,
forwarded the capital charges sworn by prosecutors.
Nashiri, a Saudi citizen of Yemeni descent, is one of 15 high-value detainees
held at Guantanamo, and prosecutors allege that he was “in charge of the
planning and preparation” of the Cole attack. 2 suicide bombers in a small boat
pulled alongside the Navy destroyer in the port of Aden and the ensuing blast,
which ripped a 30-by-30-foot hole in the ship, killed 17 American sailors.
In submissions to the Convening Authority, attorneys for Nashiri argued that no
case should be brought against their client because he was tortured while in
CIA custody. Nashiri was captured in the United Arab Emirates in 2002 and held
in secret CIA prisons overseas before he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in
Military prosecutors also swore capital charges in June against Khalid Sheik
Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind, and 4 co-defendants but the Convening
Authority has not yet acted on those charges. The Obama administration had
hoped to charge Mohammed in federal court in New York but abandoned that plan
after fierce congressional and local opposition. Nashiri, on the other hand,
was always designated for trial by a military tribunal.
Nashiri was 1 of 3 detainees who was waterboarded by the CIA, and he was also
subject to mock executions when CIA operatives separately held a power drill
and a gun to his head, according to a report by the CIA inspector general. The
waterboarding was sanctioned by Justice Department lawyers, but the use of the
drill and the gun fell outside interrogation techniques approved during the
Bush administration and since abandoned by Obama.
The European Parliament, in a resolution, as well as human rights groups, have
said that Nashiri should not be subject to the death penalty because of the
legacy of his treatment by the CIA. His lawyers also argue that the agency’s
destruction of videotapes of Nashiri’s waterboarding deprives the defense of
potentially exculpatory evidence.
Nashiri, who has never been seen publicly since his capture, said at a closed
2007 military hearing that he confessed to involvement in the Cole bombing only
because he was tortured.
Under the reformed system of military commission, the government cannot use any
statements obtained under torture. And prosecutors are unlikely to rely on any
statements Nashiri made while in CIA custody.
But one of Nashiri’s attorneys, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Reyes, has warned that
he intends to call CIA officials involved in his client’s interrogation to the
Since the military detention center opened in 2002, 6 cases have been
completed, resulting in 4 plea bargains, a short sentence and a guilty verdict
that led to a life sentence. 2 of those 6 detainees have been released, and 3
more are scheduled to be sent home over the next few years as a result of the
(source: Washington Post)
Pentagon approves capital charges against Guantanamo prisoner held in 2000
bombing of USS Cole
A Pentagon legal official has approved charges that carry a possible death
penalty for a Guantanamo prisoner accused of planning the attack on the USS
Cole, the U.S. Defense Department said Wednesday.
Abd al-Nashiri would face charges that include murder in violation of the law
of war for allegedly planning the attack that killed 17 sailors and wounded 40
while the Navy destroyer was stopping in Yemen on Oct. 12, 2000. The U.S. must
now bring him before a judge within 30 days for his arraignment before a
military judge at the U.S. base in Cuba.
U.S. Department of Defense This would be the 1st death-penalty war crimes trial
for a prisoner at Guantanamo under President Barack Obama, who had pledged to
close the detention center but ran into Congressional opposition to moving
detainees to the U.S.
A Saudi of Yemeni descent, al-Nashiri was captured in Dubai in November 2002
and flown to a CIA prison in Afghanistan known as Salt Pit before being moved
to another clandestine CIA facility in Thailand, where he was waterboarded and
threatened with a power drill during interrogation, according to a report by
the CIA's inspector general that was released in 2009.
His Pentagon-appointed lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Reyes, said the treatment
amounted to torture and he had asked the Convening Authority to drop the
charges or at least remove the potential death penalty.
Reyes also argues that the military commissions, despite being revamped in
2009, are still flawed, allowing defendants to be convicted with hearsay
evidence or without the government being compelled to put all its witnesses on
"All this can be done and the client can get the death sentence," he said. "How
can we have any confidence in whatever is the outcome of this trial?"
There have been 6 prisoners convicted of war crimes, 4 through plea bargains,
at Guantanamo. None have received the death penalty. The U.S. is preparing
charges against five defendants accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks,
including self-proclaimed mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in what is also
likely to be a capital case.
There are 171 prisoners at Guantanamo, and the government has said about 35
could eventually face war crimes charges.
(source: Associated Press)
On the Death Penalty
I’m still getting a lot negative feedback on my death penalty column from last
week. That’s hardly surprising (even though it wasn’t a particularly popular
column here, traffic-wise). What is a bit more surprising is how many people
seem to have not understood my point. I’ve reread the column a bunch of times
and I still don’t see what’s so hard to grasp.
The gist of my argument is that this emphasis on “uncertainty” isn’t nearly as
persuasive as those making it seem to think it is. Death penalty opponents seem
fixated on the idea that one wrongful execution demolishes the case for the
entire death penalty. Anti-death penalty activists insisted the doubt about
Troy Davis cast doubt on the entire system and, by extension, the execution of
anybody. Note: I don’t think Davis was innocent. But even if he was innocent I
don’t buy that one man’s innocence blows up the case for the death penalty.
>From my column:
But he proves no such thing. At best, his case proves that you can’t be certain
about Davis. You most certainly can be certain about other murderers. If the
horrible happens and we learn that Davis really was not guilty, that will be a
heart-wrenching revelation. It will cast a negative light on the death penalty,
on the Georgia criminal-justice system, and on America.
But you know what it won’t do? It won’t render Lawrence Russell Brewer one iota
less guilty or less deserving of the death penalty. Opponents of capital
punishment are extremely selective about the cases they make into public
crusades. Strategically, that’s smart; you don’t want to lead your argument
with “unsympathetic persons.” But logically, it’s problematic. There is no
transitive property that renders one heinous murderer less deserving of
punishment simply because some other person was exonerated of murder.
Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people including 19 children. He admitted it. How
does doubt in Troy Davis’s case make McVeigh less deserving of death?
Whether you agree with it or not, I think my argument is pretty clear. And yet,
I keep getting email from people who simply restate the argument I’m objecting
to ONLY MUCH LOUDER. “You can’t be certain!” “You can never be certain!” etc.
I think that’s all nonsense. You may not be able to be certain in some cases,
but in other cases it’s quite easy to be certain. For starters, let’s have a
death penalty in those cases.
It’s a strange thing. I think that opponents of the death penalty have
convinced themselves that this uncertainty argument is a silver bullet. If we
can just prove one case was wrong, we can through magic or the transitive
property prove them all unjust. That was the point of one worst movies of the
last decade, The Life of David Gale, the makers of which owe me 2 hours worth
of The Life of Jonah Goldberg.
Now I don’t want anyone — anyone — to ever be wrongly executed. One misapplied
death penalty is one too many. At which point opponents of the death penalty
say “Aha. Then you most oppose the death penalty for everyone.”
Really? Must I?
If anything, I’m even more opposed to police accidentally shooting bystanders
or shop clerks mistaken for robbers. Well we know that happens. And yet, I’m
still in favor of cops carrying guns. I’m against — absolutely against — all
sorts of accidental deaths that are the direct result of government messing
something up. I’m against Air Traffic Controller errors that lead to deaths,
but I’m still in favor of flying and air traffic controllers. It is a scandal,
given how much we spend on the death penalty and all the endless appeals, for
any mistake to go as far as it has. But why is it that the death penalty is the
only government function that must be abolished after a single error?
Ultimately, I’ve decided that one’s attitude to the death penalty is largely
faith-based. At the most basic level the decision to support or oppose capital
punishment comes from a core first principle, an assertion of fundamental
belief. That’s why, I think, opponents invest so much passion in these 2nd-tier
arguments. They know shouting “You just don’t get it!” doesn’t work. So they
put that energy into technical, procedural or abstract issues that don’t get to
the heart of the question.
And that’s why I find nearly all of the arguments against the death penalty
insufficient or unpersuasive. “World opinion” — by which most people seem to
mean the UK, France and parts of Italy — is against us. Okay, who cares? I mean
that seriously. Why should it matter? These are our laws, not theirs. And when
I hear a European opponent of capital punishment declare we’re no different
than China or Saudi Arabia for keeping capital punishment on the books, that
strikes me as more of an indictment of European reasoning skills than of
American justice. We don’t execute people for their political or religious
beliefs. We execute them for first degree murder. It’s a big difference.
This blogger, in a very lengthy rejoinder to my column, asserts that I support
the death penalty for purposes of “revenge” — since I don’t think deterrent
alone is a justification. Maybe this is just semantics, but what he calls
“revenge” I call justice.
(Also, as a side note, I find it interesting how so many secular people use
fundamentally religious arguments without admitting it. I understand that under
Christianity vengeance is the Lord’s. Well, whose is it in a secular society?).
The best — or at least most honorable — argument against capital punishment
actually proves my point. Many prolifers tell me that they are against the
death penalty because they are prolife from beginning to end. That’s great. But
that’s an assertion of faith.
>From my more secular vantage point, the arguments over abortion and capital
punishment don’t track each other very closely. There’s no trial with an
abortion and the life ended has committed no crime. The nature and extent of
the state’s involvement in an execution and a terminated pregnancy are
profoundly different. I should note that the Catholic Church — at least to my
understanding — has never seen abortion and capital punishment as anything like
the same thing.
I’m not saying the seamless garment adherents are wrong to oppose the death
penalty. I’m saying that the basis for their opposition is grounded in
something you either believe or you don’t.
(source: Jonah Goldberg, National Review)
Why Americans Still Support The Death Penalty
It has long been the conventional wisdom on both sides of the death penalty
debate that if a state or the federal government were ever shown to have
executed an innocent person, we'd see a dramatic drop in support for state
executions. In the 2006 case Kansas v. Marsh, Supreme Court Justice Antonin
Scalia, a death penalty supporter, called the search for a wrongly executed
person the "Holy Grail" of death penalty opponents.
But a little less than 2 years after David Grann made a convincing argument in
The New Yorker that the state of Texas had done just that, public support for
capital punishment hasn't wavered. In October 2009, Grann wrote about Cameron
Todd Willingham, executed in 2004 for setting the fire that killed his 3 young
children. Willingham was convicted because of forensic testimony from fire
officials that arson experts call junk science.
Grann's story was widely discussed and distributed, but the predicted sea
change in public perceptions of the death penalty didn't happen. According to
Gallup polling, support for the death penalty dropped just a point between 2009
and 2010, from 65 % to 64 %, well within the margin for error. And about half
the country still believes the death penalty isn't used often enough.
As we saw last week with the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, the Willingham
case doesn't even seem to have made state governments less willing to execute
even when there are strong doubts about the defendant's guilt. In fact, the
only fallout from Willingham may in fact have been to strengthen the resolve of
death penalty supporters. When the crowd at a GOP primary debate cheered the
number of executions carried out in Texas earlier this month, the Willingham
case and Gov. Rick Perry's handling of it was the clear subtext of the
There's still no political price to pay for defending executions, for carrying
out questionable ones or, in the case of Perry, for stifling attempts to
investigate whether an innocent person has been put to death. The states of
California, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky recently even resorted to
purchasing sodium thiopental on the black market to ensure they could continue
carrying out lethal injections.
Consider also the case of Hank Skinner, currently on death row in Texas for the
murder of his ex-girlfriend and her two sons. Skinner merely wants to conduct
DNA testing on several major pieces of biological evidence collected at the
crime scene that were never examined. The evidence includes blood from the
murder weapon; blood on a jacket found near the victims; the rape kit performed
on Skinner's former girlfriend; the skin cells found under her fingernails; and
the hair she was clutching at the time of her death.
On a 2000 episode of Nancy Grace's Court TV show "Closing Arguments," one of
Skinner's attorneys actually challenged his prosecutor to conduct the testing,
even offering to pay for the tests himself. The prosecutor agreed. But when
preliminary mitochondrial testing on the hair did not match Skinner or the
victim, the prosecutor put a halt to any further testing. Texas officials,
including Perry, have since fought any additional tests.
Even after the Willingham debacle, Texas officials are arguing in court and in
public statements that knowable facts that could prove a defendant's innocence
-- or confirm his guilt -- should remain unknown. That isn't a quest for truth.
It's a reckless effort to protect a conviction.
And yet there's little evidence that voters will punish them for it. Nor,
likely, will anyone in Georgia pay a political price for the execution of Troy
Davis. Just why is that? More than 270 people have been cleared by DNA testing
in the last 30 years, a strong indication that our criminal justice system is
more error-prone than much of the public likely believes. Most of the rest of
the developed world has done away with capital punishment. And there's now
strong evidence that at least one state executed an innocent man.
Why, after all of this, do more than 6 in 10 Americans still support the death
Jerry Hobbs was one of those slam-dunk death penalty cases, a guy with a
criminal record guilty of a brutal crime that even hardcore opponents of
capital punishment would have a difficult time sparing.
Shortly after he was released from prison on assault charges, Hobbs was
arrested in 2005 in Zion, Ill., accused of brutally murdering his own daughter
and her best friend. According to prosecutors, Hobbes went out looking for the
8-year-old girl in a fit of anger because she had left the house after he had
grounded her. When he found the girls, prosecutors say, Hobbs stabbed them more
than 30 times with a kitchen knife. Hobbs' daughter had been stabbed once in
each eye, and autopsy results later revealed the presence of semen in her
mouth, vagina and rectum.
A couple days later, Hobbs confessed to the murders. He even offered details of
the murders that police say were only known to them and the killer. If ever
there were a clear-cut candidate for the death penalty, Hobbs seemed to be it.
But when DNA test results came back on the semen found in Hobbs' daughter, it
didn't belong to Hobbs. He later recanted his confession, claiming his
admission was the result of hours of coercive and abusive police interrogation.
Prosecutors didn't buy it. Lake County, Ill., Assistant State's Attorney
Michael Mermel put forth an unlikely explanation for the DNA results: The semen
may have somehow entered the girl's body while she was playing in a wooded area
where teenagers were known to have sex, Mermel said.
In 2010, 5 years after Hobbs' arrest, DNA from the crime scene hit a match in a
national database. The semen came from 21-year-old Jorge Torrez, who at the
time was in custody for a series of attacks on women in Arlington, Va. Torrez
is now serving 5 life sentences for those crimes and stands accused of the Zion
murders, as well.
Hobbs was cleared of the murder charges and freed last year. He is now a
walking argument against the death penalty, proof that in the face of
scientific evidence, even the slam-dunk cases can come apart.
Most Americans support the death penalty out of a desire for vengeance or
retribution. Some crimes, the thinking goes, are so heinous that death is the
only appropriate punishment. According to Gallup, about 60 % of death penalty
supporters back capital punishment under some form of this reasoning. It's
probably also the strongest argument in favor of the death penalty.
But the hunger for vengeance or retribution can also cloud judgment. Something
certainly clouded that of ASA Mermel in the Hobbs case.
Particularly heinous crimes often bring more pressure on police to arrest a
suspect, and on prosecutors to secure a conviction. ProPublica recently
published a lengthy investigation showing that the deaths of children in
particular can cause law enforcement officials to fixate on a suspect, overlook
evidence that contradicts their theories, and even find crimes where none may
have been committed (charging accidental deaths as homicides, for example).
A 2008 Columbia Law Review examination of the first 200 DNA exonerations found
that just 18 of the convictions were at one time reversed by appellate courts.
Another 67 convicts had their appeals denied with no written ruling at all. In
63 of the cases, appellate court rulings described the defendant as "guilty,"
and in 12 cases it referred to "overwhelming" evidence of guilt. In the other
cases, appeals courts either found the defendant's appeal without merit or
found that the errors in the case were "harmless"--there were problems with the
case, but those problems were insignificant due to the other evidence
indicating guilt. In each of these cases, the defendant was later proven
Yet protestations of innocence often inflame the state's desire for
retribution. In 2008, for example, the same Georgia Board of Pardons and
Paroles that refused clemency to Troy Davis granted clemency to Samuel David
Crowe, who was convicted of killing a lumber store manager during a robbery.
Since Crowe is white, Davis supporters have suggested that race was the
determining factor in both cases, but it could just as easily have been
contrition. Crowe admitted guilt and expressed remorse. Davis maintained his
innocence. Governors are far more likely to use their pardon or clemency powers
for someone who shows remorse than to free a convict because of doubts about
A New York Times article on plea bargaining this week supports this theory,
explaining how criminal defendants are often punished with added charges and
increased jail time for maintaining their innocence and insisting on a trial.
(See also the case of Richard Paey.)
There are of course plenty of cases where there's both a heinous crime and
irrefutable evidence of guilt. But there have been a plenty of others where a
defendant's guilt at one point seemed certain and the state's case later
unraveled. There is honest disagreement over what role retribution should play
in the criminal justice system. But it's important to bear in mind that the
desire for retributive justice can easily (and often does) bleed into
vengeance. We want the criminal justice system to seek truth by way of reason,
evidence, fairness, and good judgment. Vengeance doesn't sit well with any of
The 273 DNA exonerations since the early 1990s have uncovered some significant
problems with the criminal justice system. Forensic specialties once thought
foolproof, like fingerprint analysis, hair fiber analysis, and ballistics
identification, have been proven to be flawed, or at least overstated in court.
These exonerations have also confirmed decades of warnings by academics
regarding eyewitness testimony and the reliability of jailhouse informants, as
well as proving that prosecutorial and police misconduct aren't isolated
We now know that people will even confess to crimes they didn't commit. Public
support for the death penalty actually did take a hit when DNA testing first
began to free people in the early 1990s. It peaked at 80 percent in 1994; it's
at 64 % today.
Yet the scientific certainty DNA testing offers, in contrast to most other
forensic specialties, also seems to have reassured the public that we're now
more likely making the right calls. According to Gallup, in 2003, 73 % of
Americans said an innocent person had probably been executed in the previous 5
years. That number dropped to 59 % in 2009. In his concurring opinion in Marsh,
Justice Scalia also wrote that an exoneration "demonstrates not the failure of
the system but its success."
The problem with that logic is that while DNA testing has exposed problems with
the criminal justice system, the set of cases for which DNA testing is
dispositive of guilt is actually quite small. It mostly compromises rapes and
some murders (usually murders that also involve a rape). But it's safe to
assume that the flaws DNA technology has exposed persist outside this small
percentage of cases and likely at about the same rates. For the people wrongly
convicted in that larger pool of cases, there will never be any test to
definitively establish their innocence. But it would be naive to think those
people don't exist.
Once someone has been convicted, the criminal justice system puts a premium on
closure and finality. The burden shifts from the state to the convicted, who
essentially must now prove innocence. There's good reason for this. If we
allowed convicts to challenge their convictions on every bit of flimsy evidence
they can conjure, the system would crumble under the weight of frivolous
But this allegiance to finality was established before DNA showed us just how
error-prone the current system really is. The Troy Davis case is an excellent
example of how the disconnect can play out.
Davis was convicted mostly because of eyewitness testimony. DNA testing has
shown that the alarms psychologists and cognitive scientists have been raising
about eyewitnesses for years were well-founded -- eyewitness misidentification
was a factor in about 75 percent of DNA exoneration cases.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case this fall that could change how this
evidence is presented in courtrooms. Just last month, the New Jersey Supreme
Court issued a sweeping opinion setting new standards for the use of eyewitness
testimony in that state. That's great going forward, but does little to help
those already convicted by faulty eyewitness testimony, especially in cases
like Davis', where the testimony was obtained with methods now known to
substantially increase the odds of misidentification.
It's encouraging that we now recognize the system is flawed. But the courts
haven't yet adjusted the standards for reviewing cases in a way that accounts
for those flaws. Only the near-certainty a DNA test provides can overcome the
courts' preference for finality. So while DNA technology has given us good
reason to believe we're starting to get it right in cases involving DNA
evidence, it has given us more reason to be skeptical of the outcomes in cases
that don't involve DNA. And the certainty of DNA testing may also be giving the
public an increased -- and false -- sense of confidence about the error rate
for that latter, much larger population of cases.
In his 1999 HBO special "You Are All Diseased," the late George Carlin asked
why prison doctors swab a condemned convict's arm with alcohol before
administering the lethal cocktail of drugs that will kill him. "They don't want
you to get an infection!" Carlin exclaimed.
America has come a long way since public hangings. Executions today are carried
out in front of just a few witnesses. Nearly all are now done by lethal
injection, often carried out by doctors. They more resemble a medical
procedure, which conjures thoughts of healing, not of ending the life of an
otherwise healthy person. Part of the continuing public support for the death
penalty may lie in this way the government has sanitized executions to insulate
the public from contemplating what's actually taking place.
There's a common perception that most states have settled on the lethal
injection because it's the least painful form of execution, or at least the
most humane. But the procedure's popularity may lie more in how it protects
witnesses and the public from discomfort (and thus, preserve general support
for the death penalty) than protecting the condemned from excessive suffering.
In 2008, the Supreme Court heard arguments against the three-drug cocktail used
in nearly every state that performs lethal injections. At issue was the drug
pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes the condemned, giving them a placid,
peaceful appearance even if they might be suffering immense pain from an
improper dose of anesthesia.
And there's reason to suspect they might: A 2005 study in the Lancet found that
as many as four in 10 of those executed may have been given inadequate
A large dose of a single barbiturate would kill just as effectively and
painlessly. Opponents say pancuronium bromide isn't necessary, and it masks any
indications a prisoner may be experiencing pain. But as The New York Times'
Adam Liptak reported in 2008, defenders of the three-drug procedure offer an
interesting argument in response. "[L]awyers for John D. Rees, the Kentucky
corrections commissioner, said the three-chemical combination was safe and
painless and produced a dignified death," Liptak wrote. "Using only a single
barbiturate, they said, was untested, could result in distressing and
disruptive muscle contractions, and might take a long time."
Liptak went on to write about how the state of Texas came to adopt the
three-drug protocol. "[T]he medical director of Texas' corrections department,
Dr. Ralph Gray, consulted a veterinarian in Huntsville, Tex., Dr. Gerry
Etheredge," Liptak wrote. Etheredge says he told Gray that in veterinary
medicine, they used a single barbiturate, and that, "we overdosed it and
everything went smoothly. It was very safe, very effective and very cheap." The
problem, Etheredge said, is that Gray feared "people would think we are
treating people the same way that we're treating animals. He was afraid of a
hue and cry."
These anecdotes are telling. Rather than subject witnesses to unnerving
post-mortem twitching by prisoners who are experiencing no pain, prison
officials instead use a procedure that leaves open the possibility of immense,
unimaginable pain, but also ensures that witnesses will see no signs of it.
We've shunned the effective, painless procedure regularly used in veterinary
medicine because we don't want to give the appearance that they're treating
prisoners like animals. But in the process, we may be treating them worse.
Jonathan Groner, the trauma medical director of Children's Hospital in
Columbus, Ohio and a death penalty opponent, told ABC News in 2008, "One of the
great ironies about capital punishment when you look at it historically is that
when executions appear to be more humane, the application of the death penalty
becomes less humane."
When Utah death row inmate Ronnie Lee Gardner asked to die by firing squad last
year for the 1985 murder of a defense attorney, there was some consternation
that such a frontier method of execution could still even be an option in
America. (It's only still used in Utah, and only at the request of the
condemned.) But a number of experts say death by firing squad is swift,
relatively painless and less likely to go wrong than other means of execution.
Groner told ABC News the least painful method of execution may be the
But the idea of bringing back firing squads or the guillotine would make most
Americans cringe -- even ardent death penalty supporters. That we'd recoil from
the idea suggests that we're gauging the humaneness of state executions not by
the swiftness and painlessness they provide for the condemned, but by the
amount of discomfort they arouse in the rest of us. We prefer the method of
execution least likely to remind us that it's actually an execution. And that
suggests that we may not be as comfortable with executions as we think.
Executions themselves are also highly ritualized. State execution protocols
tend to be specific, regimenting blocks of time for visitation with family,
contemplation and spiritual guidance. In most states, the condemned is offered
a last meal. In some states, the prisoner is showered and shaved. In
California, he's given a new uniform just for his execution. Ohio's execution
protocols run hundreds of pages long, and call for meticulous logs of the
prisoner's final hours, sometimes down to the 2nd.
These rituals benefit the people carrying out the execution, giving them some
detachment from what has to be a daunting and emotionally wrenching task. A
checklist of procedures could provide some insulation from the moral weight of
taking a life.
But these rituals also give the impression that such fidelity to procedure was
present throughout the process, and too often that isn't the case. Adhering to
protocols like ensuring the specified number of guards walk the condemned man
from his cell to the death chamber, that his last meal is delivered promptly at
6 p.m., or that he's clean-shaven for his execution seem farcical when states
have tried to execute a man whose court-appointed attorney slept through the
trial, or whose prosecutor and judge didn't disclose that they'd had an affair,
or whose DNA was not compared to that found at the crime scene. In countless
cases, prosecutors have withheld exculpatory evidence.
It shouldn't be surprising to learn that public support for capital punishment
may be based in large part on myths, misconceptions and conscious efforts by
public officials to hide the 'death' part of the death penalty. Misinformation
abounds in other contentious criminal justice issues, too. Polls show most
Americans still think violent crime is on the rise, despite the fact that it's
steeply declined in the past 20 years.
Of course, there are plenty of well-meaning people who are well aware of the
problems outlined above and still genuinely and honestly support capital
punishment. But strong public support for the death penalty in itself isn't a
convincing reason to keep it around.
(source: Radley Balko, Huffington)
Execution delayed for convicted cop killer
The execution of a Florida man convicted of shooting a police officer to death
during a traffic stop in 1978 is being delayed while prison officials await an
order from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sixty-1-year-old Manuel Valle was scheduled to die at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the
Florida State Prison. The governor's office now says prison authorities are
awaiting word from the nation's high court.
Valle shot officer Louis Pena to death. He also shot officer Gary Spell, but he
was saved by his bulletproof vest.
Valle's lawyers have unsuccessfully argued that a new concoction of lethal
drugs would cause him pain and therefore constitute cruel and unusual
The execution was originally scheduled for Aug. 2. It was twice delayed for
appeals that were rejected.
(source: Associated Press)
Spain seeks to halt execution in Florida
Spain sought to intercede at the 11th hour to stay the Wednesday execution of a
Cuban murder convict in Florida who likely has Spanish ancestry, a Spanish
Manuel Valle, a 61-year-old Cuban, has been on Florida's death row for decades
for the 1978 murder of Louis Pena, a 41-year-old police officer. Valle was
scheduled to be put to death at 4:00 pm (2000 GMT) Wednesday.
His execution was set to take place one week after the highly controversial
high-profile execution of Troy Davis, who went to his death proclaiming his
innocence in the murder of a policeman in the state of Georgia.
Spain's envoy to Miami told AFP that Madrid had intervened in the case because
it opposes the death penalty.
"As a matter of principle we wrote yesterday to Florida Governor Rick Scott to
try to prevent this execution, and even though there are just a few hours left
and there has been no positive response, we have not lost hope," Consul General
Cristina Barrios told AFP.
"We took up this case because under our constitution we are a country that
opposes the death penalty," said the diplomat.
Barrios said while the consulate has reason to believe Valle has a Spanish
grandparent, "it was not out of concerns of heritage that we have taken steps
to prevent his execution; it was because it's a humanitarian issue."
Valle could become the 1st inmate put to death in Florida using sodium
pentobarbital in US lethal injections, following domestic shortages of the
previously used anesthetic sodium thiopental.
Danish drugmaker Lundbeck, which produces pentobarbital under the brand name
Nembutal for treatment of epilepsy, said in July it would restrict distribution
of Nembutal after learning that it was being administered by several states as
part of a 3-drug cocktail used to execute death row inmates.
On Monday a neurologist submitted a petition to the Florida Supreme Court
requesting a halt to Valle's execution, claiming that use of pentobarbital in
lethal injections is illegal because the controlled substances act prohibits
its use for non-medical purposes. The court dismissed the suit on Tuesday.
Petitions requesting a stay of execution and a review of the case have been
submitted to the US Supreme Court, according to Valle's lawyer Suzanne Myers
Use of sodium pentobarbital would cause "substantial harm" to Valle, Keffer
told AFP, noting this was one of the issues raised with the nation's highest
Other points made to the court include that Valle was placed on death row in an
"arbitrary manner," never received "full clemency proceedings" and that his
time served is "cruel and unusual punishment," she said.
London-based rights group Reprieve said Valle has not benefited from consular
advice because Florida did not inform Cuba of his arrest.
The Cuban interests section in Washington declined to comment on the case when
contacted by AFP.
Troy Davis's case galvanized global efforts to end capital punishment, and drew
high-profile figures including former US president Jimmy Carter, South Africa's
bishop Desmond Tutu and Pope Benedict XVI.
Davis maintained his innocence until his dying breath and there was a flood of
international condemnation after he was put to death by lethal injection,
despite doubts about his guilt for the 1989 slaying of a white police officer.
(source: Agence France-Presse)
Police may go for death penalty in Miamisburg murder
Police could go for the death penalty for the suspects in the murder of Lisa
Documents indicate that 21-year-old Jamie Shaffer and 26-year-old Josh Sellers
joked about killing Spinks. That was before police found her body along
Shaffer and Sellers were scheduled for arraignment Wednesday.
The Montgomery County Coroner says that Spinks was stabbed numerous times in
During a police interview, Shaffer blamed Sellers for the murder. He says he
watched his friend beat Spinks in the head with a rock at least six times
before dragging her body onto the tracks.
"This is a tragic event that occurred. She was, from everything we know, just a
sweet young girl. We know that it's not a stranger abduction. We know they were
acquaintances, and we have them off the street.", says Police Captain Ronald
Officers have recovered a murder weapon.
(source: WHIO News)
Ohio inmates: execution process unconstitutional
9 condemned Ohio inmates are once again asking a federal judge to find the
state's rules for carrying out executions unconstitutional.
Attorneys for the death row prisoners say the Department of Rehabilitation and
Correction continues to use an arbitrary process with undertrained executioners
and potentially cruel and unusual injection methods.
The prisoners argued in a 102-page court filing Wednesday that the process
still gives the state too much discretion to abandon its rules at the
last-minute during an execution.
U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost halted an execution in July after
agreeing that the process is haphazard. He has yet to rule on the state's
updated procedures meant to address his concerns.
Gov. John Kasich has postponed 2 executions and granted mercy to a 3rd inmate
since Frost's ruling.
(source: Associated Press)
Gaile Owens granted parole
Gaile Owens will be released on parole after the Tennessee Board of Probation
and Parole voted to free her after a quarter-century in prison, according to
Tennessee Department of Correction records.
"This is a beautiful day for our family," Owens' son Stephen Owens said in a
statement released today.
"I am grateful to the parole board for granting parole to my mother, Gaile
Owens, after 26 years in prison. One year ago today was the date that Mom was
to be executed had Gov. Phil Bredesen not commuted her sentence. I will always
be grateful to Gov. Bredesen, to my mother’s legal team, and to the thousands
of friends and strangers who have rallied behind my mom and our family."
Owens will not be released today, said Melissa McDonald, spokeswoman for the
"The next step in the process is for her release plan to be approved. After
that, there is some administrative paper work that must be done. Her release
will probably take place in the next 1 to 3 weeks, although I cannot give you
an exact date now. After her release, she will report regularly to a Probation
and Parole Officer," McDonald said.
The vote comes on the same day that just 1 year ago was set to be when Owens
would die by lethal injection. Her death penalty was commuted, however, by
former Gov. Phil Bredesen.
"We are grateful to Gov. Bredesen, the Board of Probation and Parole, and all
those in the community who have given their love and support to Gaile and her
family," said Owens' attorney, Kelley Henry.
"On this day, which was to be the anniversary of her execution, Gaile has been
given the gift of freedom. We are thrilled for Gaile and her family and remain
committed to helping her transition into the next chapter in her life as a
private citizen, mother, grandmother, and friend."
Owens, 58, was convicted in 1986 of arranging to have her husband killed after
she said she endured years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
Owens appeared at her first parole hearing Sept. 7 where she received her 1st
crucial parole board vote after tearful testimony from herself, her family and
her supporters. Board Member Patsy Bruce told Owens that it would be rare for
her to be released during her first try at parole. Board Members Ronnie Cole,
Joe Hill and Lisa Jones also voted to parole Owens, McDonald said.
Chairman Charles Traughber and Board Member Chuck Taylor voted to reject her
The case has garnered national attention as details emerged that Owens may have
suffered from battered woman syndrome. At her parole hearing, she testified
that she suffered sexual assaults and physical abuse.
In 1984, Owens testified at her hearing, after being humiliated and slapped in
front of a woman her husband was cheating with, she decided to kill her
husband. She scoured the streets of Memphis, offering $5,000 to $10,000 to
anyone willing to kill her husband.
She found a man willing to do it, Sidney Porterfield, now 68. Porterfield
struck her husband, Ron Owens, 21 times with a tire iron, killing him. He was
Details of that abuse however never made it to her trial. She has said she
wanted to spare her children from having to hear details of that abuse. She was
convicted in 1986 and sentenced to die.
(source: The Tennessean)
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