[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS, OHIO, USA, CALIF.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Mon Feb 20 11:08:17 CST 2012
18 years on Death Row: The Consequences of the Death Penalty
Every week for 18 years, Anthony Graves was allowed to make one phone call from
prison. And each call would be to his mother.
What was she making for dinner, he would ask. The food that they served in
prison was mush compared to the meals his mother used to make for him. Each
week his mother would say the same thing: why would he want to torture himself
with memories of her home cooking when he could have none of it?
“Steak and potatoes she would say, and I would go ‘ah, Mom,’ why would you tell
me that?” Graves said.
And then one day, he called his mom, just as he had done every week for 18
years, to ask her what she was making for dinner. And once again, she asked him
why in the world he would want to know.
“Because I’m coming home,” he told her. “Your son is coming home.”
Graves was wrongly convicted of a horrific multiple homicide in 1994. His
conviction was overturned in 2006, and he was fully exonerated in 2010. He is
the 12th and most recent death row inmate to be cleared in Texas since 1973.
Only a small fraction of the hundreds of men that have sat on death row have
Texas is infamous for putting the most men to death since the death penalty was
reinstated in 1976. Since then, 478 men have been put to death, with 2 more
scheduled for the end of February, and at least 4 more by the end of the year.
Donald Newbury, a member of the Texas 7 Gang, infamous for the biggest
jailbreak in Texas history and the shooting death of a police officer, was to
be executed on Feb. 1. He has been given a stay of execution while the Supreme
Court determines if death row inmates are entitled to better legal
representation during appeals cases.
Southern Methodist University recently hosted 2 panel discussions on the death
penalty. One of them featured Graves, another exoneree, Clarence Brandley, and
former Death Row Chaplain Rev. Carroll Pickett.
Pickett, who is now retired, took care of the death row inmates during the day
of their execution, sitting with them and preparing them for their impeding
“Most inmates just wanted to know what was going to happen to them; what it was
going to be like to die,” Pickett said.
While Pickett never counseled Graves, he prepared and walked 95 other men to
their deaths during his 15 years with the prison system, more than any other
death row chaplain.
34 states currently impose the death penalty.
“It must not be cruel and unusual because look at how many people want it, 36
states keep imposing it,” said Randy Johnston, a Dallas attorney who
specializes in legal ethics.
Graves was released from death row a little over a year ago, on Oct. 27, 2010.
Since his release, he has worked hard to rebuild his life, adjusting to living
outside bars, and establishing a new relationship with his family.
In 1992, 6 people, 4 of whom were children, were shot, stabbed and bludgeoned
to death before their house was set on fire to cover up the killings. The small
community of Somerville, Texas was shocked and outraged.
“The mayor (of Somerville) said he didn’t even want to hold a trial, there was
no need. He just wanted the criminals to hang,” Graves said.
A man wandering in the crowd at the memorial service for the victims was
noticed by police. He had bandages over his hands, arms and face to cover
The man, Robert Earl Carter, father to one of the young children killed, was
immediately arrested and charged with 6 counts of homicide. Police allegedly
said that if Carter gave up his accomplices, they would let him go. Carter gave
the first name that came to his mind.
Within hours, Anthony Graves was arrested.
“I heard the police were looking for me. So I went looking for the police,”
Graves said. “Don’t ever go looking for the police; it took me 18 years to get
Graves, now 45-years-old, was 26 when he was arrested. He was a father of three
young children. But in the time Graves was away, they have grown up to have
children of their own.
After being convicted by a jury of 11 white men and women and 1 black man,
Graves was sentenced to death, despite the pleas of his family, including one
of his young son’s who was suffering from Spinal Bifida.
With 2 execution dates set during his time on death row, Graves came within 2
months of a lethal injection.
He saw a number of fellow prisoners executed during his time on death row. Each
time his own impending death came closer, Graves said all he wanted was for
people to just look at the facts.
“When you know you’re innocent, in the back of your mind, you hold out hope,”
An appeals court overturned his conviction in 2006, following an admission from
the original lead prosecutor that Robert Earl Carter had admitted to committing
the murders by himself. On Oct. 27, 2010, Graves was released from prison.
“For the 1st time, I felt the sunshine, the feeling of freedom on my face,” he
“Anthony Graves has spent as much time on death row as the average first year
student at SMU has been alive,” said Rick Halperin, SMU Professor of the
Practice of Human Rights, in a recent interview from his office.
Halperin, surrounded by books, papers, awards and posters with slogans
promoting human rights, is also the Director of SMU’s Human Rights Education
Program, which sponsored the panels. He said that despite the amount of time
Graves spent in prison, he received little compensation and no way to ever get
that time back.
Graves now works for a non-profit organization, The Texas Defender Service in
Austin, which works with death row inmates. He also travels extensively to
provide assistance to lawyers and speaks on panels to students and people on
the impact the death penalty not only had on his life, but also that of his
“My whole family was on death row,” Graves said.
Despite all that has happened to him, Graves says that he does not hold onto
“I didn’t want the anger or animosity to take away any more of my life,” he
While Graves is rebuilding his life, and adjusting to the changes of the world
over the past 18 years, he has worked hard to tell his story, inspire others
and hopefully change the mind of pro-death penalty supporters along the way.
“The question isn’t that they shouldn’t be punished, but what exactly should
the punishment be,” Halperin said.
(source: Julie Fancher is a 20-year-old junior studying Convergence Journalism
and Political Science at Southern Methodist University; Dallas South News)
Is Ohio's death penalty under its own death watch? Questions, criticism mount
about Ohio executions
Ohio's capital punishment system could be under its own death watch as scrutiny
over how the state executes prisoners has led to calls for significant changes
-- if not an outright repeal -- of the death penalty.
Despite the issues plaguing the state's execution process, Ohio officials say
they are certain they are getting this call on life-or-death right.
"I feel that we have a solid protocol, and I know that we have the
professionally trained staff to execute that protocol," Ohio Department of
Rehabilitation and Correction director Gary Mohr told The Plain Dealer. "I have
no reservations with saying that at all."
But Mohr knows there are plenty of people from judges to former prison
officials to anti-death penalty activists who have heavy concerns about the
They question why some criminals land on death row and others do not, whether
the state's execution procedures are legal and whether the system can be
revamped to restore waning public trust.
In just the past few years, Ohio has:
• Botched 1 execution, which had to be postponed, and had 2 others with lengthy
delays, including one in which the inmate, while strapped to the gurney in the
execution chamber, cried out, "This isn't working."
• Under legal duress, switched from a 3-drug concoction to a 1-drug dose for
lethal injection, a change that is the subject of a lawsuit.
• Defended itself in numerous inmate lawsuits questioning whether rights
against cruel and unusual punishment are violated during executions.
• Instituted a moratorium of sorts after a federal judge stayed an execution
until Ohio revises its procedures, a ruling upheld this month by the U.S.
• Been the target of critics who now include a sitting Ohio Supreme Court
justice and 2 former state prisons directors.
• Seen 2 bills introduced in the Republican-controlled General Assembly that
would repeal the death penalty.
Maybe most damning was a scathing order by U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost of
the Southern District of Ohio, who stayed an execution in January because he
said the prison system doesn't follow its own written execution procedures,
making it likely an inmate lawsuit against the state could prevail.
"Ohio has been in a dubious cycle of defending often indefensible conduct,
subsequently reforming its protocol when called on that conduct, and then
failing to follow through on its own reforms," Frost wrote in the Jan. 11, 2012
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office is representing the prison
department in the lawsuit, said he disagreed with Frost but that the state is
nonetheless working to revise its death penalty procedures as instructed.
All of this seems to be feeding growing skepticism about the death penalty not
only here in Ohio, but across the country.
The prevailing thought appears to be siding with caution, especially after some
recent high-profile executions drew national attention: in 2011 a Georgia man
was executed despite his claims of innocence and what supporters called
loopholes in his case; and in 2010 Alabama executed a mentally disabled man.
34 states still have capital punishment, but in recent years, Illinois, New
Mexico and New Jersey have gotten rid of it and Oregon's governor has said he
won't allow another execution while he is in office.
Critics say a state that takes lives needs to be perfect in its assessment of
doing what's right. But the mounting issues surrounding Ohio's capital
punishment hardly inspire assurance that its system always gets it right.
"The death penalty system has to be made 100 % effective and we have to have
the right people make the sure this is perfect, no mistakes allowed," said
Kevin Werner, of Ohioans to Stop Executions. "But you can't make it fair. So,
until we can, you shouldn't do it at all."
The issues raised in Ohio are twofold: first, the court challenges, which Mohr
calls "arduous," and second, why some criminals end up on death row and others
"For every case on death row, if you give me enough time, I can find you a
dozen others equal to it that were never charged with capital punishment," said
Ohio Public Defender Tim Young. "Is that a fair system? You have 88 county
prosecutors and 88 different views on how to approach this."
In the 10-year period between 2002 to 2011, there were 770 capital punishment
indictments in Ohio, with 307 of those in Cuyahoga County, by far the most for
any county. Second was Franklin County, with 107, followed by Hamilton with 34.
Like Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton are densely populated counties with a
major city at its core, Columbus and Cincinnati, respectively, but obviously
different appetites for pursuing death penalty cases.
Young said there isn't a significantly higher rate of violent crime in
Cleveland versus Cincinnati to justify having nearly 10 times as many capital
punishment cases. Furthermore, few of those cases ended in a death penalty
conviction, raising the issue of unusually higher costs for prosecuting capital
cases and whether it is worth it.
Former prisons director Terry Collins oversaw 33 executions during his career
before retiring in 2010. He reminded himself each time that he was doing his
job, following the letter of the law. But Collins now says that with each
execution, he privately harbored concerns that maybe he was about to see an
innocent man put to death.
"I wondered about it every time I left my house to drive down to Lucasville:
did the system get it right?" Collins said, referring to the Southern Ohio
prison the houses the death chamber. "I could only assume it was right, but
there was always doubt."
In 1996, lawmakers allowed for life in prison without parole sentences as an
alternative to the death penalty. Many Ohio death row inmates executed in
recent years were convicted prior to that law change.
Since 1997, the 1st year after the law changed, 356 inmates have been sent to
prison with life without parole sentences, whereas 74 people have been
sentenced to death during that period. There are currently 147 men and 1 woman
on death row.
Collins believes those figures prove that with this option, some inmates on
death row likely would be serving life without parole instead. He also said
life in prison allows the state to correct the low percentage mistake of
"The fact that we have life without parole, if we make a mistake with that we
can rectify it. But you won't get that chance to rectify a mistake with the
death penalty," he said. "I think life without parole is sufficient punishment
and in fact is a harsher punishment in that you have to live out the rest of
your life thinking about what you've done and knowing you're not going
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer has emerged as the state's
highest-profile critic of the death penalty. Ironic, not only because it is
unusual for a sitting judge to be an activist on a topic that regularly comes
before his court, but also because Pfeifer helped reinstate capital punishment
in 1981 when he was a member of the Ohio Senate.
He blames his own court for going too far in broadening the scope of what
constitutes a death penalty conviction.
The court has lowered the bar, he said, for example, by too broadly defining
kidnapping to raise some murder cases to death penalty-eligible cases.
Pfeifer, a Republican, says he also worries, like Young, that county
prosecutors do not use any uniform practice for determining what cases they
choose to pursue as capital punishment cases, and that there are racial and
"It has become a death lottery depending on where you committed the crime and
depending on the attitude of the local prosecutor," Pfeifer told The Plain
Dealer. "I'm not being critical of a prosecutor's right to choose how to pursue
a case, but there is such a wide differentiation across the state."
Pfeifer said he no longer favors the death penalty and doesn't see how it
"What does it say about us as a society? What does it say about us that we
think we need the death penalty and that locking them up for a lifetime isn't
sufficient?" Pfeifer asked. "I think to a degree we undermine our own moral
Pfeifer in January 2011 urged Gov. John Kasich to end capital punishment, but
the Republican governor responded quickly, reiterating his support for the
Chief Justice Maureen OConnor has taken heed of the concerns of Pfeifer and
others and has appointed a task force to study the death penalty in Ohio. The
task force is expected to come up with recommendations for how to improve the
system. It is unlikely to suggest repealing the death penalty altogether.
One idea already discussed is having a state panel or commission review cases
and recommend when the death penalty should be sought so that there is one
standard being applied across Ohio. The idea is similar to a plan used in
There are also 2 Democratic-sponsored bills in the Ohio legislature calling for
the repeal of the death penalty, Senate Bill 270 and House Bill 160.
The Ohio Prosecutors Association opposes both bills.
Prisons director Mohr was limited in his comments because of the ongoing
lawsuit that has effectively stopped Ohio executions. But he said each person
who is part of the execution team does his or her job with great care.
"Every person involved in an execution I can tell you takes their
responsibility as seriously as they can," he said. "Just think about this,
they're guiding a person through the last hours of his life. That team. . .
does this with dignity and does this with professionalism, and that's a tough
(source: The Plain Dealer)
Local debate over death penalty intensifies
The debate over Ohio’s death penalty laws is heating up, just as Butler County
is about to try its 2nd capital case in less than a year.
A “random” act of violence ended the life of an elderly Middletown man last
May. His alleged killer, Victor Gantt, faces a possible death sentence, when
his trial begins on Tuesday.
In the last 5 years, Butler County has had 8 cases that qualified for the death
penalty. Most recently, a jury spared Hector Alvarenga-Retana’s life after his
murder trial last November. He was convicted of killing of 2 rival gang
members. Warren County hasn’t had a death penalty case since 2008, after Michel
Veillette murdered his family in Mason. He committed suicide in jail before the
case went to trial.
Leroy Jones’ life was cut short when Victor Gantt allegedly attacked him,
beating the 75-year-old man to death with an ax. The act was completely random,
police said, with Gantt breaking through a glass door, attacking Jones and then
trashing the house.
Assistant Prosecutor Brad Burress says because the murder occurred while Gantt
was allegedly robbing and burglarizing Jones, the case qualifies as a capital
Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser declined comment on the Gantt case.
Ohio has become a focal point because one of the senior members of the Supreme
Court, Justice Paul Pfeifer — who helped draft the first constitutional death
penalty laws in the state — has publicly opposed the death penalty. Now
Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters has asked the justice to recuse himself
in all death penalty cases and any case from his jurisdiction. Pfeifer has made
comments about the large number of death row inmates that hail from Hamilton
Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor’s task force that’s studying the
death penalty in Ohio sparked the war of words between Pfeifer and Deters.
Pfeifer testified recently before a state House Criminal Justice Committee on a
bill that would abolish the death penalty and has commented widely in the media
about the issue. Deters is a member of O’Connor’s task force.
Pfeifer headed the Senate Judiciary Committee two decades ago and says he has
always been troubled by the final compromise he had to make on the death
penalty law then. He wanted to give juries the option of sentencing a defendant
to life without possibility of parole, instead of life with parole eligibility
after 20 or 30 years. The other side of the legislative fence said no.
The legislature has amended the statutes to include the sentencing option of
life without parole, which Pfeifer says negates the need for the death penalty.
Pfeifer has pointed out that Hamilton County has the most residents on death
row in the state with 29. By contrast, Butler County has 7 men on death row,
and Warren County has a single resident there. He says some aggressive
prosecutors are finding ways to turn some murders into capital crimes. Adding a
kidnapping charge if the defendant pointed a gun at his victim is a way to
qualify a case as a capital crime, he said. He said the fact that the death
penalty isn’t uniformly applied in the state is also an issue.
“Joe Deters takes a very tough-minded approach on these things... Not every
murder qualifies for the death penalty. But if it does qualify, he takes the
position we’re going to go to trial and we’re going to try to get the death
sentence,” the justice said.
He also added it is “grossly unfair” that probably half the people sitting on
death row went there before juries were allowed the option of imposing life
without parole instead of death.
3 men have gone to death row on Deters’ watch, so far. In a letter to the
editor, Deters said between 1981 and 2010 his county “only indicted” 162 on
capital charges, compared to 497 and 1,215 in Franklin and Cuyahoga counties
respectively. Deters has called on the justice to recuse himself in capital and
Hamilton County cases.
“Justice Pfeifer’s continued participation in deciding death penalty cases is
inappropriate. It gives rise to a credible inference that he cannot be fair to
both sides,” he wrote. “His false public criticisms of me indicate he has
absolutely no business sitting in judgement of cases from Hamilton County.”
Pfeifer said the court considers recusal requests on a case-by-case basis and
he will continue that practice.
“There is a huge difference between advocating the law and applying the laws
that exist,” Pfeifer said. “He knows that I know the difference.”
Deters did not return phone calls.
(source: The Oxford Press)
USA (RHODE ISLAND):
ACLU backs Chafee in possible death penalty case
The Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union has filed written arguments
supporting Gov. Lincoln Chafee (CHAY'-fee) in the legal tug-of-war with federal
prosecutors over a possible death penalty case.
The ACLU says it filed papers with the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in
Boston, which is hearing the case of 34-year-old Jason Pleau (PLEW) in April.
Chafee opposes surrendering Pleau to federal authorities who may seek a death
penalty prosecution in his murder case. Rhode Island does not have the death
The court last year vacated a decision saying Chafee has the right to keep
Pleau in state custody. Pleau is accused of fatally shooting a gas station
manager outside a bank in 2010.
Prosecutors have not said whether they'll seek the death penalty if Pleau is
(source: Associated Press)
Former Newark Police Chief Ray Samuels has died, officials say
Former Newark police Chief Ray Samuels, who came out against the death penalty
after decades in law enforcement, has died, officials announced Saturday.
Samuels began his police career in 1975 in Vallejo and later worked in Concord
before serving as Newark's chief from 2003-2008. He also spent time as the
interim police chief at the Lodi Police Department, which announced his death
on its Facebook page.
"While Chief Samuels was only with the department for a short period of time he
quickly became loved and respected," according to the Lodi police statement.
"His contributions to our department will not be forgotten."
Samuels opened a 2008 anti-capital punishment opinion piece with: "There are 3
words you rarely hear from law enforcement: We were wrong." He goes on to
explain that some crimes merit the ultimate punishment, but most killer simply
deserve to live out their existence in prison.
"Despite the best intentions of law enforcement, prosecutors, defense
attorneys, judges and jurors, innocent people have been convicted and sentenced
to death," Samuels wrote in the piece published by the Contra Costa Times. "The
margin for error with the death penalty is too great. Once imposed, it is a
bell that cannot be unrung."
(source: Mercury News)
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