[Deathpenalty] [SPAM] death penalty news----TEXAS, CALIF., ALA., FLA., N.C., NEB.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Sun Mar 4 14:31:53 CST 2012
Fort Worth native dies after lifetime of brutality
Danielle Ramirez strongly believes that Michael Paprskar never truly paid for
Paprskar, who escaped the death penalty when his conviction for ordering the
fatal shooting of Ramirez's 4-year-old brother in 1970 was overturned on
appeal, died of heart failure Feb. 20 in Bexar County. He was 70.
Though he served 10 years behind bars for the deaths of Ramirez's father and
uncle, Ramirez said the time didn't even begin to compensate for the loss of
her loved ones. Nor, she said, did it make up for the countless other violent
acts committed by Paprskar for which he was never held accountable.
While she doesn't wish death on anybody, Ramirez said, receiving word that
Paprskar was dead brought her some relief.
"When I got that phone call, I thought, 'Finally he's having to answer to
somebody higher than a judge, somebody higher than attorneys,'" said Ramirez,
who was only a few months old when her father, uncle and older brother were
"I guess that maybe gives my heart comfort knowing he's finally having to
answer for his actions."
Many considered Paprskar lucky.
Time after time, the Fort Worth native managed to avoid serious consequences
for a half a century of violence that included four deaths. In the 1950s,
Paprskar slashed the neck and face of a 19-year-old sailor in a dispute over a
pint of whiskey. The assault-to-murder charge was dismissed after a Tarrant
County jury deadlocked.
In the '60s, he was arrested but never charged for fatally shooting a
20-year-old Irving man between the eyes. Paprskar had caught the man stealing a
tire from his car.
In 1970, authorities say, Paprskar, upset over being sold some bad heroin,
instigated the fatal shootings of Daniel Ramirez and his brother, Samuel
Ramirez, inside his Fort Worth motorcycle shop. He then ordered Daniel
Ramirez's 4-year-old son, Danny Jr., to be killed when the boy was discovered
waiting in the men's car outside.
Paprskar's then wife, Bonnie, and 2 men who had been living with the couple in
their motorcycle shop/home, later pleaded guilty to taking part in the slayings
and were sentenced to prison. (All have since been released.)
Paprskar, the only one to stand trial, was sentenced to death for the child's
slaying but never stepped foot on death row. 2 years later, while he was still
in the Tarrant County Jail, Paprskar's conviction was overturned based on
illegal search and seizure of evidence used in the trial. A new trial, moved to
Houston because of the extensive publicity, was about to begin when Paprskar
pleaded guilty to killing the boy's father and uncle. In exchange, he received
2 20-year sentences to run concurrently. Credited with good behavior and time
spent in the county jail, Paprskar walked out of prison a free man in 1980.
Followed by trouble
With a new name -- he had it legally changed to Abraham Fortune -- Paprskar
left Fort Worth, eventually settling in San Antonio.
But his troubles continued.
In 1984, he was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in the
stabbing of a 21-year-old man in a bar restroom. The case was dismissed after
witnesses backed Paprskar's claims that he was defending himself.
In the '90s, he was sentenced to 8 years' deferred-adjudication probation for
shooting a man who had wanted more money for mowing the grass at Paprskar's
And at the time of his death, Paprskar was still awaiting trial on another
charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, stemming from the 2005
shooting of a customer at his San Antonio motorcycle shop.
In a telephone interview in 2010, Paprskar said he had been vilified for acts
in which he played no part or in which he was only defending himself. "I'm not
claiming I've been an angel all my life," he said. "But all this violent stuff
-- I never once went and started any fight with anyone. ... Almost everything
that happened was in my car, in my house or in my businesses. It wasn't in some
beer joint going crazy with a gun and shooting something up. I never instigated
Cliff Herberg, a Bexar County assistant district attorney, was skeptical when
his office got word that Paprskar, who had claimed to be in very poor health,
"I said, 'Confirm he's dead because we're used to him playing these kind of
tricks,'" Herberg said.
Herberg blamed the court's backlog for the delays in bringing the 2005 case to
trial. He said Paprskar's attorney had often tried to persuade the district
attorney's office to dismiss the charge because of his client's poor health.
"I said, 'No way. It's my goal to see that he dies in prison,'" Herberg said.
"I felt like he had it pretty lenient already because of the twist of events in
the past. He needed to be in prison, and I didn't care if he died or not."
Ramirez said she's upset that Paprskar was never tried in the case and that
Paprskar was able to live his last years "on his own terms."
"I was obviously robbed of living a life with my father," Ramirez said. "... I
was robbed of that, but thank God I had my mother. She had to play both roles
Her mother, Carmen Harris, was just 14 when she married Daniel Ramirez. 2 years
later, Danny Ramirez Jr. was born, and 4 years after that, Danielle.
Harris said raising her daughter is what kept her going after her husband and
son were killed.
"I'm a survivor, but what else was I going to do?" said Harris, who remarried
twice and had 2 more daughters. "I couldn't give up. I had a daughter that was
3 months old. I had to move on."
With only a 9th-grade education, Harris worked at a printing company and later
on an assembly line at night while attending barber school during the day. Her
in-laws and family helped care for Danielle.
In 1983, Harris opened a hair salon in downtown Fort Worth. In 1986, she opened
a second downtown salon on Commerce Street (closing the first location about a
year later). Danielle Ramirez works alongside her mother at the Executive Hair
"She is a remarkable woman," Ramirez said of her mother. "So many things I do,
she says, 'Your dad would have been so proud.' I say, 'Yeah, he would have been
proud, but you're the reason I am who I am today.'"
Harris said she refused to waste thoughts or feelings on Paprskar when he was
alive and won't do so now that he's dead.
"I really believe you have to move on and make the best of everything God has
given you," Harris said. "He doesn't have to answer to me. Even though he
changed his name, God still knows who he is."
Join the Conversation: Should California abolish capital punishment or overhaul
the death penalty process to speed up executions?
At 6:22 p.m. Wednesday, 10 minutes after the deadly intravenous drip began, cop
killer George Rivas became the 479th person executed in Texas since the state
resumed executions 3 decades ago.
On the following day, California capital punishment opponents delivered nearly
800,000 signatures to election officials to place a new initiative on the
November ballot to abolish state-sanctioned killing.
The death penalty in Texas and California couldn't be more different. It has
become part of the fabric of Texas. In California, it is a concept. The number
of prisoners theoretically condemned to death stands at 724. But California has
executed only 13 people, beginning with Robert Alton Harris, who died in the
San Quentin gas chamber on April 21, 1992.
California's system has become so ponderous that the past 2 state Supreme Court
chief justices, both appointed by Republicans, have called it dysfunctional and
suggested that if it can't be fixed, it ought to be scrapped. Even in Texas,
the death penalty is not all that simple, as Dallas County District Attorney
Craig Watkins makes clear.
On the day of Rivas' execution, Watkins arrived early at the red brick prison
here known as The Walls. He had multiple reasons for taking the 3-hour drive
from Dallas to Huntsville. Watkins had never seen an execution and wanted to
fully understand the system he must help to enforce.
In December 2000, Rivas led 6 inmates on a prison break. On Christmas Eve,
Aubrey Hawkins, a 29-year-old police officer in Irving, Texas, dined at an
Olive Garden with his wife, 9-year-old son, mother and grandmother, and left to
answer a call about suspicious activity at a nearby sporting goods store.
There, Rivas and his gang shot Hawkins 11 times, dragged him from his patrol
car and crushed him with their vehicle. Hawkins never had a chance to draw his
Although Watkins was intent on seeing Rivas take his final breath, he needed to
stop first a few blocks east of the prison, at a graveyard long ago named
Peckerwood Hill, the final resting place for the unclaimed bodies of Huntsville
State Penitentiary inmates.
There, he found a tombstone for Inmate 101, Richard Johnson. An X on the stone
indicated he died by execution. Johnson was 31 on Aug. 10, 1932, when he was
walked to his death in the electric chair. He was Watkins' great-grandfather.
"I didn't know the man. But I was thinking of my grandmother," Watkins told me.
Watkins said his grandmother, Myretha Clark, now 85, rarely talked about her
father. He learned the man's name only after he took office in 2006 and
embarked on a personal research project.
"For her, it was a stigma that her father was executed," he said. "She has been
dealing with this her whole life."
He doesn't much want to talk about the details, other than to say times were
very different 80 years ago. The crime involved the murder of an oilman and a
sexual assault of the man's fiancée, racially charged given that Johnson was
"It was a tragedy on both sides," he said.
Executions halted in 1972
The old system of executions in the United States ended in 1972, when, briefly,
some polls suggested that public support for capital punished had waned. On
Feb. 18, 1972, California's Supreme Court, by a 6-1 vote, ruled that the death
penalty violated California's constitution.
4 months later, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down death penalty statutes in
other states. By 1976, however, the high court had revised its position and
permitted states to rewrite their laws.
Since then, 1,283 people have been put to death nationwide. Increasingly,
capital punishment is a Southern phenomenon. Southern states have executed
1,054 inmates. Texas' 479 executions amount to 37 % of the overall number.
California's 13 executions account for 1 % of the total.
The California Supreme Court has been controlled by appointees of Republican
governors since the 1986 election when voters ousted three justices appointed
by Jerry Brown, including Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird, who had voted to
overturn more than 60 capital cases to come before her.
Since her departure, the California high court has affirmed more than 290 death
sentences. But the logjam worsens.
Bird's successors include Ronald George, an appointee of Republican Gov. Pete
Wilson. In 1972, George was the deputy state attorney general responsible for
overseeing capital appeals for California, and submitted briefs to the
California high court and U.S. Supreme courts arguing for the constitutionality
of the old death penalty statute.
As his retirement in 2010 neared, Chief Justice George concluded that the
current death penalty system had become dysfunctional. He urged that it be
significantly changed, though he stopped short of asking that it be scrapped.
His successor, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, an appointee of Republican
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has turned up the volume.
"If the death penalty remains the will of the people," Cantil-Sakauye recently
told The Bee editorial board, "we need to talk about priorities and costs … and
if it still is the will of the people, then it is clear restructuring is needed
and most likely revenue."
There are many reasons why the state has not carried out the death penalty. But
in California, lawyers for death row inmates confound prosecutors, and state
and federal courts.
There has been a de facto moratorium on executions since 2006 as litigation
continues over whether lethal injection, authorized by lawmakers in 1992 as
less painful alternative to the gas chamber, amounts to cruel and unusual
punishment. In Texas, courts quickly disposed of similar litigation.
Significantly, Texas judges run in partisan elections for the highest criminal
appellate court in the state, the Court of Criminal Appeals, and don't hide
their biases. One judge, Sharon Keller, sent an election mailer showing a man's
hands sticking through the bars of a prison cell and included these words: "He
won't be voting for Sharon Keller on Tuesday."
In 2007, Keller, the Texas court's presiding judge, attracted attention by
locking the courthouse doors at 5 p.m. sharp, denying attorneys for a death row
inmate time to file a last-minute appeal. The man was executed later that
Although California's Supreme Court regularly affirms death cases, its record
doesn't match that of the Texas court. In a 5-year period ending in 2000, the
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld 268 of the 270 death sentences it
reviewed on direct appeal, according the Texas Defenders Services, a nonprofit
that represents death row inmates. That was the lowest reversal rate of any
There's a matter of attitude. California's governor and attorney general are
moral opponents of capital punishment, though there is no evidence they've
thwarted death sentences from being carried out.
In Texas, it's a given that politicians support the death penalty. The high
point of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's failed presidential bid occurred in a debate
when the audience cheered him for having presided over what then were 234
executions. If you kill a child or a cop or commit some other heinous murder,
Perry said in the debate, "you will face the ultimate justice in the state of
Despite such attitudes, the number of death sentences has declined since 2005,
when Texas lawmakers gave jurors the option of imposing death or life in prison
without parole. Texas juries handed out 8 death sentences last year, down from
an average of almost 22 in the 3 years before the change, and a high of 40 in
Since reinstating the death penalty in 1978, California has offered jurors that
option. Juries returned nine death sentences last year, down from 29 in each of
the preceding 2 years. The November initiative would end the death penalty, but
leave in place sentences of life in prison without possibility of parole.
A pledge to uphold law
Lately, Watkins, the first and only African American in Texas to be elected
county district attorney, has offered a voice of ambivalence in his state.
Watkins told me that when he was a kid, people in his neighborhood didn't call
police; they didn't trust them. Elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2010, Watkins
has sought to change that by, for example, reviewing cases of people who may
have been wrongly convicted. In all, 27 inmates sent to prison from Dallas
County have been exonerated since 2001, including 15 during his tenure.
At a hearing 2 weeks ago for one of the exonerated men, Watkins for the 1st
time publicly mentioned his great-grandfather's fate. The people his unit
helped clear weren't on death row. But given findings of innocence, "any honest
district attorney would have to have issues about whether we have executed
someone who was innocent," Watkins said.
Watkins is morally opposed to capital punishment. But he follows the law as it
is. He has pursued 9 death penalty cases and helped prosecute ` involving a
defendant, since sent to death row, who stabbed his 2 young sons and their
mother to death and raped his 2 stepdaughters. "Morally, I believe capital
punishment is wrong. But whatever the law is, I'll enforce it," Watkins said.
To prepare himself for Rivas' execution, Watkins read final statements of other
men who were executed at The Walls. Statements from the old days were not
recorded, including whatever might have been said by his great-grandfather, the
85th person to die in the Texas electric chair. "News accounts say he sang
'Swing Low Sweet Chariot,' " Watkins said.
On the day of Rivas' execution, Watkins arrived and left Huntsville quietly,
not talking to the reporters who had gathered. He wanted to make sure the focus
remained on Officer Hawkins. And it was.
21 uniformed officers made sure of that, standing shoulder to shoulder outside
The Walls as Rivas was put to death. As Rivas was hooked to the needles,
Watkins made his way from the warden's office toward the viewing area for the
execution. Along the way, he walked past an area where family members come to
visit inmates. He felt as if he had been there before. It wasn't his
imagination. As a boy, his family brought him to Huntsville to visit 2 uncles
who were doing time.
Texas has 1 more executions scheduled this month. In California, there can be
no execution until litigation over the legality of lethal injection ends. That
won't happen any time soon, certainly not before voters in November decide
whether to end California's version of capital punishment.
(source: Sacramento Bee)
Initiative Submitted to Abolish Death Penalty ---- There are 2 capital cases
awaiting trial from Seal Beach and Los Alamitos that would be affected if
voters choose to eliminate the death penalty.
Backers of an initiative that would replace the death penalty with a life
sentence without parole will submitted signatures last week in downtown Los
Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento and San Francisco in an attempt to qualify the
measure for the November ballot.
What backers have dubbed as the Savings Accountability and Full Enforcement
California Act has received ``far and above the minimum'' of the 504,760 valid
signatures from registered voters to qualify, according to Jason Howe of
Taxpayers for Public Safety, the campaign on behalf of the initiative.
There are 2 death penalty murder cases awaiting trial from Seal Beach and Los
Alamitos that would be affected if voters elect to eliminate the death penalty.
Scott Evans Dekraai, accused of murdering eight people at Salon Meritage and
Daniel Patrick Wozniak, accused of murdering two people and dismembering one at
the Liberty Theater in Los Alamitos, both face the death penalty if convicted.
The initiative would apply retroactively to people already sentenced to death
and require convicted killers to work while imprisoned, with their wages to be
applied to any victim restitution fines or orders against them. It would set
aside $100 million in savings for DNA testing and fingerprint analysis in an
attempt to help solve more homicide and rape cases.
Passage of the measure would result in net savings to the state and counties of
``the high tens of millions of dollars annually on a statewide basis,''
according to an analysis prepared by Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor and
Director of Finance Ana J. Matosantos.
The initiative's proponent is former San Quentin State Prison Warden Jeanne
Woodford, who oversaw 4 executions. It is also supported by former Los Angeles
County District Attorney Gil Garcetti and the Catholic Bishops of California.
``The death penalty in California is broken and unfixable,'' Garcetti said.
Opponents of the initiative, including the California District Attorneys
Association, say the death penalty deters crimes, and commuting the death
sentences of condemned inmates is unfair to victims' families, who expect
California's death penalty law was approved by voters in 1978 and has resulted
in 13 executions, the most recent in 2006. Since the death penalty was
reinstated, more death row inmates have died by suicide than by execution.
(source: Los Alamitos Patch)
Another Death Row Debacle: The Case Against Thomas ArthurBy Andrew Cohen, The
In Alabama, a death row prisoner could be exonerated by a DNA test. Why are the
courts preventing this from happening - especially when another man has already
confessed to the crime?
Another month, another man on death row, another excruciating case that
illustrates just some of the ways in which America's death penalty regime is
unconstitutionally broken. This time, the venue is Alabama. This time, the
murder that generated the sentence took place 30 years ago. And this time,
there is an execution date of March 29, 2012, for Thomas Arthur, a man who has
always maintained his innocence. He also has the unwelcome distinction of being
one of the few prisoners in the DNA-testing era to be this close to capital
punishment after someone else confessed under oath to the crime.
Late last month, I profiled the wobbly capital conviction against Troy Noling
in Ohio and there are remarkable similarities between it and the Arthur case.
Both involve white defendants. Both include contentions of innocence and
allegations of bad lawyering at trial. Both include a lack of physical evidence
linking the defendants to the crime. Both include crucial witness testimony
that borders the farcical. And both include state officials reluctant to permit
sophisticated DNA testing that might definitively answer questions about
whether the defendants committed the murders they will die for.
Arthur's attorneys are even willing to pay for that testing, the few thousand
bucks it would be, and the testing could be completed by the execution date. It
is here where prosecutors and judges lose me when they prioritize "finality" in
capital punishment cases at the expense of "accuracy." It would cost Alabama
nothing to let Arthur's lawyers do the testing. And it might solve a case that
already has cost the state millions of dollars. Instead, Alabama wants to
finally solve its Arthur problem by executing him. No matter how the new DNA
test could come out, the state is more interested in defending its dubious
The Trials of Thomas Arthur
Apart from the fact that he may have spent decades on death row for a crime he
didn't commit - based upon the testimony of a convicted murderer with a motive
to lie - Arthur isn't exactly a sympathetic figure. In 1986, while awaiting his
second trial, he escaped from jail by shooting one of his guards. But any
reasonable person looking at the tortuous history of his case through the
decades would see that there is something wrong here. 3 times Alabama tried
Arthur for murdering Troy Wicker on February 1, 1982. Three times the state got
a conviction and death penalty against him. 3 times there were problems at
Some of this has been litigated - over and over again - at both the state and
federal level (the back story alone raises important constitutional concerns).
What's important today, however, is that Alabama now seems to have based its
entire case against Arthur upon the testimony of Judy Wicker, Troy's wife, who
said at the time of the murder that she had been raped by a stranger. Over and
over again state investigators asked her if Thomas Arthur was involved in the
crime. And over and over again she said no. So what happened?
What happened was that Judy Wicker was lying. Turns out she had hired someone
to murder her husband - and got caught doing so! Several months after her
husband's death, Wicker was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in
prison. A few years later, however, she cut a deal with prosecutors. In
exchange for a recommended early release from prison, she would change her
testimony and accuse Arthur of the crime. And that's what happened. Wicker's
testimony secured Arthur's 3rd and final conviction. And this time, for over 20
years now, all of the state and federal courts that have reviewed the case have
endorsed that result.
The "Other Man"
Were this all to the story it would be bad enough. But in 2008 things got
worse. A man named Bobby Ray Gilbert confessed under oath to murdering Troy
Wicker. In a sworn affidavit, Gilbert said he started an affair with Judy
Wicker after they met at a bar and soon agreed that he would kill Troy Wicker,
whom Judy Wicker claimed was an "abusive" husband. They agreed, Gilbert said
decades later on paper, that he would wear an "Afro wig" and dark make-up as a
disguise. After he shot Troy Wicker, Gilbert wrote, he and Judy Wicker had
unprotected sex, after which she asked Gilbert to "beat her up" so it would
look like rape.
Citing Gilbert's detailed affidavit, here's how Arthur's pro bono lawyers, who
work at the venerable law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, described what happened
next: "After the murder, Gilbert drove Wicker's car back to the trade school
parking lot to meet his cousin, still wearing the wig and make-up. He left
Wicker's car in the parking lot. Police later recovered her car, with an 'Afro
wig' inside it, in the parking lot of the Northwest Alabama State Junior
College" (citations omitted by me). This is the same wig that Arthur's
attorneys want to have DNA tested anew for a link that could scientifically
substantiate Gilbert's confession.
Why did Gilbert wait over 25 years to come forward with his story? It's an
important question. Arthur's attorneys phrase the answer this way: "Gilbert
explained that he did not come forward with his confession earlier because he
feared receiving the death penalty, and only confessed after the United States
Supreme Court ruled that a minor at the time of the crime could not receive the
death penalty." Gilbert is referring here to the Court's March 2005 5-4
decision in Roper v. Simmons, which held that the execution of juvenile
murderers - under 18 when they killed - violated the "cruel and unusual
punishment clause" of the 8th Amendment.
For Arthur, Gilbert's confession came just in time. The Alabama Supreme Court
stayed his 2008 execution date and he was given a hearing and the opportunity
to undertake DNA testing on key evidence in the case. Nothing linked Arthur (or
Gilbert, for that matter) to any of the evidence tested, but one key item was
missing from the original trial list: Judy Wicker's rape kit. Evidently that
kit, which might have revealed the critical link between Wicker and Gilbert,
had been missing even before Arthur's final (1991) trial. And the wig? Alabama
forensic experts found DNA on it but were nevertheless unable to develop a
comparative DNA profile.
Predictably, Arthur called Gilbert to testify at the hearing - to repeat, in
essence, in open court, subject to cross examination, what he had sworn to in
the affidavit. This time, however, Gilbert chose to exercise his 5th Amendment
right to remain silent. Arthur's attorneys say this is because Gilbert was
punished by prison officials after his confession to the Wicker murder. Alabama
denies that any coercion was used against Gilbert and says that Gilbert said he
would recant his confession if he got certain prison privileges back. And Judy
Wicker, who had for years exonerated Arthur, did testify at the hearing. She
said Gilbert was lying.
The trial judge didn't buy Gilbert's story one bit. In fact, she ruled that
Gilbert and Arthur were attempting to "perpetuate a fraud" upon the court. And
she ruled that the lack of DNA evidence linking Gilbert to the crime - it also
excluded Arthur, remember - scientifically proved that Gilbert's confession was
false. It is this ruling, the latest of dozens since the Troy Wicker murder,
that is still being contested by defense lawyers three years later. They are
back. And they want more advanced DNA testing on the wig - testing they say
wasn't available to Alabama in 2008 and 2009.
Arthur's lead attorney, Suhana Han, told me Sunday via email: "If new testing
developed a DNA profile that matched someone other than Mr. Arthur ... we would
consider that evidence that Mr. Arthur didn't wear the wig all parties agree
was worn by the perpetrator." Why the new test? Han wrote:
The test we are proposing today (mini-STR DNA typing) may be able to detect a
profile where standard autosomal STR typing (the test conducted by the Alabama
Dep't of Forensic Sciences in 2009) cannot. Mini-STR DNA typing is a
specialized form of autosomal STR typing that can produce a profile when
standard autosomal typing fails because the pieces of DNA are too small to be
picked up by that system. The mini-STR DNA typing "looks" at a smaller segment
of DNA, making it more likely to get a profile out of a degraded sample.
Alabama says, in essence, that after 30 years and several execution dates for
Arthur, enough is enough. To the state, the ongoing conspiracy here is not
between the 2 alleged long-ago lovers, Gilbert and Judy Wicker, but between the
2 fellow inmates, Gilbert and Arthur. "[E]vidence presented at the 
hearing established that while Arthur and Gilbert were both incarcerated at
Holman Correctional Facility, the two men passed notes to one another so that
Gilbert would have enough information about Troy Wicker's murder to confess to
it." (And don't forget about that prison guard Arthur shot 25 years ago during
his prison escape.)
Alabama says that the failure of Gilbert's credibility alone justified the
trial judge's conclusion that Arthur was not entitled to any relief. This meant
that the judge wasn't required to order the initial DNA testing and that no
courts now should be required to authorize additional testing. The mini-STR DNA
testing requested by Arthur's attorneys, Alabama contends, is just as good as
the testing performed on the wig a few years ago. And in any event, the state
now says that there is no more DNA left to test on the wig after all these
years. The time has come, Alabama says, to end Arthur's litigious life on its
Why It Matters
One day, some enterprising journalist will try to establish how much the state
of Alabama spent over the years prosecuting Arthur, imprisoning him, and then
defending the conviction and death sentence in his case. The figure must be
astounding - millions upon millions of dollars - a hard cost of justice. But
also an amount that makes ironic, and quite infuriating, the current fight over
this last DNA test for this last bit of available evidence. You would think
Alabama would be willing to pay just a bit more to perform the test. The fact
that Arthur's attorneys are willing to pay for the test makes the state's
refusal to test unconscionable.
After all these years, and all these hearings, and all these dramatic
developments, you would think that Alabama itself would want to make sure,
before it executes Arthur, that there isn't any of Gilbert's DNA on that wig.
You would think after losing the rape kit decades ago that state officials
would go out of their way to let Arthur's attorneys perform their new test.
This is especially so now that an execution date has been set and the testing
can be completed before March 29. Prosecutors would say that such testing will
only result in new delaying motions from the defense. But it could also reveal
This is an ugly case, tracking many of the failings of the human condition, and
one that raises questions today about long ago testimony. Why were Alabama
jurors so willing to believe Judy Wicker? How was Arthur convicted without the
rape kit? The case also raises questions about where we go from here on DNA
testing. Should a state ever be able to block a new DNA test if it doesn't have
to pay for it? The questions from the past tell us how arbitrary and capricious
capital cases can be. The questions about the future tell us how much of a
fight is left ahead over capital punishment in America.
(source: The Atlantic; Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic
and legal analyst for 60 Minutes. He is also chief analyst and legal editor for
CBS Radio News and has won a Murrow Award as one of the nation's leading legal
analysts and commentators)
Requiring unanimity for death penalty isn't being soft on crime
When Florida's death penalty process is at issue, even the most dedicated
advocates for improvements in the administration of justice tend to retreat
from the challenge, claiming the timing isn't right, that they don't want to
risk being branded as soft on crime, or that they don't want to undermine their
larger agendas by association with such issues.
Moreover, the Florida Bar Foundation, which played an instrumental role in
advancing death penalty process reform efforts, has been less inclined to
support such projects today given its depleted discretionary funding.
The alarming backdrop is that the Death Penalty Information Center, an
independent nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., reports that
since 1973, Florida has reversed more death sentences than any other state.
Frank Lee Smith was exonerated posthumously after the actual perpetrator was
identified. He died from cancer after languishing on death row for 14 years.
Juan Melendez was exonerated after almost 18 years on death row when a taped
confession by the real perpetrator was discovered.
Reasonable people may disagree about the merit, efficacy and morality of
capital punishment, but all should agree that the process must be fair,
impartial and as timely as possible.
5 years ago, the American Bar Association released a comprehensive report
developed by a team of 8 Florida-based experts, including a state attorney, a
former public defender and a former Florida Supreme Court chief justice, that
raised serious concerns about Florida's death penalty process. The report
neither supports nor opposes capital punishment.
One of the key findings notes that Florida is an outlier insofar as allowing
capital-case juries to find aggravating circumstances and recommend a death
sentence by a simple majority — say, 7-5. All 33 other death penalty states
require some form of unanimity.
Some counter that if unanimity had been required, convicted serial killers such
as Ted Bundy and Aileen Wuornos wouldn't have received death sentences because
both penalty-phase jury deliberations resulted in 10-2 votes.
But that is not necessarily accurate. Had those juries been instructed that
unanimity was required, the nature of the deliberations would have changed,
including conceivably the vote, and while the judge is expected to place great
weight on a jury's recommendation, it is the judge who imposes death sentences
We may have reached a tipping point.
Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, filed a bill in anticipation of the 2012 regular
legislative session that would require unanimity in future penalty phase jury
deliberations for both advisory recommendations of death and findings regarding
the presence of aggravators, the basis for any death sentence.
He expanded the scope of a unanimous jury bill that he previously filed to
address issues raised in a recent case out of the Southern District in which
U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez declared related aspects of Florida's capital
case sentencing scheme unconstitutional. The state has appealed.
Before that case, the Florida Supreme Court, in a 2005 opinion known as State
v. Steele, had called upon the Legislature to revisit Florida's death penalty
statute to require unanimity for jury recommendations of death. Then-Gov. Jeb
Bush observed that the issue was "definitely worth consideration" and cautioned
legislators not to ignore the court.
The Legislature ignored the court.
Simply put, Altman's bill would help ensure that the death penalty is reserved
for the most heinous crimes. It has received favorable responses from certain
prosecutors. But the Legislature has virtually ignored Altman's bill during the
session thus far.
Legislative leadership seems to be falling prey to the notion that any change
in Florida's death penalty statute might result in unintended consequences and
should be resisted, essentially gambling that the ruling by Judge Martinez will
be reversed upon appeal.
If the state's appeal is denied, the consequences of failing to act would not
Regardless of the outcome of the state's appeal and apart from one's views on
capital punishment, maintaining the status quo and thereby Florida's outlier
status in this country does not serve the cause of justice. States such as
Texas and Georgia, known for their pro-death penalty stance, require unanimous
juries. So should we.
(source: Opinion; Raoul Cantero is a former justice of the Florida Supreme
Court appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush. Mark Schlakman was a member of the ABA
Florida Death Penalty Assessment Team----The Tampa Tribune)
North Carolina's death penalty debate----A 2009 state law allows death row
inmates to reduce their sentences to life without parole if they can prove
racial bias in sentencing or jury selection.
The machinery of death is ripping itself to chunks in North Carolina. Would
that this would happen in more places — like, say, California.
Conservatives and prosecutors in the Tarheel State are up in arms over a 2009
law that allows death row inmates to reduce their sentences to life without
parole if they can prove racial bias in sentencing or jury selection — even if
the bias wasn't directed at them but at others. In other words, if convicts can
show a statistical pattern of racial bias statewide, they can use it as
evidence that their own trial may have been skewed. And they don't have to be
minorities to appeal; a white inmate who can show excessive dismissal of black
potential jurors might be able to dodge the executioner.
Opponents of the law are calling it a backdoor way to end the death penalty,
and they're probably not wrong. That's because it's not going to be very hard
for inmates to demonstrate racial bias. A Michigan State University study found
that, between 1990 and 2010, North Carolina prosecutors dismissed black
potential jurors at twice the rate of nonblacks in death penalty cases. The
case of the first inmate to test this law, convicted killer Marcus Reymond
Robinson, is currently being heard, and as Times staff writer David Zucchino
reported Wednesday, it's being watched carefully in other states. North
Carolina's law may well spread if Robinson succeeds.
It's not an ideal solution. North Carolina lawmakers had good reasons for
passing the law — there is considerable evidence of skewed juries in the state,
killers are far more likely to be sentenced to death if their victims are
white, and in 2009 there were a spate of cases in which death row inmates were
exonerated by DNA evidence. But the approach is laden with complications. For
one thing, a high dismissal rate for black potential jurors isn't necessarily
an indicator of racism; it may be that blacks distrust the justice system and
oppose the death penalty more than whites, so they are dismissed for of their
beliefs rather than their race. Moreover, North Carolina has a potential
nightmare brewing: Because the sentence of life without parole didn't exist
there before 1994, it's possible that inmates sentenced before then who
successfully overturn their death sentences could be set free.
The better way? Borrow a page from Illinois, New Mexico and other states that
have done away with the death penalty and replaced it with life without parole.
Capital punishment imposes ruinous costs on states, it can't be reversed if an
inmate is later exonerated, it's highly questionable whether it can be carried
out in a humane manner, and it protects society from killers no better than
putting them away for life. As for the possibility of racial bias in
sentencing, there probably isn't a reliable way to eliminate it. North Carolina
is going through the back door when, with more honesty and fewer complications,
it could go through the front.
(source: Editorial, Los Angeles Times)
Nebraska set to use India-made drug in execution
In the forthcoming week the United States is poised to make execution history
by allowing a prison in Nebraska to use a made-in-India chemical for killing a
death-row inmate. That the drug being used, unconsciousness-inducing sodium
thiopental, was procured fraudulently from its manufacturer – who is “shocked
and appalled” at its proposed use – is an additional twist to this saga of a
growing trans-border death-trade.
Unless he is saved by a clemency petition or last-ditch legal recourse, when
Michael Ryan, on death row for a double-murder in the 1980s, is strapped into a
gurney and injected with lethal chemicals on March 6, he will die knowing that
a drug made in the town of Kashipur, Uttarakhand in India probably caused his
While Ryan had earlier obtained a stay order on his execution from the Nebraska
Supreme Court, that decision was reversed at the end of last week when a County
District Judge, Daniel Bryan Jr., rejected his appeal. In doing so the court
however did not specifically comment on Ryan’s challenge relating to how
Nebraska obtained one of three lethal-injection drugs it has on hand.
Ironically the setback for Ryan will also come as a blow to the proprietors of
Naari, a Swiss-Indian pharmaceutical company. Naari has argued, for more than 6
months now that the 485 grams of sodium thiopental now in the possession of the
Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) were taken from it under
false pretences by a middleman called Chris Harris.
The attempt of Mr. Harris to procure sodium thiopental, proved duplicitous by
shipping documents and other paperwork in The Hindu’s possession, come in the
wake of a similarly controversial attempt by him obtain the narcotic from a
Mumbai-based firm called Kayem Pharmaceuticals.
Yet a U.K.-based anti-death penalty group called Reprieve, which had earlier
tracked the NDCS’s efforts to source the drug from a shadowy firm in the United
Kingdom, highlighted Mr. Harris’ interactions with Kayem and the intense
pressure on the firm led to it stating publicly that it would immediately halt
all exports of thiopental to the U.S.
The U.S. prison’s move to seek the drug in U.K. had also met with a storm of
opposition across Europe and led to the ban of all such drug exports to the
U.S. in that continent. However although the import from Kayem was not approved
by U.S. regulators Mr. Harris succeeded in procuring over 500 one-gram vials of
thiopental – enough to kill 166 men – for the NDCS.
According to sources, U.S. regulators have conveyed to the NDCS that they do
not approve of the use of Kayem’s sodium thiopental in executions given that
proper importation procedures were not followed. However Mr. Harris learned a
lesson from the ban on Kayem’s drugs and would appear to have followed import
guidelines for Naari’s drugs – although as in the case of Kayem the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration has refused to certify the Naari drugs too.
The NDCS no doubt considers this development timely. Along with Georgia,
Arizona, Texas and other U.S. states, Nebraska is said to be facing acute
shortages of execution drugs since the 2010 voluntary shut-down of a firm
called Hospira, the sole producer of sodium thiopental in the U.S. at the time.
Given the regulatory issues impeding the use of foreign-made sodium thiopental
numerous correctional facilities in the U.S. are also considering a switch to
pentobarbital, a veterinary euthanasia barbiturate used to put down dogs, or
using a single-drug execution procedure.
If Nebraska does not switch to some alternative then fate of Naari’s drugs
would appear to be written, despite Naari CEO Prithi Kochhar dashing off an
anxious letter to Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican, in
which he expressed his dismay at by the prospect that Naari’s drugs could thus
be used in execution procedures. Going by a response of a judicial official,
that letter has been set aside in the consideration of the Ryan case.
Regardless, Mr. Kochhar argued that Naari’s agreement with Mr. Harris was for
Mr. Harris to use the vials for registration in Zambia, get the product
registered there and then begin selling it there, given that sodium thiopental
is used widely as an anaesthetic in the developing world.
Unfortunately the most recent decision condemning Ryan to death will lead to
Naari’s drugs being used for an entirely more macabre purpose.
(source: The Hindu)
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