[Deathpenalty] [SPAM] death penalty news----MO., MD., USA, MONT., TENN., LA., S.DAK.
rhalperi at smu.edu
Fri Mar 9 10:54:41 CST 2012
NOTE----postings to this listserve will resume next Friday, Mar. 16
Report cites failings in applying death penalty in Missouri
When Gov. Jay Nixon spared the life of killer Richard Clay last January, he,
perhaps unwittingly, highlighted a key shortcoming in how the death penalty is
applied in Missouri.
Mr. Nixon decided that Mr. Clay shouldn't die for the 1994 murder-for-hire of
Randy Martindale in Missouri's Bootheel, but he didn't say why.
At the time of Mr. Nixon's decision, a panel of distinguished Missouri legal
scholars already was one year into an exhaustive study into whether the state's
application of death penalty statutes complies with the American Bar
Association's protocols to ensure fairness and accuracy.
That report, which was released last week, found numerous, serious problems
with how the death penalty is applied in Missouri. Among the findings is that
the last step in the process, whether or not the governor offers some form of
clemency, is not transparent.
The report, by a bipartisan panel of lawyers, judges, prosecutors and law
professors, is more than 400 pages of detailed analysis of how Missouri applies
the death penalty. The many problems support the arguments of death penalty
opponents, including this editorial page, to put a stop to the practice of
capital punishment for men and women who might not have been guilty or might
have been convicted of lesser crimes.
Among the key findings:
• Missouri's evidence rules are inadequate to maintain a high enough standard
of collection, sharing and preservation of evidence, including DNA, to
guarantee that potentially innocent death row inmates can take advantage of
• A lack of stringent protocol on witness identification leads to a potential
for false testimony, and the lack of videotaping of that critical part of the
investigation taints the process.
• The underfunded public defender system — 49th in the country — limits the
effectiveness of counsel, particularly when Missouri's otherwise strong capital
unit of the public defender office doesn't get involved until very late in the
process, when prosecutors decide whether to seek the death penalty.
• Too many aggravating circumstances — 17 of them, many vague — that make the
application of the death penalty by prosecutors arbitrary. In Missouri,
virtually any murder case could qualify for the death penalty.
• No active system of policing prosecutorial misconduct, which recently has
been cited in several high-profile Missouri cases, including in the exoneration
of Joshua Kezer.
Most of these shortcomings, and others, have been cited by supporters of
convicted killer Reggie Clemons, the man convicted of killing the Kerry sisters
on the Chain of Rocks bridge in 1991. Mr. Clemons' case is under court review.
At some point, his case is likely to go to Mr. Nixon, who could, with a stroke
of the pen and no public process, spare his life or send him to his death.
While Missouri's ABA report doesn't call for a moratorium on the death penalty,
as similar reports have in several other states, it makes strong arguments that
the state's death penalty system is unjust. This is of particular importance in
a state with the 4th-highest rate of executions per death sentence in the
country, and the 5th-highest rate of executions per capita.
"We don't have enough gatekeepers for the weakest cases," said St. Louis
University law professor Stephen Thaman, a co-chair of the assessment team that
included federal judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr.
Implementing the ABA report's numerous recommendations is a tall task. Some
changes could be made by the court. Others, such as improving evidence
standards, increasing public defender funding and creating more accountability
for prosecutors will be difficult, if not impossible, in Missouri's current
But Mr. Nixon alone could make one move that would bring honor and justice to
the legal profession he loves without jeopardizing his standing as a fierce
death penalty proponent. He can commit to a transparent clemency process for as
long as he is governor. It's not good enough to spare one life while condemning
another if the public doesn't know the reasoning behind either decision.
Every man or woman on death row deserves a public airing of his or her case.
Every decision regarding the state's immense power to decide life or death
deserves a transparent process so that, at the very least, there can be public
confidence that the ultimate punishment is applied fairly and accurately to the
most heinous killers.
That is not the case in Missouri today.
(source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
Senate panel hears bill to end death penalty----Lacking vote in committee,
measure unlikely to pass this year
A passionate group of advocates — including NAACP President Benjamin Jealous
and an innocent man who was on Maryland's death row for 2 years — came to
Annapolis Wednesday to argue against the state's death penalty.
"For this state to continue to spend money killing the killers that are already
going to spend the rest of their lives in cages ... quite frankly that is an
extravagance that the state can no longer afford," Jealous said.
National advocates targeted Maryland this year in repeal efforts, believing the
state's Democratic-dominated legislature had the votes needed to end the death
penalty. Supporters believe they could pass a repeal measure in the full House
and Senate, but acknowledge that they are a vote short to move it out of a key
Underlining that point, Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, the lead sponsor of a bill to
eliminate the death penalty, floated the idea of petitioning her legislation to
the Senate floor, a move that requires the consent of 15 senators. But the
Baltimore Democrat said Wednesday that she decided the maneuver would be
"political suicide" because she — and anyone who agreed to sign her letter —
would be viewed as "circumventing the committee process."
Sen. Victor R. Ramirez, a Prince George's County Democrat who wants to repeal
capital punishment in Maryland, said Gov. Martin O'Malley's intervention would
be needed to pass the bill. He noted the governor's success this year in
advocating for a measure to legalize same-sex marriage.
O'Malley tried — and failed — to repeal the state's death penalty in 2009.
Instead the Assembly severely restricted the circumstances under which capital
punishment could be sought, in an attempt to reduce errors. Now it is only
allowed in cases where there is DNA evidence, a taped confession or a video
recording of the crime.
That compromise was brokered by Sen. Bobby A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County
Democrat who is pleased with how the new law is working. He said it is very
unlikely that Maryland would execute an innocent person with the restrictions
One who disagreed was Kirk Bloodsworth, who was convicted in 1985 of raping and
killing a 9-year-old girl. After fighting the conviction for nine years —
including 2 on death row — he was exonerated after DNA evidence pointed to
someone else as the killer.
"My life was changed forever because of a crime I didn't commit," said
Bloodsworth, 51, of Cambridge, who wore a tie with a double-helix — the
structure of DNA — for his appearance before the committee. "Even human beings
with the best intentions are still subject to errors."
During the roughly 1-hour hearing before the Senate Judicial Proceedings
Committee, only Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger
testified in support of the status quo.
(source: Baltimore Sun)
Death penalty opponents speak up----Religious leaders again lead call for
Religious leaders and others opposed to capital punishment made their annual
case this week that the death penalty in Maryland should be eliminated on
moral, legal and financial grounds.
“Name another issue that unites the bishops of the Catholic Church, the bishops
of the Episcopal Church, the bishops of the Methodist Church …leaders of the
Muslim and Jewish communities,” Bishop Eugene Sutton of the Episcopal Diocese
of Maryland told members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on
Moral considerations link the religious leaders in their opposition to capital
punishment, Sutton said, before a number of other religious leaders testified
in support of a bill to repeal the death penalty and to use the cost savings to
fund programs to benefit victims.
How does the killing of citizens lead to a “civil, just” society? Sutton asked.
“How do we stop the violence? I am here to tell you we cannot kill our way out
of this situation.”
Death penalty opponent David Smith of Hagerstown compared applying capital
punishment to the actions of North Korea and “Saddam Hussein’s Iraq,” adding,
“I think we can do better.”
But Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott D. Shellenberger, the lone opponent
to testify against the bill, said prosecutors want to keep the death penalty as
Some crimes are so heinous that they deserve the death penalty, he said. 5
people have been executed in the state since 1994.
The state passed a measure in 2009 that severely limited which cases were
eligible for the death penalty — those where DNA evidence tied the perpetrator
to the crime, or where the killer had given a videotaped confession or where
the crime was captured on camera and the suspect was clearly visible,
Del. Robert A. Zirkin (D-Dist. 11) of Owings Mills said the fact that a
supporter as well as several opponents criticized the recent restrictions shows
that legislators got the revisions right.
“That suggests to me that we have a pretty good compromise,” Zirkin said.
The bill would eliminate the death penalty, making the most heinous crimes
punishable by life in prison. The money saved from repealing the death penalty
would go to aid survivors of homicide victims.
By not having to litigate capital cases, the state would save $1.3 million in
fiscal 2013, according to an estimate from the Department of Legislative
The public defender’s office, which handles death penalty cases, would be
assigned to other work, while the savings to the Division of Correction were
considered negligible because 3 of the 5 inmates currently on death row in the
state have been incarcerated for more than 26 years, according to the
That led to a question from Sen. Christopher B. Shank (R-Dist. 2) of Hagerstown
as to how the state would save money to increase funding for victims.
Katy O’Donnell, the chief attorney for the Maryland Office of the Public
Defender’s death penalty case unit, said she did not know the answer, but would
have to report back to him.
Similar bills to repeal the death penalty were filed in 2001 and from 2003 to
2006 without success.
The state’s last execution occurred Dec. 5, 2005, when Wesley Eugene Baker was
executed for the murder of Jane Tyson in Catonsville.
Television Review | ‘On Death Row’----A Stately Exploration of Capital
Punishment Surfaces in a Tabloid Sea
Investigation Discovery is a particularly lurid precinct on the cable
television grid, home of shows like “Nothing Personal: Murder for Hire,”
“Facing Evil With Candice DeLong,” “Nightmare Next Door” and “Deadly Sins,”
which uses a religious theme to explore “the depths of depravity.”
It’s both disconcerting and entirely appropriate that the channel’s newest
show, the mini-series “On Death Row,” beginning Friday night, features the
sober voice and calm eye of the German filmmaker Werner Herzog.
The 4-episode series, which Mr. Herzog wrote and directed, is an island of
restraint in Investigation Discovery’s tabloid sea. But given its reflection of
his career-long interests in last things and the rational roots of irrational
behavior, it fits right in.
“On Death Row” is a companion piece to the feature-length documentary “Into the
Abyss,” an examination of a Texas murder case in which a young man was
sentenced to death. (He was executed shortly after Mr. Herzog interviewed him.)
The hourlong episodes of the series look at 4 more cases, and 5 condemned
prisoners; compared with the film it feels as if relatively more time is being
given to the jailhouse interviews and relatively less to the details of the
Mr. Herzog’s stately technique and Teutonic diction, applied to what was
essentially a straightforward true-crime tale, gave “Into the Abyss” an
appearance of profundity it didn’t entirely deserve. This isn’t really an issue
in the more modest environs of “On Death Row,” and a surprising element of the
series — making it both compelling and perversely enjoyable — is that Mr.
Herzog loosens up, getting more argumentative in the interviews and presenting
moments of mordant humor.
Joseph Garcia, on death row for his involvement in a prison escape that led to
the killing of a police officer, argues that because he did not pull the
trigger he should not be condemned. “I wasn’t even on the back dock when that
happened,” he says. “I was still in the store tying up hostages.” Mr. Herzog’s
prompt and dry response: “Which was bad enough, let’s face it.”
The inmates, in Texas and Florida, seem to have been selected partly for their
diverse reactions to their situations. Several insist on their innocence;
others admit their guilt and await their fates with startling equanimity.
Mr. Herzog doesn’t linger on the larger questions, being more interested in the
details of bad choices, last meals and family visits. (When he asks an inmate’s
twin sister, who lives in another state, why she hasn’t visited him, she winces
and says, “I think I might have a warrant down there.”)
An exchange with a Texas prosecutor about the case of Linda Carty, who
maintains her innocence in the 2002 abduction and murder that put her on death
row, seems designed to answer not just the prosecutor but anyone who would
object to Mr. Herzog’s re-examining of these cases. “I do not humanize her,” he
says, his voice rising to something like indignation. “I do not make an attempt
to humanize her. She is simply a human being, period.”
On Death Row
Investigation Discovery, Friday nights at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9,
Produced by Creative Differences. Written and directed by Werner Herzog;
produced by Erik Nelson. For Investigation Discovery: Henry Schleiff and Sara
Kozak, executive producers.
(source: New York Times)
Commute the Death Sentence of Ronald Smith ----Letter to Montana Governor Brian
Schweitzer and the Board of Pardons and Parole
Governor of the State of Montana
Office of the Governor
Montana State Capitol Building
P.O. Box 200801
Helena, MT 59620-0801
Re: Ronald Smith
Dear Governor Schweitzer:
We write to urge you to commute the sentence of Ronald Smith.
The cornerstone of human rights is respect for the inherent dignity of all
human beings and the inviolability of the human person. Human Rights Watch
opposes capital punishment in all countries and in all circumstances because
the inherent dignity of the person is inconsistent with the death penalty.
Those responsible for serious crimes should be fairly and appropriately brought
to justice, and the victims of crimes and their families should have access to
the mechanisms of justice and redress. But it is increasingly recognized around
the world that the death penalty is a fundamental assault on the right to life
found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human
The death penalty is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably
and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error. Innocent
people have been sentenced to death in the United States. The inherent
fallibility of all criminal justice systems assures that even when full due
process of law is respected, innocent people are likely to be executed. Because
an execution is irreversible, such miscarriages of justice can never be
Race, poverty, and geography are inexorably intertwined with the death penalty.
Defendants whose victims were white are more likely to be sentenced to death
than those whose victims were members of a minority group. Poor defendants are
generally represented by government-appointed counsel, who are often overworked
and underpaid for the weighty responsibility of defending a person faced with
the possibility of execution. Prosecutors in certain counties are more likely
to seek the death penalty than those elsewhere in the same state. The accident
of geography, and no other aspect of a particular crime, can mean the
difference between life and death for the defendant.
The United States stands increasingly alone among democratic countries in its
continued use of the death penalty. By retaining capital punishment in a world
that has largely turned its back on this barbaric practice, the US damages its
reputation, causes friction with its closest neighbors and allies, and
undermines its efforts to promote human rights at home and abroad.
For these reasons, we strongly urge you to commute the sentence of Ronald
Director, US Program
Human Rights Watch
(source: Human Rights Watch)
DA: Death penalty out in all but 1 of 4 torture slaying suspects
Death is no longer a possible fate for 3 of 4 defendants in the January 20007
torture slayings of a Knox County couple.
Assistant District Attorney General Leland Price has filed notice of an
intention to seek the death penalty as punishment in the deaths of Channon
Christian, 21, and boyfriend Christopher Newsom, 23, only against alleged
ringleader Lemaricus Davidson.
Price this month notified attorneys for Davidson's brother, Letalvis Cobbins,
and Cobbins' friend, George Thomas, that he will push for a fate in their cases
no more than life without possibility of parole. Because Cobbins' girlfriend,
Vanessa Coleman, was acquitted of a direct role in the deaths, Price hasn't
filed a notice of punishment sought in her case.
The move comes after a special judge ordered up new trials for all 4 defendants
in the wake of a prescription pill abuse scandal involving the judge who once
presided over the case. The pleadings filed by Price seem to settle the
question of whether retrials might serve up a 2nd shot at death as punishment
for all 4 defendants.
Jurors chosen from 2 different counties rejected death as punishment in the
cases of Cobbins and Thomas at their trials, presided over by Knox County
Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner in 2009. A jury for 4th defendant
Coleman also was chosen from outside Knox County and acquitted Coleman of any
direct role in the slayings of Christian and Newsom.
Davidson, on the other hand, inexplicably sought a jury from Knox County, where
upset over the killings ran high. He was sentenced to death.
Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, who presided over all 4 trials,
admitted last year that he, too, was a criminal addicted to prescription
painkillers. As a result of the myriad crimes a Tennessee Bureau of
Investigation Probe showed Baumgartner had committed while on the bench,
Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood late last year ordered up new trials for
Davidson and his alleged crew.
Under Tennessee law, only a jury can impose death or life without parole as
punishment. In cases where either penalty is sought, a prosecutor must convince
the panel that certain "aggravating factors" listed in state law outweigh any
"mitigating factors" also cited in state law before determining death as
Price's filings solidify what most courtroom watchers had opined — the
so-called double jeopardy provisions of the U.S. Constitution that prohibit a
retrial of a defendant declared innocent also apply when a jury rejects death
The state Attorney General's Office is asking the state Court of Criminal
Appeals to put on hold Blackwood's retrial rulings pending appeal. The
appellate court has not yet issued an opinion on the issue.
(source: Knoxville News Sentinel)
Juan Smith's death sentence considered by Orleans Parish judge
An Orleans Parish judge is slated today to consider tossing the death sentence
handed to Juan Smith's 16 years ago, in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling
in January that shredded his conviction in a separate 1995 murder case.
John Simerman, The Times-PicayuneCriminal District Judge Frank Marullo will
hear arguments over whether to overturn Juan Smith's death sentence and
conviction in a 1995 triple murder on Morrison Road.
Smith, now 37, was convicted in a 1995 quintuple murder on North Roman Street
that the high court overturned, ruling that prosecutors failed to turn over a
detective's notes in which the lone eyewitness first denied getting a good look
at the shooter.
That conviction later was used to help prosecutors secure a death sentence for
Smith in a separate, triple murder in a house on Morrison Road just a few
months before the Roman Street killings.
Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has pledged to retry Smith in
the Roman Street murder rampage. Still, Smith's attorneys will argue that the
Supreme Court's 8-1 move should negate both his death sentence in the second
trial and the conviction.
They claim that prosecutors spent 85 % of the penalty phase in that case
rehashing Smith's prior conviction; that his death sentence is cruel and
unusual punishment since it's based "in whole or in part, on an
unconstitutional and now non-existent prior conviction"; and that he was
deprived a right to testify on his own behalf because it would have opened the
door to the quintuple murder.
Cannizzaro's office, in a legal filing, argues that an appeals court in 2001
already discounted the prior conviction as a crucial factor in Smith's death
sentence, ruling that the sentence should stand. The fact prosecutors spent so
much time focusing on it, Cannizzaro's office argues, is only because it
covered other death sentence factors during the guilt phase of the trial.
The DA's office, calling Smith's attempt to reverse his death sentence "wholly
meritless," also claims Smith needed to more clearly state his desire to take
the stand in the triple murder if he wants to claim he was deprived of the
Smith is expected to appear in court on a TV feed from Angola state
penitentiary. Lawyers for Smith and for the state and Orleans Parish Sheriff
Marlin Gusman continue to argue over whether he should be moved from death row
to Orleans Parish in advance of a retrial in the Roman Street murders.
The state and Gusman claim state law requires that he remain at Angola. Smith's
attorneys say that would deprive him of his right to access to counsel.
A hearing on that issue is slated for later this month.
In overturning Smith's conviction in the quintuple murder, the high
chttp://topics.nola.com/tag/leon-cannizzaro/index.htmlourt ruled found that
prosecutors withheld a detective's notes detailing early statements from the
lone eyewitness, Larry Boatner, saying he couldn't identify anyone from the
rampage inside a house on North Roman Street.
Boatner first told police he was "too scared to look at anybody." Three months
later, he picked Smith out of a photo lineup, saying, "I'll never forget Juan's
No date has been set for the retrial.
In the triple murder, Smith was condemned to die for the killings of Tangie
Thompson, her boyfriend Andre White and Devyn Thompson, her 3-year-old child.
Tangie Thompson was the ex-wife of former Saints football player Bennie
Among the aggravating circumstances making the case eligible for the death
penalty were that the murder was committed in the act of an attempted robbery
and that one of the victims was under 12.
New law helps limit legal delays for death row inmates
Appeals have allowed Charles Russell Rhines to avoid execution for 19 years,
but a new state law could bring an end to those appeals, according to Attorney
General Marty Jackley. Beginning July 1, convicted criminals will have only one
opportunity to use a writ of habeas corpus, which is typically used to claim
that poor representation by court appointed attorneys was responsible for their
convictions. When a court grants the writ, the case is then subject to an often
lengthy legal review.
And instead of having five years to file the writ, it now must be filed within
two years after the direct appeals of a conviction and sentence are completed.
The South Dakota Defense Attorney’s Association was involved in crafting the
language of the new legislation. Rapid City defense attorney Randal Connelly
believes the law is too restrictive.
“If the court deems that it is in the interest of justice, there should be a
provision that allows for a subsequent appeal to be heard,” Connelly said.
Federal law limits convicts to one federal habeas appeal, but until now, South
Dakota had no restrictions on such appeals, Jackley said.
“If you receive a life sentence, you have no incentive but to sit there and
file additional habeas proceedings,” he said.
Since Rhines was sentenced to death in 1993 for the murder of Donnivan
Schaeffer at a Rapid City doughnut shop, he has filed two writs of habeas
corpus in 7th Circuit Court and one federal habeas appeal.
Those appeals have taken a toll on his victim’s parents, Ed and Peggy
“Some days you can’t just physically function due to emotions and fatigue,”
Peggy Schaeffer told lawmakers last month.
Rhines shares death row at the state penitentiary with Donald Moeller, Briley
Piper, Rodney Berget and Eric Robert.
Moeller was sentenced to death for the 1990 murder of 9-year-old Becky
O’Connell of Sioux Falls. His appeals are still active.
Briley Piper was sentenced to death last summer for the 2000 murder of Chester
Allan Poage. He is in the early stages of appealing his sentence. Jackley
estimates that Piper will exhaust the appeal process in five to 10 years, due
in part to recent change in state law, assuming nothing changes on the federal
Berget and Robert, who killed prison guard Ronald Johnson in 2011, have both
requested the death penalty. They have said they will not appeal their
sentences beyond the mandatory Supreme Court review.
For almost a decade, the Schaeffers and O’Connell’s family were the only
victims caught in the seemingly endless cycle of appeals delaying executions.
“When you look at Moeller and Rhines, that isn’t fair to victims,” Jackley
“The different levels of appeals and how many times and reasons they can find
to move up and down the ladder is amazing,” Peggy Schaeffer said. “It makes it
seem like a rubber ball that just keeps bouncing from area to area with the
ball ending nowhere.”
Rhines legal challenges span nearly 2 decades
Chronology of Charles Russell Rhines’ legal challenges:
Conviction and sentenced Jan. 29, 1993; appeals to South Dakota Supreme Court
May 1996, appeal denied in June 1996; U.S. Supreme Court denied in December
First State Habeas
Filed in 7th Circuit Court in December 1996; Court’s denial affirmed by state
Supreme Court in February 2000
Filed in U.S. District Court in February 2000; U.S. District Court grants stay
in July 2002, while new habeas request is heard in 7th Circuit Court. File
Second State Habeas
Filed in 7th Circuit Court in August 2006 to address unexhausted issues
Appeal of Federal Habeas
8th Circuit Court of Appeals reverses stay October 2003; U.S. Supreme Court
reverses Court of Appeals March 2005; U.S. District Court enters stay December
Second State Habeas resumes
Filed in 7th Circuit Court in March 2006; Attorney general files motion for
summary judgment in March 2012.
Attorney fees for Charles Russell Rhines’ behalf paid by Pennington County to
date total $146,495.
(source: Rapid City Journal)
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