[Deathpenalty] death penalty news----TEXAS., OKLA., MD., NEB.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Fri Feb 24 11:47:47 CST 2012
TEXAS----new execution date
Marcus Druery has been given an execution date of August 1; it should be
(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)
Dallas district attorney urges review of death penalty
District Attorney Craig Watkins, who has actively worked to free inmates
wrongly convicted in Dallas County, is calling for Texas lawmakers to review
the state's capital punishment system.
"I think it's a legitimate question to have to ask: 'Have we executed someone
that didn't commit the crime?'" Watkins said in an interview with The
More than 2 dozen wrongful Dallas convictions have been overturned, earning
Watkins a national reputation.
"I think the reforms we've made in our criminal justice system are better than
any other state in this country. But we still need reforms. And so, I don't
know if I'm the voice for that. I just know, here I am, and I have these
Among those experiences was learning about the execution of his
great-grandfather Richard Johnson 80 years ago.
According to state criminal records and news accounts, Johnson escaped from
prison three times while serving a 35-year sentence for burglary, and after his
3rd escape, he was charged with killing a man. He was convicted of murder in
October 1931 and executed in the electric chair in August 1932.
Watkins said he did not get a full explanation of what happened until he became
district attorney. His grandmother, who was a young girl when her father was
executed, still struggles with the story, according to Watkins and his mother,
While Watkins doesn't take a position on his great-grandfather's guilt, he said
hearing about it makes him think harder about whether defendants, particularly
African-Americans, are being treated fairly by the courts.
Watkins, the first African-American district attorney in Texas, said he remains
troubled by complaints that faulty evidence and prosecutorial misconduct have
been used to secure convictions. Watkins did not offer specific proposals for
changes or suggest halting executions, but he said he wanted state lawmakers to
take a look at how the death penalty is handled in counties.
"I think in Dallas County, we're getting it right," he said. "But I think the
larger responsibility is for other places to get it right."
After becoming district attorney in 2007, Watkins started a conviction
integrity unit that has examined convictions and, in some cases, pushed for
them to be overturned.
Since 2001, Dallas County has exonerated 22 people through DNA evidence -- by
far the most of any Texas county and more than all but 2 states. An additional
5 people have been exonerated outside of DNA testing. Most of those
exonerations occurred after Watkins took office. Texas has executed 478 inmates
since executions resumed in 1982. 13 were executed last year, a 15-year low. 12
former death row inmates have been freed since 1973.
Watkins says he opposes the death penalty on moral grounds but doesn't want
those beliefs "pushed upon someone else." His prosecutors have sought the death
penalty at trial in nine cases, and won them eight times. An additional four
death penalty cases are pending, according to his office. A panel within his
office reviews possible death penalty cases and votes on whether to pursue it.
State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, is a key supporter of legislation to expand
DNA testing and provide compensation for wrongful imprisonment. He said more
people are "taking another look" at the death penalty, but said he doubted that
immediate changes were on the horizon.
"I don't foresee a time when major changes will occur, but the discussion has
at least begun on how we make it more just and how we make it more certain that
we actually have the right guy," Ellis said in an e-mail.
Innocent people on death row?
The latest wrongfully convicted man to be exonerated in Dallas County, Richard
Miles, was formally declared innocent on Wednesday by a judge. Miles was
released from prison in 2009, 15 years after a jury convicted him of murder and
sentenced him to 40 years in prison. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals last
week declared that his case was one of actual innocence.
With a handful of other exonerees watching, Watkins told the courtroom that it
was a "fair question" to ask whether Texas had executed an innocent person.
Anyone who "sits in a DA's seat" and doesn't have doubts "shouldn't be DAs," he
Watkins told the AP later that he didn't want to lecture other prosecutors, but
thought that Dallas County could be "a part of the debate."
He pointed to the exoneration case in Williamson County of Michael Morton, who
served 24 years in prison before new DNA testing showed he didn't kill his
wife. Attorneys for Morton accuse Ken Anderson, who prosecuted the case, of
keeping key facts from the defense at his trial. Morton was convicted in 1987
and sentenced to life in prison.
Anderson, now a judge, faces a special inquiry ordered last week by the Texas
Supreme Court's chief justice. State District Judge Louis Sturns of Tarrant
County was appointed to preside.
"I think the Williamson County case is a perfect example of how there may be
innocent individuals languishing on Death Row waiting for their execution,"
John Bradley, the current Williamson County district attorney, said that
"extraordinary changes" had already been made in the quarter-century since
Morton was convicted. He said Watkins and others should wait for the inquiry
against Anderson to be completed.
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
Okla. board hears death row inmate clemency plea
Attorneys for a death row inmate who's scheduled to be executed next month are
telling the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board that their client is innocent.
The board is considering a clemency request from 46-year-old Timothy Shaun
Stemple, who faces a March 15 execution date. Stemple received the death
penalty for the 1996 killing of his wife, 30-year-old Trisha Stemple.
Prosecutors have said Timothy Stemple beat her with a baseball bat then ran her
over with his pickup truck along U.S. Highway 75 in Tulsa with the help of a
But on Friday, a forensic specialist told the parole board that he believed
Trisha Stemple's injuries weren't consistent with that scenario. Andre Stuart
suggested that Trisha Stemple died in a motor-vehicle accident instead.
(source: Associated Press)
Advocates hope to repeal death penalty this session----Lobbying efforts target
About 35 clergy and others opposed to the Maryland death penalty march a short
distance from St. Anne's Episcopal Church to Lawyers Mall for a rally Wednesday
morning in Annapolis.
Advocates seeking to repeal the state’s death penalty are growing optimistic
that a bill could gain traction this year.
In 11 of the past 12 General Assembly sessions, efforts to repeal the death
penalty have failed. Now, organizers say they need to sway just 1 vote on the
Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to get the measure to a full vote of the
“It’s a hard committee. I admit that,” said Jane Henderson, executive director
of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions.
5 of the committee members are sponsors of the Senate bill or voted in favor of
bills to repeal the penalty in the past.
A hearing is scheduled for March 7.
Before then, Henderson and others are rallying constituents against the death
penalty to contact lawmakers. MoveOn.org sent out a letter to 118,000
Marylanders on Wednesday.
That morning, more than 200 religious leaders from across the state sent a
letter to lawmakers urging them to repeal the death penalty.
“A couple years ago, we made some real progress,” said the Rev. Peter Nord,
spiritual leader of the Presbyterian Church in Maryland, referring to the
report of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment, a 23-member panel
created by the General Assembly.
The panel concluded in 2008 that the state should repeal the death penalty
because of racial and jurisdictional disparities and that death-penalty cases
cost more to prosecute than cases in which the death penalty isn't sought.
5 men are currently on death row in Maryland, according to Henderson’s group.
Since 1978, 5 men — 3 black, 2 white — have been executed. 11 men have been
removed from death row since 1978.
The probability of receiving a death sentence in Baltimore County is almost 23
times greater than in Baltimore city, nearly 14 times greater than in
Montgomery County and more than eight times greater than in Prince George's
County, according to the panel’s report.
8 members signed onto a 22-page minority report saying Maryland should keep the
An effort to repeal capital punishment in 2009 ended with a bill that restricts
the death penalty to cases with certain kinds of evidence.
Proponents say that law didn’t go far enough.
“We want the legislature to take this issue up. We want both houses to vote on
this matter this year,” Nord said.
The House Judiciary Committee has not set a hearing date on the repeal bill,
but 11 of 16 committee members are co-sponsors of the legislation.
“Clearly, this could pass tomorrow if a vote were held in the House,” Henderson
Committee member and co-sponsor Del. Tiffany T. Alston (D-Dist. 24) of
Mitchellville said the bill will “definitely get a hearing.”
Henderson said the six-week period remaining this session is not a lot of time
to usher through the repeal, but she’s confident a new layer to the bill will
buoy support. Gov. Martin O’Malley has been a vocal opponent of the death
penalty for years.
Because the repeal will save the state money, supporters say, a $500,000 annual
contribution can be made to the State Victims of Crime Fund.
A fiscal analysis has not been completed on the bill, but a 2008 study by the
Urban Institute found that it cost $3 million to prosecute a case that resulted
in the death penalty in Maryland versus $1.1 million for a case in which death
was not sought.
(source: Maryland Gazette)
NEBRASKA----stay of impending execution
Nebraska Supreme Court grants stay of execution for death-row inmate convicted
of 1985 murder
The Nebraska Supreme Court on Thursday put on hold the execution of a death row
inmate condemned to die for 2 1985 cult-related slayings at a farm near Rulo.
Michael Ryan had been scheduled to be executed March 6. His attorney, Jerrie
Soucie, with the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, had filed a motion
with the state's high court last week asking for a stay of execution while a
lower court considers his request to have Ryan's sentence commuted to life in
The state supreme court granted Soucie's motion Thursday, noting that Ryan's
postconviction filing in Richardson County District Court was reason enough to
put the execution on hold.
Ryan was convicted of torturing and killing James Thimm at a southeast Nebraska
farm near Rulo in 1985, and for the beating death of the 5-year-old son of a
A message left Thursday for Soucie seeking comment was not immediately
In his motion before the lower court, Soucie said Ryan's sentence should be
commuted in part because the state used questionable tactics to obtain a scarce
drug slated to be used in the execution.
His motion points to an assertion by the drug's Swiss manufacturer, Naari AG,
that the supply of the drug sodium thiopental that Nebraska bought from a
source in India was only supposed to be used for testing and evaluation as an
anesthetic in Zambia. The drug is no longer manufactured in the United States
and is in scarce supply worldwide.
Using the drug in Ryan's execution would violate his constitutional right to
due process and equal protection, Soucie said.
Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning has previously said claims that the
state's purchase of the lethal injection drug was illegal are baseless. His
office has also said that Ryan has neither presented evidence of his innocence
nor a credible assertion for postconviction relief; it expressed disappointment
Thursday in the state high court's decision to stay Ryan's execution.
"We ... will review all of our options," said Shannon Kingery, a spokeswoman
for the Nebraska Attorney General's office. "Delaying the imposition of the
death penalty only further delays justice for the victims' families."
Nebraska has not executed anyone since 1997, and it has yet to execute anyone
by lethal injection. When Ryan was sentenced to death, Nebraska's sole means of
execution was the electric chair. But after the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in
2008 that death via electrocution was cruel and unusual punishment, the state
Legislature changed Nebraska's method of execution to lethal injection in 2009.
At the time of the killing near Rulo, Ryan and about 20 cult members lived at
the farm and stored weapons in preparation for a final battle between good and
Ryan, known to cult members as the "King," ordered the murder of Thimm because
Ryan believed he had displeased Yahweh, their god. Over three days, Thimm was
beaten, sexually abused, shot, stomped and partially skinned while still alive.
His fingertips had been shot off on one hand.
(source: Associated Press)
More information about the DeathPenalty