[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----CONN., MO., MONT., MD.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Thu Feb 23 15:43:13 CST 2012
Battle brewing over death penalty repeal
In a rare parliamentary move that sent a message to death penalty opponents,
minority Republicans on the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted against
allowing a measure repealing capital punishment to move forward for a public
The maneuver failed, but the vote sets the scene for contentious debates in
committee and eventually the floors of the House and Senate on the proposed
repeal, which is supported by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, the Legislature's major proponent of
the repeal, said after the committee meeting that he was "a little
disappointed" some members voted to kill it in committee.
"I have voted for bills that I just flat do not like," Holder-Winfield said in
an interview. "I think almost everything we bring here deserves consideration,
and that's all that this process is about. When you're a legislator and you
don't want to have the discussion, you should really consider what you're doing
Holder-Winfield said he expects repeal opponents this year to use a variety of
tactics to kill the legislation. "In some respects that is their job, but the
other thing you have to weigh is what your real job here is and that is to
represent everyone in the state," he said.
Voting to "raise" a bill basically allows the measure to be drafted and to
receive a public hearing.
2 opponents of a repeal who approved raising the legislation, Sen. Paul Doyle,
D-Wethersfield and Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, said that voting to get a
public hearing, or even to move the bill out of committee, should not be
construed as support.
"I think this is too important for just the committee to vote on, but the House
and Senate should take it up, too," Godfrey said.
But Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said he was voting no, "just as a protest."
After the committee meeting, Rep. Gerald M. Fox III, D-Stamford, co-chairman of
the panel, said the vote was a rare occurrence. "They told me they were going
to, so it wasn't a surprise, and we just move forward," said Fox, a proponent
of the repeal who expects to vote for it again.
The committee unanimously voted to raise 42 concepts for drafting and public
hearing, but the death penalty repeal, the fourth item on the agenda, resulted
in a separate, 23-15 party-line vote with seven lawmakers absent.
"I think I know where it's going, but it says here in item 4, `death penalty,'
is this for the abolishment of the death penalty, or is it to speed up the
death penalty?" asked Rep. Al Adinolfi, R-Cheshire, during the brief committee
debate. "This is not clear," said the lawmaker, in whose district occurred the
July 2007 home invasion and murders of a mother and her two daughters. "I would
like somebody to clear it up for me."
(source: Danbury News Times)
Death penalty repeal bill to resurface in legislature
A bill that would repeal the death penalty is moving forward in the
The General Assembly's Judiciary Committee voted 23 to 15 Wednesday to raise
the repeal bill for this year's short session.
The wording is expected to be similar to that which passed the committee last
year, replacing execution with life imprisonment without parole. It would also
be a "prospective" measure and not apply to the 11 convicts currently on
Connecticut's death row, only to future crimes.
State Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, voted against raising the bill
Wednesday, while state Rep. Elissa Wright, D-Groton, voted for it.
Hewett said afterward that he believes the death penalty is warranted for the
most heinous crimes. He also pointed out that legal experts predict that any
"prospective" repeal would result in appeals by death row inmates that overturn
"As soon as we pass it, there will be lawsuits filed and they [death row
inmates] will never, ever see the death penalty," Hewett said.
Wright believes life imprisonment without parole is a more appropriate
punishment than execution. "I hope this will be the year the bill passes in
both chambers," she said.
Last year's bill never came to a formal vote after state Sens. Edith Prague,
D-Columbia, and Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, changed their minds about
repealing the death penalty after meetings with Dr. William Petit, the sole
survivor of the 2007 Cheshire home-invasion murders.
Maynard has said he intends to vote for repeal bill this year because both home
invasion trials are over and the killers, Steven Hayes and Joshua
Komisarjevsky, have been sentenced to death.
Prague said Wednesday that she remains undecided. However, if she were to
support a death penalty repeal measure, Prague said, she would want that bill
to contain restrictions.
"I don't think somebody sitting in prison for life for having committed a
heinous crime should have a good time," Prague said. "I think there should be
severe restrictions on their activity because I think if you take someone
else's life, there needs to be a severe penalty."
A 2011 Quinnipiac University poll found 67 percent of registered Connecticut
voters in favor the death penalty.
State Rep. Steven Mikutel, a proponent of keeping the death penalty, said that
legislators should adhere to the wishes of state residents - not well-organized
interest groups that stack public hearings and flood their inboxes with
"The people are up against a small group of dedicated fanatics who have made
their mission in life to abolish the death penalty," Mikutel said. "The life of
a cold-blooded killer seems to be more valued by these advocates than the
innocent murdered, and that is morally wrong."
Ben Jones, executive director of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death
Penalty, said that institutions including the Catholic and Episcopal churches
as well as the NAACP strongly support repeal.
"Those are not fanatical groups in my mind," Jones said.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said he will sign legislation ending capital
punishment if it can pass the legislature and reach his desk. Former Gov. M.
Jodi Rell vetoed a repeal bill in 2009.
(source: The Day)
Former death row inmate speaks out
Former death row inmate Juan Melendez spent almost 18 years—17 years, 8 months
and 1 day, to be exact— in jail before being exonerated of a 1994 murder
conviction in 2002. Convicted of murder in 1994.
Melendez spoke on campus, at the Washington University Law School on Tuesday in
an event co-sponsored by the Webster society scholars and Criminal Law Society.
He sat down with Student Life before the talk to discuss his experience on
SL: Tell us a little about the history of your arrest.
JM: In 1994 I as convicted and sentenced to death for a crime I did not commit,
in the state of Florida. The case was based on the testimony of two
questionable witnesses, with no physical evidence against me. One witness
claimed that I confessed the crime to him. He implicated a friend of mine and
he gets arrested, interrogated, he incriminates himself in the crime. He gets
charged with 1st degree murder and armed robbery, and he decides to make a deal
to become what you call a co-defendant he gets the 1st degree murder charge
dropped, his armed robbery charge dropped, all the way to accessory after the
facts he gets 2 years probation with 2 years he already had.
Basically what he said on trial was that he picked me up, took me to the scene
of the crime, dropped me off, came back an hour and a half later, picked me up
again, and took me home. That’s the full evidence against me, no physical
evidence. There’s the testimony of two questionable witnesses with criminal
records, two questionable witnesses who made deals with the state prosecutors,
who got leniency for the crimes they committed.
The trial started on a Monday picking the jury, Tuesday we were still were
picking the jury, Wednesday evidence came in, Thursday they found me guilty,
Friday the same week they sent me to death, and the judge complained that it
was taking too long.
SL: If you could give one statement about how you feel about the death penalty
what would it be?
JM: I would say it’s barbaric.
SL: What is the number one thing you have to say to students at Washington
University about the death penalty?
JM: I would say that the death penalty does not deter crimes. I would say that
the death penalty is racist. I would say that the death penalty is cruel and
unnecessary. We have alternatives. I would say that the death penalty costs too
much and I would say the most important thing that this great state of Missouri
has it, that any state has it any nation any country, there will always be the
risk of executing an innocent man. We can always release an innocent one from
prison. We have no problems with that, but we can never release an innocent man
from the grave. Just like we got rid of segregation, we can get rid of this
madness of the death penalty.
SL: How does this relate to students?
JM: Every big issue, everything that needs to be changed in this world, if you
look at history has been [lead by] students. It has been the young ones who get
it changed. They play a big role in the abolition of the death penalty.
SL: How did your experience on death row affect you?
JM: I would not wish it to my worst enemy.
SL: Why do you choose to share your experience?
JM: I don’t want what has happened to me to happen to anyone else.
(source: Student Life)
Discussion on death penalty tonight in Springfield
Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (MADP) is holding a
discussion Thursday in Springfield to talk about the death penalty and wrongful
The event will focus on Reggie Clemmons, a Missouri man who was sentenced to
death for murder. Clemmons' execution has been halted because of doubt about
The event will be held at Mercy's Cancer Center auditorium, 2055 S. Freemont
starting at 7:00 p.m.
(source: KSPR News)
Ronald Smith pleads with Harper for help escaping execution
Ronald Smith, the only Canadian on death row in the United States, pleaded with
Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday to consider "who I've become" and
not "who I used to be" in supporting the cause of clemency for the Alberta-born
killer, who could face death by lethal injection later this year for murdering
two young Montana men in 1982.
In a wide-ranging telephone interview from Montana State Prison, conducted just
weeks ahead of a two-day clemency hearing in early May that could determine the
54-year-old convict's fate, Smith told Postmedia News that "the level of
maturity I've gained over the last 15 or 20 years, I think, is a huge
But he acknowledged — surprisingly — that he could see himself supporting
capital punishment in certain situations for particularly heinous criminals,
such as British Columbia serial killer Robert Pickton.
"Sometimes," Smith said, "you gotta put the mad dog down."
In his own case, however, the Canadian inmate expressed disappointment with a
recent letter from the federal government in which Foreign Affairs Minister
John Baird appeared to offer only lukewarm support for Smith's formal clemency
application, submitted last month to Montana's parole board.
"Obviously, they said that they were backing the petition, but just the
substance of the letter — they left little doubt that they were being forced to
do it. So it's a little bit difficult to say they're backing me," said Smith,
echoing concerns expressed by opposition critics that the federal Conservative
government has little genuine interest in convincing Montana Gov. Brian
Schweitzer to commute Smith's death sentence.
In the letter, Baird prefaced his official expression of support for clemency
by noting that the government was ordered by the Federal Court of Canada to
back Smith. Baird then stated that the government "does not sympathize with
violent crime" and that Canada's formal request for clemency "should not be
construed as reflecting a judgment on Smith's conduct."
Montana's justice department issued a statement on Wednesday saying it will
push forward with plans to execute Smith.
"The state of Montana will file a written response opposing Ronald Allen
Smith's petition," said department spokesman John Doran, "and intends to defend
the strong court record upholding his original death sentences."
Smith's case has resonated loudly in national politics since October 2007, when
the Conservative government abruptly halted all diplomatic efforts to win
clemency for the condemned Canadian.
At the time, Harper said Canada would take a "case-by-case" approach to
clemency cases but that working to prevent the execution of a "double-murderer"
like Smith would amount to sending "the wrong signal" to Canadian citizens from
a government intent on "tackling violent crime."
2 years later, though, a lawsuit prompted by the new Conservative policy led a
Federal Court judge to declare the reversal "unlawful" and to order Canadian
officials to relaunch the lobbying effort to save Smith's life — a ruling the
government chose not to appeal.
Harper and Baird "are obviously looking at who I used to be," Smith said in the
interview. "You know, if they're going to look at the overall picture, then
look at what I've done and who I've become. It's all well and good if you want
to look at one aspect of my life. But I'm a more full, complete person than
what I used to be."
Smith's 19-page clemency request, accompanied by two lengthy letters of support
from a Catholic priest and a retired prison educator, detailed his record as a
model inmate, the abusive childhood Smith suffered growing up in Alberta and
his "heartfelt remorse" over the killings — now almost 30 years ago — of Harvey
Mad Man and Thomas Running Rabbit.
Although Smith confessed to those murders, he said too many people in the U.S.
have been proven innocent after being executed, proof that "the death penalty
doesn't work" in a world where judges and juries can make mistakes.
"If you're executing innocent people, it's murder," he added. "It doesn't
matter what kind of a label you put on it. It's murder."
But, unexpectedly, the man who in recent years has become a lightning rod in
renewed debates over capital punishment in Canada said he can imagine scenarios
in which the execution of an exceedingly monstrous criminal is justified.
Asked whether he thinks it might be acceptable for the state to a carry out a
death sentence for convicted serial killers such as Pickton — the B.C. pig
farmer believed to have killed 49 women in the Vancouver area between 1983 and
2002 — Smith responded: "Yeah, I actually do. . . . Like this Pickton dude, if
he's that horrible, it's hard to argue against it."
In August 1982, during a booze- and drug-fuelled hitchhiking trip to the U.S.,
Smith and 2 friends from Alberta were picked up in northern Montana by
Blackfoot Indian cousins Mad Man, 20, and Running Rabbit, 24.
To steal their car, Smith dragged the two men into the woods and shot each in
the back of the head.
After his arrest in Wyoming 3 weeks later, Smith initially confessed that he
had committed the murders to see "what it was like" to kill another human
being. He also asked a judge to impose a death sentence.
During a 2007 interview with Postmedia News, Smith said the claim that he
killed Mad Man and Running Rabbit just to satisfy his curiosity about murdering
people was invented to help ensure his initial, depression-fed death-wish would
"I had one thing and one thing only in mind, and that was to force the judge to
give me a death sentence," Smith stated at that time.
Smith later changed his mind about wanting to be executed, and his lawyers have
fought for more than 25 years — most of that time with the help of the Canadian
government — to have the Albertan's death sentence commuted to a term of life
In Wednesday's interview, Smith said he wished he could apologize directly to
the relatives of his victims. He also said that even if he is granted clemency,
he doubts he would ever be transferred to a Canadian prison or be released from
jail before the end of his life — a hope he was still harbouring at the time of
the 2007 interview.
Finally, he expressed some sympathy for Schweitzer because of the life-or-death
judgment he will likely have to render before the end of this year.
"I honestly wouldn't want to be in his shoes right now," said Smith. "You've
got to stop and think: if he decides against me, he's ultimately sentencing me
to die. It's not an easy decision to make."
Religious Leaders Rally For Death Penalty Repeal----Bill Shares Stage With
Several Other Issues
A coalition of clergy against the death penalty rallied in Annapolis on
Wednesday in hopes of getting legislators to repeal the current law, making
life in prison without parole the harshest punishment.
More than 200 religious representatives from Catholic, Jewish, Presbyterian and
Episcopalian communities gathered on Lawyer's Mall. They sent a letter urging
the repeal of the law to all members of the General Assembly.
"The idea behind the death penalty is that we can kill our way out of a
cultural wash in violence. When the state sponsors killings, it loses its moral
voice to say that others shouldn't kill -- we can kill, but you can't kill.
That is not a way to build a peaceful, just society," said the Rev. Eugene
Taylor Sutton, the Episcopal bishop of Maryland.
Religious leaders are asking State House leaders to bring the issue up for a
vote this year.
Meanwhile, the death penalty bill was forced to share the stage with several
other issues on the table Wednesday. The General Assembly has 2,389 bills
before them, and nearly halfway through the session, there's still a lot of
heavy lifting to do, 11 News reporter David Collins said.
(source: WBAL TV News)
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