[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----DEL., FLA., ILL., CALIF.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Fri Apr 20 11:15:37 CDT 2012
Johnson executed minutes before deadline----State kills condemned man at 2:55
Condemned killer Shannon M. Johnson received his wish this morning, despite
legal wrangling that appeared to halt his execution as a 3 a.m. deadline
State law mandates executions occur by lethal injection between 12:01 a.m. and
3 a.m. Johnson was pronounced dead at 2:55 a.m.
Ever since Johnson was found guilty in 2008 of the murder of Cameron Hamlin, he
has told any attorney, court or jury that would listen to hurry up and put him
“Now is the time for us to focus on getting our lives together and have some
closure in our lives because it’s been a long road since Cameron Hamlin was
brutally murdered by Shannon Johnson,” said the victim’s father, Vandrick
Hamlin Sr., at a press conference following the execution. The elder Hamlin was
accompanied by his wife, Cynthia, and their two children, Vandrick Jr. and
Jasmine. “We can begin healing … this morning.”
No one from Johnson's family was at the execution, according to Department of
Correction officials, or spoke at the briefing at Vaughn Correctional Center
In the death chamber, Johnson did not appear to look at the witnesses after the
curtains were opened. Johnson could be seen strapped to a table with his arms
He never raised his head to look around, though he could be seen blinking and
licking his lips. He stared straight up at the ceiling.
When Warden Perry Phelps told him it was time for his last words, he spoke
briefly in a low voice that none of the media witnesses was able to hear.
“Loyalty is important. Without loyalty you have nothing. Death before
dishonor,” said Johnson, according to the Department of Correction.
He then made a statement in Arabic, closed his eyes and never reopened them.
A few moments after he stopped speaking his chest began to heave for a few
seconds, then slowed and stopped. He did not appear to move again after that
After a few minutes, the curtains were closed and Phelps performed a
consciousness check, saying loudly, “Inmate Johnson, can you hear me? Inmate
Johnson can you hear me?”
There was no response, the witness room was quiet and the curtains opened again
briefly. Johnson never moved. The curtains were closed and 15 minutes after
witnesses were admitted to the room, it was over.
Johnson’s sister, Lakeisha Truitt, had led the effort to spare his life with
the aid of the Federal Defenders office.
After gaining a stay for the second time in three days from a U.S. District
Court judge late Thursday, it appeared Johnson might be spared.
But an appeals court judge’s decision to allow the execution and the 2:15 a.m.
decision by the full 3rd District U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to not hear
Johnson's case ended the legal challenges.
Witnesses boarded a bus to the execution chamber about 2 a.m.
“The Third Circuit’s decision put an end to further federal challenges to the
sentence. Our thoughts tonight are with the Hamlin family, Lakeisha Truitt and
her family, and all of those who have suffered from Mr. Johnson’s callous
crimes. May God rest his soul,” Gov. Jack Markell said in a statement.
Johnson’s attorney, Jennifer-Kate Aaronson, noted the significance of Johnson’s
“And it is just as important for an attorney to be loyal to a client. That was
my responsibility, to be loyal and I did that,” she said.
The evening was filled with emotion from protesters outside the prison’s gates
as supporters and opponents of capital punishment were yards away from each
“Tonight I grieve the death of a person, the tragic waste of a life,” said the
Rev. Bruce Gillette, pastor of Limestone Presbyterian Church in Pike Creek. He
said he considered the suffering of the victim’s family but “I don’t think this
will give ultimate comfort to them, nor do I think it will reduce violent
“We’re here for the victims,” said 36-year-old Sherry Steller, a Smyrna
resident who was in the death penalty support camp. “Somebody has to speak up
for the victims.”
Hamlin was an aspiring musician who had begun dating Johnson’s ex-girlfriend –
mother of a child by Johnson – in September 2006. On the evening of Sept. 24,
2006, Johnson set out to find the woman in hopes of reconciling after years
He found her in front of her home, sitting in a car with Hamlin. After a brief
exchange with the woman, Johnson abruptly pulled out a gun and began firing
into the car.
Though Hamlin was fatally injured, he managed to put the car in gear and step
on the accelerator, crashing a short distance away, but going far enough to
allow the woman to flee, saving her life.
According to prosecutors, Johnson then stalked the ex-girlfriend for several
weeks, catching up with her on Nov. 10, 2006, when she returned home for the
1st time after Hamlin’s slaying. Johnson, who evaded detection by sometimes
dressing in the all-covering garb of a Muslim woman with only his eyes exposed,
fired at and hit the woman, smashed the window of her car and pulled her out.
Prosecutors said the only reason he stopped the assault and fled is because his
After his arrest 5 days later, prosecutors said Johnson tried to hire an inmate
who was going to be released to kill the woman and prevent her testimony.
Following the execution, the victim’s family was asked how they felt about the
lengthy delays this evening.
“We waited patiently,” Vandrick Hamlin Sr. said. “We waited almost 6 years, so
a few hours wasn’t going to bother us. We just knew, it was a matter of time,
Mr. Johnson would be put to death tonight.”
Johnson becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death this year in
Delaware and the 16th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in
Johnson becomes the 15th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the
USA and the 1292nd overall since the nation resumed executions on January 17,
(sources: News Journal and Rick Halperin)
State legislator speaks against death penalty
Getting a bill passed is not easy. It does not happen quickly. But state Rep.
Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda is not easily deterred.
She visited Gainesville Wednesday to talk about her efforts to repeal Florida's
death penalty, encouraging local activists not to give up.
She has introduced a bill to repeal the death penalty twice now, first in 201,
when it got read on the House floor before being voted down 119 to 2, and then
earlier this year when it died in the criminal justice subcommittee. But she
doesn't seem at all discouraged when she says, "I'm going to file this each
Sister Dorothea Murphy was the 1st to arrive for Wednesday's event, sponsored
by Gainesville Citizens for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and hosted by St.
Beside the chairs set up for the evening's audience sat a table stacked with
pamphlets, handouts and a pair of binders. One contained letters from death row
inmates. The other contained several news clippings, one of which was a 2005
Gainesville Sun article about Murphy.
Murphy looked it over, laughing, as she said, "I forgot that I said that to the
governor," referring to a quote in the article. "I called the governor a
That very statement represents the gist of the moral argument against the death
penalty, one preached by the Catholic Church and advocated by Gainesville
Citizens for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
But at this event, Murphy listened as Vasilinda told the audience that
re-framing their argument could help to get through to the politicians who they
want to reach.
She shared what she called a "life philosophy," saying, "Nothing major ever
changes for one reason."
There are arguments against the death penalty from a moral standpoint, but
there are also arguments against it from standpoints of being fiscally
conservative and tough on crime, Vasilinda said.
"There's no study out there, and I challenge anybody to show me there is, that
shows the death penalty is a deterrent [for crime]," she said.
Vasilinda argues that its repeal could serve the state by freeing up the $45
million spent annually on death row and execution costs to be used for things
that actually work to lessen crime, like funding training and other law
enforcement resources, like laboratories and equipment, and putting more
officers on the street. These are factors, she explained, that will catch the
attention of her colleagues, other lawmakers, in Tallahassee.
Audience member Meghan Meyer asked Vasilinda what role she thought the issue of
exoneration plays in changing people's minds about the death penalty. Meyer
explained that she worked on wrongful conviction cases when she was a college
student in Illinois, where she said, "college students exonerated an
embarrassing number of people."
Illinois repealed its death penalty in 2011. Its number of exonerations is
second only to Florida, which at 23 is the highest in the country. The first of
Florida's death row inmates to ever be exonerated is David Keaton. He shared
his story with the audience on Wednesday, concluding that "the thing that hurt
me the most was that I was convicted of a crime I didn't commit, because I
believed in the system." He thought that if someone went to jail, they were the
bad guy. They were there for a reason. "But the state of Florida changed my
To learn more about David Keaton and other death row exonerees, visit
(source: The Gainesville Sun)
Exonerated man wants death penalty abolished across nation
Sentenced to death by lethal injection for a double homicide, Chicagoan Nathson
“Nate” Fields just about lost all hope when a fellow inmate showed him a
newspaper article in 1991 that said the judge who convicted Fields was charged
with taking a bribe.
“I thanked the Lord and I cried,” Fields recalled Thursday while speaking at
Fields spent more than 11 years on Death Row and nearly 18 years behind bars
before being exonerated 3 years ago in the double murder of gang members Jerome
Smith and Talman Hickman outside a Chicago public housing complex on April 28,
Speaking as part of a program called “From Death Row to Freedom: An Innocent
Man’s Journey,” Fields said he wants the death penalty — which was abolished in
Illinois last year — snuffed out across the nation.
He said the human element of making mistakes is just too strong and too serious
when the ultimate punishment is the consequence. In baseball, an umpire can
reverse a bad call; not so when it comes to capital punishment, Field said.
“You can’t bring a man back from the grave,” he said. “A baseball player can
return to the field.”
Fields won a new trial after Cook County Judge Thomas Maloney was sent to
prison after his 1993 conviction for taking a $10,000 bribe in Fields’ case
from the attorney of Fields’ co-defendant.
He was found not guilty in spring 2009 and awarded a Certificate of Innocence
later that year. Fields works with a group called Witness to Innocence and has
spoken across the country about his ordeal. While he was locked up in an 8-foot
by 9-foot cell 23 hours a day, 11 people were executed and others died of poor
medical care. He has a pending case against Cook County for $360 million in
Fields said he was robbed of precious years of being a father and didn’t get to
go to his mother’s funeral.
He also wants an apology.
“I’m not angry (about the wrongful conviction),” Fields said. “I’m just happy
the Lord let me live through this so I could tell my story.”
Fields was joined by Rob Warden, an award-winning journalist and executive
director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University.
While Fields’ case had to do with a crooked judge, Warden pointed to numerous
other cases in Illinois that were reversed because defendants gave false
Warden said law enforcement often brainwashes defendants into admitting guilt,
interrogates them for days or feed them false promises that if they confess
they could avoid more serious charges going forward.
“We can’t imagine any circumstance in which (a false confession) would occur.
But we know it’s amazingly prevalent,” he said. “Most of these are simply
Warden said 53 of the 101 documented wrongful convictions in Illinois have
involved false confessions.
(source: The Daily Herald)
Lawsuit seeks drug change to speed execution of death-row inmate
The killer of a woman brutally murdered more than 30 years ago still sits on
death row. The victim's brother is suing to resume executions in California.
The lawsuit seeks to end the legal logjam that has put a hold on executions at
San Quentin State Prison for six years. The delays involve questions over the
use of lethal injections.
More than 700 inmates sit on California's death row. Not one has been executed
in 6 years. Former governors Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian are on a team of
lawyers seeking to help the families of murdered victims.
"I get sick to my stomach," said Bradley Winchell, the victim's brother. "I am
asking this court to set it right."
Bradley Winchell says he's been waiting more than three decades for closure.
His sister Terri was brutally murdered and raped in 1981 in a Lodi vineyard.
Her convicted killer, Michael Morales, sits on San Quentin's death row and is
one of 14 inmates who have exhausted all their appeals.
But just as Morales was about to be executed in 2006, a judge granted a
reprieve, allowing Morales's lawsuit to move forward after he claimed the
3-drug lethal injection method was cruel and unusual punishment.
Winchell just filed a lawsuit of his own, saying he's waited long enough. He
wants the state to resume executions by moving to a 1-drug process currently
used in other states.
"I consider 31 years excessive delay, injury to not only myself but my family,"
California's death penalty has been criticized for many years. Delays often
result in decades passing before an execution is carried out.
"It's a sad state of affairs when those officials with the duty to execute the
law care so little about the rights of victims of crime," said Kent
Scheidegger, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.
Opponents of California's death penalty have been trying to get rid of it for
years, citing a report that found it costs taxpayers $184 million per year to
operate. They say if Winchell and his attorneys want to change the 3-drug
protocol, they can formally ask the California Department of Corrections and
"They need to put that into procedure, they need to submit it for public
comment, they need to have a hearing and do exactly what they did when they set
up the 3-drug," said Christine Thomas, Campaign to End the Death Penalty.
The Corrections Dept. can't comment because it hasn't been served with the
lawsuit, but Winchell's attorneys say they've been unsuccessful in trying to
get the agency use the 1-drug method.
Winchell thinks the courts are the only way to let his sister rest in peace.
"This will add a little bit of closure if we do get the executions back on
track," said Winchell.
5 states in as many years abolished the death penalty. Next week, opponents of
the death penalty are expected to announce that they've qualified an initiative
to do the same and let California voters decide.
(source: KABC News)
International Commission Against the Death Penalty
The International Commission will make its 1st US mission a visit to California
in April of 2012. The delegation will be led by International Commission
President Federico Mayor Zaragoza of Spain, former Director General of UNESCO,
and will include Commissioner Rodolfo Mattarollo of Argentina, who has a long
and distinguished human rights career, including heading special UN missions in
Bolivia, Sierre Leone and Haiti. They will be accompanied by International
Commission Secretary General Asunta Vivó Cavaller.
As the host for the International Commission delegation, Death Penalty Focus
has organized a number of special events. We will hold a Forum on International
Law Enforcement Views on the Death Penalty at Golden Gate University School of
Law in San Francisco. DPF Executive Director Jeanne Woodford will participate
in that forum, with International Commissioner Mattarollo and former Los
Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti. DPF President Mike Farrell will
moderate. The delegation will visit San Quentin State Prison and the State
Capitol in Sacramento. Commission President Mayor will participate in a special
panel on the death penalty and the Latino communities of California at UCLA Law
School on April 26. He will be joined in that forum by DPF Justice Advocate
Franky Carrillo, CCV Northern California Outreach Coordinator Deldelp Medina
and a member of the clergy of the Catholic Church.
International Law Enforcement Views on the Death Penalty
Tuesday April 24, 2012 from noon to 2pm
Golden Gate University Room 2203, San Francisco, CA
For more information, please contact Elizabeth Zitrin at
ezitrin at deathpenalty.org
More information about the DeathPenalty