[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, KY., FLA., US MIL., DEL.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Fri Feb 3 18:32:49 CST 2012
Insiders speak out on the death penalty
Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment was legal in 1976,
the state of Texas has executed 478 people.
For many Americans, the death penalty is seen as a part of a complex judicial
system that ultimately protects the majority from a dangerous minority.
Except in cases of extreme controversy like that of Troy Davis in September,
the death penalty is an issue that often goes ignored by the American public.
"If you think this is not your issue, I would urge you to get out of your
naiveté," Rick Halperin, director of the SMU Embrey Human Rights program, said
to a packed McCord Auditorium.
In the upcoming presidential election, candidates on both sides of the aisle
are for the death penalty.
"You should really be aware of the implications of your voting. You are voting
for people who have said they would kill someone," Halperin said.
A panel discussion on the death penalty in Texas on Thursday night portrayed an
often-untold perspective of capital punishment.
Exonerees Anthony Graves and Clarence Brandley along with the Rev. Carroll
Pickett, a former death row chaplain, presented their arguments against a
punishment often described as inhumane.
"Most of you weren't even born when I went through this hell 23 years ago,"
Brandley was wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of a 16-year-old
student. He spent 9 years on death row.
His 1st trial ended in a hung jury. But just a few weeks later, he was
sentenced to death.
Brandley was desperate for media and legal attention when an overzealous
prosecution convicted him.
"I passed my polygraph test and no one cared," Brandley said. "But if I had
failed, all the news media would have been all over it."
He urged the crowd to carefully examine the merits of the justice system in
America before deciding on the capital punishment issue.
"Don't let anyone tell you that your vote doesn't count," Brandley said. "I
don't understand how someone can sign a death warrant and go to bed that night.
I don't know what kind of God he serves."
Brandley's impassionate speech for political activism was followed by the Rev.
Pickett's discussion on the evolution of his views on the death penalty.
"I was in favor of the death penalty because my grandfather was murdered when
my father was just 12," Pickett said. "I assumed that no one was just found to
be guilty without cause."
Pickett was known as the death chaplain at the Huntsville prison because he was
the last religious figure that saw death row inmates before their executions.
The former chaplain now regrets his former stance on the death penalty issue.
"I buried 4,000 inmates who died in prison and watched over 95 executions,"
Pickett said. "The longer I was at the prison and talked to people, I realized
that the death penalty was wrong."
Pickett listed multiple reasons for why the death penalty was not a practical
He listed the high public costs of the death penalty, cruel and unusual
treatment of prisoners and the ineffectiveness of the death penalty as a crime
deterrent as reasons to look at other punishment alternatives.
However, Pickett saved his best reasons for last.
"We have executed innocent people because of faulty eyewitness testimony,"
Pickett said. "And even worse, before someone dies, they strip search him and
leave him naked in a 9-by-9 room waiting to die."
A silent crowd, shocked by the horrors of capital punishment, listened to
Anthony Graves' story on how he spent 18 years in jail.
Graves was wrongfully convicted of killing four children, one teenager and an
"I didn't even know the family. I didn't live in that area," Graves said.
A single personal statement caused the Texas Rangers to pursue Graves for the
"It was never about seeking the truth [in my case]. Someone just had to pay for
the horrendous crime," Graves said.
Graves criticized the lack of accountability and checks in the judicial system.
"Prosecutors have total immunity. Politicians have no accountability," Graves
said. "This whole notion of ‘innocent until proven guilty' should be thrown out
According to Graves, there is a very real racial problem in the American
"The post-racial era is a myth. Ask my mother if race doesn't matter when you
go to prison and you'll know the truth," Graves said.
In front of an audience that did not take its eyes off the emotional Graves, he
called for individual action from everyone in the crowd.
"No one here cared when I was locked up, and it's because all of this is being
done in your name," Graves said. "You should never buy into the story that the
death penalty makes society better and safer. All the power rests in your
hands. It's time to hold people accountable."
(source: SMU Daily Campus)
Exoneree: Guantanamo Bay Is "Peanuts Compared to What's Going On In" Texas
?As "the death chaplain" at Huntsville prison, Reverend Carroll Pickett has
counseled 95 prisoners, one at a time, on the day the state has scheduled to
end their life. Death by lethal injection, the chaplain found, is not a quiet
exit. It's torturous. It's not fool-proof. And there's no guarantee that
everyone put to death is guilty.
"That cruel and unusual punishment starts the minute they walk in the death
house ... It's not painless. It is not painless," Pickett said last night at
SMU, where was joined for a panel discussion by death row exonerees Anthony
Graves and Clarence Brandley. (Brandley also spoke at an SMU death row exoneree
panel last year).
"There are botched executions. I've been there. I saw it," Pickett said.
He supported capital punishment when he started his job in 1982, but death
after tortuous death wore away at him. "This one young man, they tried and they
tried and they tried, and they couldn't find a place to put a needle in that
would flow properly," he said.
The man had abused drugs enough to know how to effectively tap into his veins.
He was permitted to sit up and demonstrate the most effective way to put him to
death. His instructions worked, the lethal liquids flowed, and his life
drained. After 45 minutes of being stuck with needles, "he just wanted the pain
over," Pickett said.
Graves was sentenced to lay on the same gurney for a 1992 murder. The original
suspect, who has since been put to death for the brutal small-town Texas
homicide, told police that Graves was also involved. After awaiting trial for
two and a half years, Graves went to trial in front of a jury of 11 white
people and 1 black man. The black foreman of the jury tearfully handed the
judge the verdict: guilty. Like his accuser, Graves was sentenced to death.
He later learned that prosecutors had withheld the man's admission that he
lied, and that the prosecution said they would charge the man's wife if he did
not implicate Graves. "We have a failed and broken system today," Graves said,
stressing a lack in accountability.
"It changed my whole world. It changed the world of my family," Graves said. "I
was the next dead man walking for a crime I did not commit."
"All that stuff that's going on in Guantanamo Bay, that's peanuts compared to
what's going on in your backyard," Graves said. "I was a good father, but the
state of Texas took that from me in your name."
In 2010, after 18 years in prison, police came to Graves's cell and walked him
down the hall to meet his attorney. The charges against him had been dropped,
she told him. That day, he walked out of prison unshackled and in civilian
clothes. He called his mother from the parking lot.
"Mom, what are you cooking?" he asked, as he always had from prison. This time,
instead of imagining the food, he told her, "Your son is coming home."
Across the United States, 3,200 people are currently on death row; Texas has
put the most people to death "out of any jurisdiction anywhere in the free
world," said Dr. Rick Halperin, SMU human rights program director.
"The death penalty is not an act; the death penalty is a process ... of
psychological torture that either can conclude in an execution or can conclude
in a release," Halperin said. He added that the death certificates filled out
when prisoners pass away have several options under "Cause of Death," and that
a specific box is checked when a prisoner is purposefully put to death:
(source: Dallas Observer)
Death row inmate wins new punishment hearing
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has thrown out the death sentence of a
convicted killer because jurors couldn't adequately consider evidence of his
difficult childhood when they were deciding his punishment.
Rodney Rachal has been on death row since March 1993 for the robbery and fatal
shooting of Charles Washington at a Houston apartment complex in 1990.
Rachal's trial in October 1992 came during a time before guidelines covering
punishment phases of capital murder trials were refined by rulings from the
U.S. Supreme Court.
The appeals court in 2009 asked his trial court to review the case. The Austin
court's decision Wednesday backed the findings of the trial court that the
41-year-old Rachal deserves a new punishment hearing.
There was evidence that Rachel was a troubled and impoverished youth.
(source: Associated Press)
KENTUCKY----new death sentence
Judge sentences escapee to death in 1991 slaying
Kentucky prosecutors have been working for 2 decades to make a death sentence
stick against 55-year-old Michael Dale St. Clair. They succeeded Wednesday in
persuading a judge yet again to apply that penalty against St. Clair for the
1991 kidnapping of a distillery worker who later turned up dead.
In Elizabethtown, Special Judge Thomas O. Castlen ordered St. Clair to be
executed for the 1991 kidnapping death of Francis "Frank" Brady of Bardstown.
Prosecutors had sought a death sentence in Hardin County because that's where
Brady was last seen. He was subsequently found shot to death in Bullitt County
— the last act of a multi-state crime spree that began when St. Clair and a
fellow inmate escaped from an Oklahoma prison where each was serving time for
St. Clair and fellow escapee, Dennis Gene Reese, were the subjects of a
nation-wide manhunt when they kidnapped and handcuffed Brady at a rest stop off
Interstate 65 near Elizabethtown. The 2 men took Brady's truck and drove to a
secluded area near Lebanon Junction. That's where St. Clair ordered Brady out
of the truck and shot him execution style, prosecutors said. The capture of St.
Clair shortly after Brady's death drew headlines around the country, while
police caught up with Reese 3 months later.
Castlen also sentenced St. Clair to 35 years in prison for receiving stolen
property, criminal attempted murder and criminal facilitation of arson. The
judge set an execution date of March 30, but prosecutors said that will likely
be stayed as St. Clair appeals.
A jury on Jan. 23 convicted St. Clair of capital kidnapping in Brady's death
recommended a death sentence, marking the third time Hardin County jurors have
taken such an action against St. Clair. The jury was empaneled following a
reversal by the Kentucky Supreme Court in 2010 on an evidentiary ruling. The
ruling marked the 4th time St. Clair's conviction or death sentence had been
(source: Associated Press)
Florida Supreme Court upholds death sentence for Orlando twin Donte
Hall----Victims were guests at a party robbed by twins
The Florida Supreme Court Wednesday upheld the conviction and death sentence of
Donte Hall, an Orlando twin who opened fire with an AK-47 on guests at a Eustis
house party, killing 2 Lake County men.
The gunfire inside the house known as "The Valley" killed Anthony Bernard
Blunt, 35, of Mount Dora, and Kison Evans, 32, of Tavares, and seriously
injured two others. None of the victims knew Hall or his twin, Dante.
The holdup was arranged by Hall with the help of his 18-year-old girlfriend,
Angel Glenn, who had been hired to dance and strip at the private party. Hall
and his twin believed they would score money, jewelry and drugs in the armed
heist on Sept. 8, 2006. They and 2 accomplices, identified only by the
nicknames of "Pig" and "Shoo Shoo," wore masks when they broke into the house
on Gottsche Avenue, waving guns.
They were led to the party house with directions supplied by Glenn.
Lawyers for Hall, now 27, contend that the death sentence was
"disproportionate" because his brother was sentenced to life and his girlfriend
was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Appellate lawyers also argued
unsuccessfully that the crime was not "heinous, atrocious and cruel," an
aggravating circumstance used to apply the death penalty.
But the justices, in a nearly unanimous opinion, noted Hall's lead role in the
crime and pointed out that the killings involved "unnecessary agony." Glenn
provided crucial testimony that led to the arrests and convictions of the
Death penalty hearing set for dad in baby killing case----Keith Skinner is
charged with 1st-degree murder in the death of his 7-month-old son, Triumph
Circuit Judge Janet Thorpe denied motions made by the attorney for accused baby
killer Keith Skinner to disqualify the death penalty in the 1st-degree murder
Skinner's case is set to go to trial in the next year and he could face death
in the 2010 beating death of his 7-month-old son.
Skinner's attorney Gerard Hooper made several arguments to have capital
punishment precluded from the trial, going so far as to ask Judge Thorpe to
declare Florida's death penalty law unconstitutional.
But the judge rejected Hooper's petition and set a date to move forward with
The boy, whose name was Triumph, died in September 2010 after suffering a
"perforated bowel" and a "severely fractured skull" when he was taken to the
hospital, officials said at the time. He also had fractured ribs in "various
stages of healing."
During an interview with detectives, the child's mother initially said she was
in the bathroom getting ready for work when the baby fell from a bed and hit
his head on something. She later changed her story and said Skinner, her
boyfriend and father of Triumph was caring for the children while she was at
Skinner, 31, told his girlfriend then that he had "rough him [Triumph] up."
During an interview with detectives, Skinner initially denied knowing his child
was hurt. He later said he went home drunk on Friday night and "stepped" on the
boy's stomach and could have caused the injuries, the report said.
Skinner claimed he didn't know how the boy's skull was fractured, but admitted
he regularly throws Triumph in the air and dropped him on accident once and
that could have caused the rib fractures.
(source for both: Orlando Sentinel)
Man on death row for 1992 Daytona murder wants new trial
A convicted killer who has already lost numerous appeals since he was sentenced
to die for first-degree murder in 1993 will be brought in front of a judge
today to argue for a new trial.
James "Psycho" Hunter was 21 when sentenced to death for the Sept. 17, 1992,
shooting death of Bethune-Cookman College student Wayne Simpson, who was 19.
The killing occurred during a robbery just off campus, in front of a sandwich
shop owned by Simpson's father. At the time, prosecutors presented testimony
that Hunter and three other men had just come from robbing a man in DeLand.
Much has changed since then. The electric chair is no longer used and Gayle
Graziano, who presided over the 2-week trial, is no longer a judge. Hunter, who
disrupted the trial with outbursts and fingers pointed at deputies in the
courtroom, is now 40.
In 1995, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence of
Hunter in the automatic review given to all capital cases.
Since then, Hunter, who insisted on his innocence and vowed he would return a
free man, has lost several appeals.
His newest effort is based on what Hunter claims is new evidence. He intends to
present testimony from a co-defendant, Charles Anderson, who has signed a sworn
statement that Hunter was not part of the robbery in Deland.
The defense will then argue for a new trial, because the DeLand robbery was
used as an aggravator in obtaining the death penalty for Hunter. Anderson, who
pleaded to the murder and robberies in Daytona Beach, is serving a life
Simpson, a sophomore at the historic black college, was sitting outside the
Munch Shoppe at 556 Dr. Mary McCleod Bethune Blvd. with three friends.
Simpson, Michael Howard, who was 21 at the time, Taurus Cooley, who was 19, and
Theodore Troutman, 20, were confronted by Hunter and three other men, including
Anderson, who were armed with pistols, police said.
Simpson and his friends were all shot by Hunter, according to testimony. All
except Simpson survived.
The hearing, before Circuit Judge Frank Marriott, is expected to take all day.
(source: Daytona Beach News-Jouranl)
Pentagon won’t slow 9/11 death penalty filings----A senior Pentagon official
told defense lawyers to write him by Monday on why the Sept. 11 mass murder
file should not go forward as a death-penalty case.
A senior Pentagon official on Friday refused to delay a pre-arraignment phase
in the prosecution of five Guantánamo captives accused of conspiring in the
Sept. 11 attacks.
Defense lawyers had asked to delay at least until this summer the process of
filing memorandum on why the 9/11 trial should not go forward as a capital
They cited an ongoing dispute over the prison camps handling of privileged
attorney-client mail, now being addressed in several courts, as well as delays
by some defense lawyers in meeting with their alleged terrorist clients.
But the Pentagon official, retired Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald, wrote 9/11
defense lawyers on Friday that Monday was still the deadline to argue in
writing why life imprisonment — not military execution — should be the maximum
possible penalty in the future tribunals of confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid
Sheik Mohammed and four other alleged conspirators.
Under that timetable, the Sept. 11 accused could be brought before a judge for
arraignment at Guantánamo’s Camp Justice as early as March. In the case of
Ramzi bin al Shibh, who allegedly put together the German hijackers’ cell, his
military lawyer has argued the Yemeni was likely not mentally fit to stand
trial because Guantánamo medical staff had him on psychotropic drugs. His
civilian lawyer, Buffalo attorney James P. Harrington, said he had no time to
make any form of a “mitigation argument” before Monday’s deadline.
MacDonald approved Harrington’s appointment in July. But U.S. intelligence
agencies didn’t grant him permission to meet the former CIA captive until
“I only met my client 2 weeks ago,” Harrington told The Miami Herald. “I just
got a security clearance; there is no way we can do it.” MacDonald made clear
in his rejection of the pleas for delay that the law does not require him to
consider defense lawyers’ arguments against military execution as the ultimate
penalty in a Guantánamo military commission case.
“Considering the seriousness of the charges and the potential penalty, I
concluded it was appropriate to do so in this case, but only if the defense
could submit such matters in a timely manner,” he wrote Navy Cmdr. Walter Ruiz,
defending Saudi captive Mustafa al Hawsawi. “You were given more than adequate
time in which to prepare matters in mitigation for my consideration.”
(source: Miami Herald)
Judge rejects appeal of death-row inmate Ploof
A Delaware Superior Court judge has upheld the conviction and death sentence of
a former Dover Air Force Base sergeant who killed his wife to collect on her
Gary Ploof was convicted of shooting of his wife, Heidi, as she sat in her car
in the parking lot of a Dover Wal-Mart in 2001.
Ploof claimed that his wife committed suicide, but store security cameras
captured him at the scene.
Ploof argued a laundry list of issues on appeal, including that his lawyers
were ineffective and that there were problems with the selection and conduct of
But the judge ruled this week that none of Ploof's arguments was sufficient to
overturn his conviction and sentence.
Ploof lost a state Supreme Court appeal in 2004.
(source: Associated Press)
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