[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----VA., GA., CALIF., OHIO
rhalperi at smu.edu
Thu Feb 9 09:47:12 CST 2012
Unwise expansion of death penalty; Once again, Virginia legislators consider
extending capital punishment.
Where we stand -- Executions serve no deterrent purpose, are expensive and rely
on imperfect judgment.
This week, as Virginia’s lawmakers debated whether to expand the death penalty,
the state prepared to exonerate a 56-year-old man who has spent his adult life
being punished for a 1978 rape in Williamsburg that he didn’t commit.
Based on the victim’s identification, Bennett S. Barbour, then 22, was
convicted and spent 4½ years in prison. DNA tests unavailable then – and denied
to the man in 2004 – now show that he is innocent of the rape of a college
student 34 years ago.
Since 2005, when Virginia began testing old biological evidence, at least nine
defendants have been found innocent of decades-old charges. Since the late
1980s, 289 defendants in the U.S. have been exonerated; 17 were on death row.
Barbour’s case is the latest reminder that, sometimes with faulty eyewitnesses
and sometimes because of corrupt police, our criminal justice system has
convicted innocent people and sent them to prison or death row.
It’s also a reminder of why the death penalty is a bad idea. It’s a sentence
with no second guesses, no ability to acknowledge an error and correct it.
Which is why, rather than increasing the chance of erroneously executing
someone, Virginia should be working to eliminate the possibility of getting it
In most Virginia cases involving capital murder, only the person who did the
killing – the “triggerman” – is supposed to be subject to the death penalty.
Accessories to murder aren’t to be executed if they didn’t actually commit the
But the triggerman restriction is a misnomer because Virginia allows the worst
of the worst to be subject to the death penalty, even if they didn’t kill. John
Allen Muhammad, for example, was executed for his role in the 2002 sniper
shootings though he wasn’t convicted of pulling the trigger.
Despite that, Virginia’s General Assembly has tried for several years to repeal
the triggerman rule to give prosecutors greater latitude to pursue death
sentences for accomplices to murder.
On Wednesday, a Senate committee, voting along party lines, defeated one effort
to expand the number of criminals subject to execution.
The issue is likely to be resurrected after the House passes its bill, as
expected. Even though there’s no evidence that pursuing more death sentences
will make society safer. Even though the costs of trying capital cases and
maintaining death row are far greater. Even though the system is fraught with
shortcomings and human error.
Just ask Bennett Barbour.
(source: Editorial, The Virginian-Pilot)
James Benson may face death penalty in Hutcheson shootings
A Chattanooga man accused of emptying his revolver into his estranged wife and
mother-in-law in a hospital waiting room last month may face the death penalty,
A Walker County, Ga., grand jury indicted James Benson, 59, this week on 10
charges, including 2 counts of malice murder and 2 counts of felony murder in
the deaths of Mary Sue Benson, 56, and her mother, Charlotte Johnson, 77.
Authorities said Benson sprayed bullets in the 2 women's chests on Jan. 6 in a
crowded waiting room at Erlanger at Hutcheson in Fort Oglethorpe.
Herbert "Buzz" Franklin, district attorney for the Lookout Mountain Judicial
Circuit, indicated he likely would decide on seeking the death penalty before
Benson's March 13 arraignment.
In a death penalty case, prosecutors must be able to prove aggravating
circumstances surrounding the slaying, Franklin said. Under Georgia law, the
criteria can range from creating a risk of death to the public to killing an
on-duty law enforcement officer, Georgia code shows.
THE ULTIMATE PENALTY
Georgia law requires or allows the death penalty in a variety of cases.
* Aircraft hijacking or treason (automatic death penalty)
Murder, rape, armed robbery or kidnapping and when:
* Suspect has a prior capital felony conviction
* Suspect has escaped from incarceration when crime occurred
* Crime is committed in a public place, endangering others than the victim
* Crime is "outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible, or inhuman"
[source: Georgia Code]
Benson's attorney said charges often are duplicated in murder cases, so some
charges likely will be dropped or combined. While Benson is charged with 4
murder counts, he can be convicted only on one count in each death, according
to Public Defender David Dunn.
The intensive care unit waiting room at Erlanger at Hutcheson was crowded at
the time of the Jan. 5 shooting. Mary Benson was killed instantly and Johnson
died on the way to Erlanger hospital in Chattanooga.
The women were visiting another of Johnson's daughters, Myra Gail McCrary, 52.
She was in a coma in ICU after what officials thought was carbon monoxide
poisoning. She died a week later, never knowing what had happened to her sister
Benson had been asked to leave the hospital earlier in the week after he and
his estranged wife began arguing, Fort Oglethorpe Police Chief David Eubanks
The couple married in 2008, but friends said Mary Sue Benson recently had left
Authorities raced to the hospital after the shooting, but Benson already was
gone. He drove to the Fort Oglethorpe police station and turned himself in,
Since then, Walden Security guards have been stationed at the campus. Hospital
officials say that's a temporary measure and they are looking for permanent
solutions to bolster their security.
Benson remains in the Walker County Jail. His attorneys say they haven't filed
paperwork for him to seek bond.
(source: Chattanooga Times Free Press)
CALIFORNIA----new death sentence
Jury: Death penalty for man in deadly Yucca Valley attack
A jury decided Wednesday that Sherhaun Kerod Brown should receive the death
penalty after he raped and slashed the throat of a Yucca Valley woman and
killed her mother-in-law in 2007, according to court records.
The jury's findings for death were announced about 1:40 p.m. in the penalty
phase of Brown's trial before Judge Eric M. Nakata in Victorville Superior
Court, court records state.
The court was informed earlier in the day that the jury had reached a decision.
Sentencing is scheduled for April 6.
Brown, now 34, of Palm Springs, was convicted on Jan. 23 of 7 felony counts and
three special circumstances for murder during a robbery, burglary and rape,
which made the case eligible for the death penalty.
The jury also found "true" that Brown had a prior burglary conviction.
The trial's penalty phase began Jan. 31. The Sun does not publish names of
victims of sex-related offenses.
Deputies were dispatched at 10:30 a.m. on May 7, 2007, to a residence in the
57900 block of Canterbury Street in Yucca Valley, according to San Bernardino
County Sheriff's Department officials.
The surviving victim, whose throat was slashed, went to a neighbor's house for
help. She was taken by helicopter to Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm
The deceased woman had been living at the home with her son, his wife and their
2-year-old and 4-year-old sons, officials said. The two toddlers were at home
at the time of the attack.
Brown was arrested later the same day with the victim's stolen car in Moreno
Brown was convicted of 1st-degree murder, attempted murder, 2 counts of
robbery, rape by force, burglary, sodomy by force, according to court records.
(source: San Bernardino Sun)
End the death penalty
California should end its miserably inefficient death penalty system and
replace it with life without the possibility of parole.
Since California voters reinstated the death penalty in 1978, the state has
spent more than $4 billion on death penalty cases and executed 13 prisoners.
About 700 prisoners languish on California's death row. Some have been there
more than 34 years. The leading cause of death at San Quentin is old age.
Replacing the death penalty with an ironclad guarantee that the bad guys will
be locked up for life would save billions of dollars and end a practice that
many Californians consider inhumane.
We should join 16 states, the District of Columbia and 139 countries that have
banned capital punishment. Our judicial system should not be in the business of
killing people. The era of “an eye for an eye” should come to an end.
Movements are under way on 2 fronts to bring this to a vote in November.
Catholic Bishops of California is pushing an initiative that would take this
step, making arguments based on faith and potential savings. The measure would
dedicate $100 million from the savings to local law enforcement to solve murder
State Sen. Loni Hancock, a Berkeley Democrat, has introduced Senate Bill 490,
which would replace the death penalty with permanent incarceration. It is in
the Assembly Appropriations Committee suspense file. A spokeswoman said the
senator awaits the progress of the initiative before deciding whether to move
A question of methods
The last California execution was in January 2006 by lethal injection. In 2006,
U.S. District Judge Jeremy D. Fogel blocked the next execution because, he
ruled, if the three-drug injection were administered incorrectly, it could lead
to suffering in violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel
and unusual punishment.
The execution of Albert Greenwood Brown Jr. -- convicted of sexual molestation
of a minor, 2 counts of rape and the murder of a child in Riverside -- was
scheduled in September 2010. But as Fogel was reviewing case, the state's
supply of one of the three drugs expired.
(source: Editorial, Salinas California)
Should Ohio consider putting a permanent hold on the death penalty? A Closer
Charles Lorraine has been on Ohio's death row for many years since being
convicted of the 1986 murder of Raymond, 77, and Doris Montgomery, 80, in
Trumbull County. Lorraine reportedly stabbed Raymond five times and Doris, who
was bedridden, 9 times. He then ransacked their Warren home and used the money
and personal items he stole to buy drinks for friends at a bar.
Lorraine actually was scheduled to be executed last month. But he was granted a
stay, and now it is unknown when ... or if ... he will be executed after a
decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to allow a temporary delay to
continue. Lorraine's lawyers successfully argued the state's procedures for
executing inmates might be unconstitutional. Until Ohio revises its lethal
injection procedures to the satisfaction of a federal judge on the case, no
more inmates will be executed, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine acknowledged
DeWine said (the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections) was already
revising its execution procedures even before the Supreme Court was asked to
review Lorraine's case. And while the state was making changes, DeWine said he
still sought to carry out Lorraine's execution because he didn't agree with
U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost's ruling. "We believe that the discrepancies
cited by Judge Frost do not rise to a constitutional violation," DeWine said.
DeWine said when DRC completes its revision of the procedures he will present
them to Frost, who must sign off on them before executions can resume.
So arguments over procedural matters have bought Lorraine and others on death
row some time. But DeWine and his office will work to resume executions as soon
But should he?
Currently there are 34 states that practice capital punishment. Texas leads the
nation in executions since the federal government reinstated capital punishment
in 1976 with 478, including one this year. Ohio has executed 46 prisoners, all
since 1999. There are 155 inmates currently on death row in Ohio. But there
also have been 140 death row exonerations since 1973. That includes Joe
D'Ambrosio of North Royalton, who was freed in March 2010 after spending more
than 20 years on death row on a murder conviction.
Questions about the death penalty have some people wondering if Ohio needs to
abandon the practice, including Ohio Supreme Court Senior Justice Paul Pfiefer.
Pfiefer helped write Ohio's death penalty statute in 1981, but he argues it's
not being applied as originally intended (Cleveland.com):
Murder is a vile crime. But not all murders are the same, and we did not mean
for all -- or even most -- murderers to be eligible for the death penalty. The
law was meant to be employed only when a certain set of aggravating
circumstances warranted execution. But over the years, the death penalty has
come to be applied more pervasively than we ever intended.
Pfeifer's position has resulted in a Hamilton County prosecutor arguing that
Pfeifer should stop deciding death penalty cases. And John Murphy, executive
director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, says the state's death
penalty statute is being applied to the right people:
All one need do is look at those who have been executed and those who are on
death row to conclude that the death penalty is, in fact, being applied to some
very nasty people who did some very nasty things. I don't know what Justice
Pfeifer might have intended, but it seems to me that the death penalty is being
applied to exactly those kinds of offenders whom most people would agree it
should apply to. It is a disservice to the public to imply that the death
penalty is being casually applied to ordinary cases. That just isn't so.
Pfeifer says the sentence of life without parole presents Ohioans with a viable
option to the death penalty. Plain Dealer columnist Regina Brett sides with the
justice, especially because of concerns about people being wrongfully put to
Across the country, we've seen over 100 men walk off death row because
eyewitnesses lied or were mistaken, because the DNA didn't match, because
police, prosecutors or lab techs made mistakes or mishandled evidence. ...
Unfortunately, we can't find and fix every flaw in the justice system. Pfeifer
is right. We need to do what Illinois did. Its House and Senate just passed a
bill to abolish the death penalty. Ohio should do the same.
Last year, 10 Catholic church leaders in Ohio signed a statement urging the
state to stop using capital punishment. The former director of the Ohio
Department of Rehabilitation and Correction wrote a column last year in
opposition of its use. Former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro also is raising
questions about capital punishment, but he stops short of calling for a repeal:
When Petro campaigned for the state legislature, he said he believed in the
death penalty. And when he supported the 1981 bill, he argued that the
government should not bear the expense of incarcerating the most heinous
criminals when they deserve to die. In short, he said that he believed the
state would save money by adopting the death penalty and that the law would
become a deterrent. "Neither of those things have occurred, so I ask myself,
'Why would I vote for it again?' " Petro tells me. "I don't think I would. I
don't think the law has done anything to benefit society and us. It's cheaper
and, in my view, sometimes a mistake can be made, so perhaps we are better off
with life without parole." Opponents of the death penalty use arguments that
include moral, ethical and constitutional concerns. Supporters use the same
concerns, though, and there is no question that many relatives of murder
victims feel justice is truly served through the death sentence. Family members
of the victims of Cleveland serial killer Anthony Sowell applauded as he was
led out of the courtroom after he was sentenced to death in August. A Gallup
poll taken in October shows Americans favor capital punishment, with 61 percent
for and 35 percent against. (Although that's down significantly from a high of
80 % for to 16 % against in the mid-1990s.) And Murphy says it's the only way
to ensure a killer meets justice:
Justice Pfeifer goes on to argue for life without parole. What he doesn't
mention is that no one can be sure that life without parole really means what
it says. What the legislature does today, it can undo tomorrow. There is
nothing to prevent the legislature from passing a bill abolishing life without
parole and effectively reducing all the penalties to something much less. And,
of course, there is always the governor's power to commute sentences. One
stroke of the pen could lower the sentence or even set the prisoner free. There
is only one way to guarantee that a prisoner will never be released.
(source: Cliff Pinckard, Cleveland.com)
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