[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----IOWA, N.C., CALIF., OHIO
rhalperi at smu.edu
Wed Feb 8 10:44:09 CST 2012
Bill seeks to reinstate death penalty in Iowa
The leader of the Senate Republican minority is pushing to reinstate a limited
death penalty in Iowa for any adult who kills a minor in the commission of a
rape or kidnapping.
Majority Democrats say it's a political ploy to interject a distracting social
issue during a session focused on job creation and reforming the state's
property tax, education and mental-health systems.
Senate Republican leader Jerry Behn of Boone said he introduced the
death-penalty measure this session as he has done in previous years as a way to
deter perpetrators of class A felonies in Iowa from killing their minor victims
who may later identify them or testify against them.
"In essence, it is an incentive in Iowa right now to murder your victim so
there are no witnesses," Behn said. "This adds a level to that to provide a
Senate File 2095 would establish effective Jan. 1, 2013, a two-tiered judicial
process for criminals -- charged with kidnapping and/or raping a victim under
the age of 18 and then killing the minor -- who are later convicted of at least
two Class A offenses currently punishable by life prison terms. A separate
court proceeding would be held to determine whether the perpetrator would be
executed using lethal injection.
The bill provides for an automatic review of any death-penalty sentence by the
Iowa Supreme Court. To be eligible for capital punishment, a convicted
defendant would have to be at least 18 years of age at the time the offenses
were committed, must not be mentally ill or mentally retarded, and would have
to "have been a major participant in the commission of the crime or must have
shown a manifest indifference to human life," according to the proposed
Sen. Eugene Fraise, D-Fort Madison, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee,
said Tuesday he already has decided S.F. 2095 will not be considered in
committee this session.
"We won't take it up," he said. "This issue's been around for a long time. It's
been turned down."
Fraise noted that Republicans controlled both chambers of the General Assembly
during Branstad's 4th term and did not debate the capital punishment issue.
"It seems to me like it's a political gimmick (for Republicans) to say they
(Democrats) wouldn't bring up the death penalty," he said. "They've had their
chances over the years to do it, but I won't support it. We've always said that
we sentence people to death in the institutions. They spend the rest of their
life there until they die there. To me, it's a far harsher sentence than just
the death penalty. They have to think about what they did forever, so that to
me is a far harsher penalty than the death penalty."
Branstad said he supports a limited death penalty in circumstances involving
multiple Class A felonies as a deterrent for someone already facing a life
prison sentence "from killing more people, figuring that improves their chance
of getting away with it or killing the rape or kidnap victim."
The governor, a Boone Republican currently in the second year of his fifth,
four-year term, said he chose not to include a death-penalty proposal in his
2012 legislative package because "I don't think it's going to go anywhere in
the Senate. I want to focus on things that we can get done."
Capital punishment ended in Iowa in February 1965. The last person put to death
under Iowa's former capital-punishment statute was Victor Feguer, who was
executed in March 1963 for killing a Dubuque doctor.
(source: Sioux City Journal)
Death penalty case puts racism on trial in North Carolina
In North Carolina, the Racial Justice Act seeks to remedy years of inequity on
death row. But can racism be regulated?
In 1991, 18-year-old Marcus Reymond Robinson and a friend convinced Erik
Tornblom, 17, to give them a ride home from a gas station.
Robinson and his friend then pulled a gun on Tornblom, forced him to drive to a
field, took his car and his money and shot him in the head.
A jury later convicted Robinson, who is black, of pulling the trigger on
Tornblom, who was white. The prosecution presented evidence that Robinson said
he wanted to kill a "whitey".
He was sentenced to death and scheduled to be executed in 2007. But like many
death row convicts, he has survived past that date, and continues to appeal his
Last week, he appeared in a North Carolina courtroom as the first death row
inmate to present evidence under North Carolina's Racial Justice Act (RJA), a
controversial law designed to compensate for bias in the judicial system.
He and his legal team are hoping the new law will offer him relief in the form
of life in prison without parole.
In the process, they're putting racism itself on trial.
Critics of the death penalty have long argued that it is applied in an uneven
and unjust fashion.
"Currently, only about 1% of the people who are accused of intentional murder
are receiving the death penalty. There are wild disparities," says Malcolm
Hunter, one of Robinson's lawyers and executive director of the Center for
Death Penalty Litigation.
Marcus Robinson was found guilty of killing Erik Tornblom "I could show you the
summaries of 50 cases any year in North Carolina and say 'I want to pick out
the 2 or 3 that get the death penalty', and you'd never be able to do it."
A series of studies over the past 30 years show that race is often a
significant factor in who gets the death penalty: that black convicts are more
likely to receive the death penalty than white ones, that white victims are
more likely to result in a death sentence than black ones.
For Shirley Burns, the mother of Robinson, the idea of sentencing bias isn't
just an academic exercise. Her other son, Curtis, was killed in 2006.
His killer wasn't eligible for the death penalty but could have served life in
prison. Thanks to a plea bargain, he is currently serving a 22-year sentence.
"Punishment for a crime is not wrong, but the way that it is dealt to different
people is wrong," says Ms Burns.
Though it is currently unconstitutional to seek the death penalty for racially
biased reasons, defendants must prove intentional bigotry to make their case.
That's a difficult order, says Frank Baumgartner, a professor of political
science at the University of North Carolina.
"You would have to get someone to say I did this on purpose, and I did this for
the reason of racial bigotry," he says. "It's almost never done."
But by looking at several cases over time, broader patterns of systemic bias
Excerpts from Racial Justice Act
The defendant has the burden of proving that race was a significant factor in
decisions to seek or impose the sentence of death in the county, the
prosecutorial district, the judicial division, or the State at the time the
death sentence was sought or imposed. The State may offer evidence in rebuttal
of the claims or evidence of the defendant, including statistical evidence.
In the 1987 Supreme Court case McClesky v Kemp, justices weighed whether these
statistical patterns could be used to prove bias in a death penalty appeal.
In a 5-4 decision, the justices decided against the use of this data, noting
that the matter was one "best presented to the legislative bodies" who could
choose to pass specific laws addressing this concern.
In 2009, the legislature in North Carolina did just that.
The Racial Justice Act (RJA) allows death penalty prisoners to use statistical
patterns of injustice, not just the facts of an individual case, to prove bias.
A similar but weaker law exists in Kentucky, and has yet to be put to use.
Under North Carolina's RJA, Defendants are eligible for a life sentence without
parole if they can show that they were more likely to receive the death penalty
because of their race or the race of their victims.
They can also, as in the case of Marcus Robinson, try to prove racial bias in
how the state used their "peremptory challenges" during jury selection.
These challenges allow lawyers for both the prosecution and the defence to
strike a certain amount of potential jurors without cause, as long as in doing
so they adhere to federal laws against discrimination.
Barbara O'Brien, a law professor from Michigan State University, studied the
role of race in peremptory jury strikes in North Carolina from 1990 to 2010.
Shirley Burns says her son's first trial was biased At Robinson's RJA hearing,
she testified that, on average, North Carolina prosecutors in death penalty
cases excluded qualified black jurors at more than twice the rate of qualified
For Marcus Robinson's jury pool, qualified blacks were rejected 3.5 times more.
"Being black does predict whether or not the state will strike the potential
juror, even when controlling for these other variables," she said.
The final jury seated in Robinson's case had nine white members, 2 black, and 1
Native American. The rate of black members on the jury, 18%, was not much
different to that of North Carolina's black population, about 21%.
But under the RJA, the final makeup of the jury is not at issue. Instead, it's
what role the state played to get to that point.
"Absent of other things, naturally the prosecution will want less blacks,
defence will want more. The question is whether we should allow the prosecution
to bleach juries," says Mr Baumgartner.
"Should the state, on our behalf, engage in a racially discriminatory pattern
Colour blind justice?
For the family of Erik Tornblom questions about systemic bias and judicial
fairness seem far removed from the death of their son. He is not a statistic,
they say, and neither is his killer.
Racial Justice Act timeline
1987 Supreme Court decision McCleskey v Kemp says that under current law
statistics cannot be used to prove bias in individual cases
2006 Legal challenges temporarily halt executions in North Carolina
2009 The North Carolina Senate passes the Racial Justice Act. Opponents include
district attorneys and conservative lawmakers.
2011 Amid continued opposition to the RJA, the Senate passes a new version of
the bill, which eliminates the use of statistics. It's later vetoed by the
2012 As of January, all but a handful of North Carolina's 158 death row inmates
have filed a claim under the RJA
"What do people in Michigan have to do with us in North Carolina?" Patricia
Tornblom, Erik's stepmother, asked after the first day in court. The family
wore buttons that read "Justice is color blind".
To them, the only racial bias that matters should be the one that Robinson
displayed when seeking out a white victim.
The prosecution cannot make this argument. They cannot provide details of the
murder and argue that the death penalty was well deserved. They can only
present their own statistics expert, as well as evidence from the judge and
prosecutor in Robinson's original trial.
Both men maintain that race was not a factor in the state's jury selection
process. More judges are expected to testify to similar effect.
But the Racial Justice Act fundamentally redefines the way the judicial system
views racism. For years, the courts only saw racism as a deliberate act, done
The RJA says that racism has more to do with subtle shifts and built-in
prejudices that permeate what should be a fair process.
"People can be motivated by race without even realising it," said defence
attorney James Ferguson in his opening arguments. Later, he presented expert
witnesses testifying to that same claim.
The hearing is expected to wrap up within the week, after which Judge Greg
Weeks will make a ruling.
His decision as to whether or not Robinson qualifies for a new sentence will
help shape the way that the law is interpreted in the future, and will reveal
how far-reaching the consequences of the RJA could be for death row inmates,
state prosecutors and the people of North Carolina.
Either way, his decision is expected to face appeals, and to serve as a
historic moment in the ongoing debate over how American courts deal with race,
justice and death.
(source: BBC News)
Death-penalty trial delayed as attorney withdraws
The murder trial of a man accused of killing his landlady and burning her body
in a car was continued indefinitely Tuesday after one of his attorneys was
allowed to withdraw.
Scott Robert Speakman was scheduled to go to trial this month in Forsyth
Superior Court on charges of first-degree murder in the death of Loyola
Strader, 63, in November 2006. He faces the death penalty.
Vince Rabil, one of Speakman's attorneys, was allowed to withdraw as counsel
after a closed hearing in Superior Court on Tuesday morning.
Judge Edgar Gregory cleared the courtroom and allowed Speakman, Rabil and Clark
Fischer, Speakman's other attorney, to be at the hearing. Dudley Witt, who
represents Rabil, was also at the hearing.
Forsyth District Attorney Jim O'Neill and Assistant District Attorney David
Sipprell left the room.
After about an hour, Gregory reopened the room and announced that he had found
good cause to allow Rabil to withdraw as counsel. He ordered that the
transcript of the closed hearing be sealed and the reasons for Rabil's
withdrawal kept confidential.
Gregory was supposed to hear pretrial motions this week. Now that Rabil has
withdrawn, the N.C. Office of the Capital Defender will assign Speakman another
attorney; death-penalty defendants must have two attorneys representing them.
(source: Winston-Salem Journal)
Judge's reasons for imposing death penalty on Topete in deputy killing case
A Yolo County judge sentenced Marco Antonio Topete to death this morning for
the June 2008 assault-rifle slaying of Sheriff's Deputy Jose Antonio Diaz.
Yolo Superior Court Judge Paul K. Richardson called the weight of the
aggravating circumstances in the case "simply enormous."
Topete, wanted on suspicion of DUI, led Diaz on a high speed chase with his
infant daughter in the car. He stopped on an isolated dirt road, grabbed an
assault rifie and took cover behind a house. Then he fired on the deputy, who
had gone to check on the girl instead of pursuing Topete.
"He aimed his weapon at Deputy Diaz and fired 17 shots in 3.9 seconds,"
As jurors had earlier, he rejected Topete's claims that he had been impaired by
alcohol and overwhelmed by stress, personality disorders and a troubled
Topete "acted out of anger and retaliation, not out of desperation," Richardson
After hearing from four victims, including Topete's father, sisters and former
supervisor at the Sheriff's department, the judge ordered Topete taken to death
row at San Quentin State Prison.
Sgt. Al Williams said Diaz's killing and the all-night manhunt for his murderer
left him with post-traumatic stress disorder that made him strike out in rage
at his family and traumatized his toddler son.
"We all have family that were touched by Marco Topete's actions," he told the
Maria Guadalupe Diaz, the deputy's sister, spoke directly to Topete, in a
profanity laced statement.
She said that throughout the trial, she had been "watching your pathetic face,
waiting for this moment."
Her brother's killing had devasated her elderly parents and the rest of her
family, she said.
After shooting the deputy, "you ran like a f---ing coward," she told Topete.
Rafael Diaz, the deputy's father, addressed the court in Spanish from his
He said Topete had pursued a life of crime and violence rather than changing
"I'm not happy the law condemns him (in this way), but that was his pleasure,"
There were tears among both Diaz's and Topete's family, but as he had done
throughout the trial, Topete showed little emotion.
As the judge condemned him to death, he held his his chin up and appeared to
(source: Sacramento Bee)
As warden, she oversaw executions; now she fights to stop them
The woman who oversaw 4 executions by lethal injection is fighting to make sure
it never happens again.
Jeanne Woodford served as warden of San Quentin State Prison in California from
1999 through 2004. Now she is the chief law enforcement spokesperson for SAFE
California, a ballot initiative that would replace the state’s death penalty
with life in prison without parole, require inmates to pay into a victims’
compensation fund, and allocate $100 million over 3 years to solving crime.
Capital punishment “isn’t effective, it’s costly, it isn’t efficient,” Woodford
said. Evidence shows that the death penalty costs more than housing prisoners
for life, steals resources from solving other crimes, and hurts victims’
families who wait for executions that may never happen, she explained.
“I think there’s something about [the death penalty] to hate by everybody,
whether conservative or liberal or somewhere in between,” Woodford said.
Though she sticks to “data-driven” arguments, Woodford acknowledges compelling
personal reasons for opposing the death penalty. A lifelong Catholic, Woodford
said she always was against capital punishment. When San Quentin recruited her
as a corrections officer in 1978 after she graduated from Sonoma State
University, “no one believed there would be an execution in California, even
inmates,” she said, even though the state had just reinstated the death
But the following year an inmate was sentenced to death. When Woodford was
appointed as warden, it was her job to plan the executions. “I had to remind
myself several times that I wasn’t there to judge, I was there to carry out my
mission. And that isn’t always easy,” she said.
In fact, it became too hard after Stephen Wayne Anderson was executed in 2002.
Woodford told herself she could never do it again. The emotional stress “had
just built up,” Woodford said, adding that every warden she knows who has been
in her position shares her opposition.
“Killing a human being intentionally, planning for it, spending money on it
when there’s just no legitimate purpose ... it doesn’t feel better, nor should
it,” Woodford said.
Woodford left San Quentin when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed her
director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in
2004; frustrated with barriers to implementing reform, Woodford said, she
resigned 2 years later. She then served as the chief adult probation office for
San Francisco until 2008 when she retired to work on criminal justice policy
Woodford became executive director of Death Penalty Focus in April 2011. The
nonprofit is part of the SAFE California campaign, but its mission extends
beyond California to abolish the death penalty nationally.
(source: National Catholic Reporter)
Supreme Court lets stand Ohio stay of execution
The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to lift a stay of execution for Ohio
convicted killer Charles Lorraine because the state failed to follow
agreed-upon reforms for procedures on how it carries out the death penalty.
In a one-sentence order, the high court rejected a request by Ohio officials to
set aside the stay of execution that a federal judge entered last month in the
case about the state's death penalty protocol involving lethal injection.
U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost granted Lorraine a temporary stay
because Ohio failed to follow through on changes it made to its execution
process after nearly eight years of constitutional challenges by inmates
alleging cruel and unusual punishment.
Lorraine was sentenced to death for the 1986 stabbing murders of an elderly
couple, Raymond and Doris Montgomery, at their home in Warren, Ohio.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit also refused to life the stay of
execution for Lorraine.
In an execution carried out in Ohio in November, there were deviations from the
procedures in announcing each drug as it was injected, in documenting the drugs
used by name, expiration date and lot, and in reviewing the inmate's medical
chart before he was put to death.
Frost cited those deviations in his ruling.
He said he was not deciding whether Ohio's method of execution practices were
unconstitutional or constitutional, but added that Lorraine was likely to
prevail and put on hold his execution, pending further order.
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