the death penalty, for murder in the commission of armed robbery, each year
saves the lives of scores, if not hundreds of victims of such crimes cannot
reasonably be doubted by any judge who has had substantial experience at the
trial court level with the handling of such persons."
-- The Honorable B. Rey Shauer, Justice of the Supreme Court of
4/03 - Sanders tries
again for death penalty moratorium
State Sen. Hank Sanders is trying for the 4th year to place a moratorium on
executions in Alabama, even though he knows his legislation doesn't stand
much chance of passing. "We hope to keep dropping
it in until people see that there's a problem,"
Sanders, D-Selma, said. Each year since 2000
Sanders has introduced a bill to place a three-year
moratorium on executions so officials can make sure the death
sentence is being administered fairly and impartially and
so they can can eliminate the death penalty for the mentally retarded
and people under 18. The bill has never passed the
Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a
public hearing on Sanders' newest version of the legislation Wednesday, but
did not take a vote on it. Committee Chairman
Rodger Smitherman, D-Tuscaloosa, said he would leave it up to Sanders to
decide when to do that. Most members of the
Judiciary Committee left before the public hearing ended.
Sanders, an attorney, says the chances of a person getting a death
sentence increase dramatically if he is black, if the victim is white, and
if he is so poor that he can't hire his own lawyer.
Clay Crenshaw, who handles capital murder cases for the attorney
general's office, opposed the legislation. Crenshaw said Alabama has not had
the mistakes in death penalty cases that some states have had.
He also said Alabama has improved the representation that poor
defendants get in capital murder cases. The state now pays the attorneys
more and requires that they have 5 years of experience.
Sanders' legislation drew support Wednesday from several people,
including Wilson Myers, the Libertarian candidate for attorney general last
year, and Roy Johnson, chancellor of the state's 2-year college system.
Johnson, a former legislator, said state officials need to take time
to study the entire criminal justice system. "Corrections is broken,"
Lawmakers bury bill to ban executions of young murderers
The sponsor of a bill to ban executions of murderers who commit their crimes
while under age 18 says she hopes testimony about teenagers' brain
development changes minds of colleagues who now oppose the ban. However,
Sen. Linda Aguirre acknowledged Wednesday that her bill (SB1139) is dead, at
least for now, because it would have been defeated by the Senate Judiciary
Committee if brought to a vote. Aguirre, D-Phoenix, said she wanted the bill
to remain technically alive in hopes it can be revived later in the
legislative session. Though the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule later
this year on whether to allow executions for young killers, the burial of
Aguirre's bill means that the six men now on death row for murders they
committed while under age 18 could be joined by others. The Judiciary
Committee heard testimony from supporters and opponents of Aguirre's bill.
Aguirre said she found persuasive the testimony by Mark Wellek, a Phoenix
psychiatrist who said decision-making portions of brains of people age 16
and 17 are not fully developed. "Therefore they're not as culpable," Wellek
said. "This is not a political or a moral judgment." If people that age
kill, Wellek said, "they should be incarcerated." Paul McMurdie, a Maricopa
County prosecutor who formerly served as the state attorney general's death
penalty lawyer, testified against Aguirre's proposed ban. Sentencing juries
should be allowed to consider circumstances of crimes and criminals on a
case-by-case basis, McMurdie said. "It is not arbitrary to weigh it on an
individual case." The veteran prosecutor cited the case of Tonatihu "Tony"
Aguilar, a death row inmate who was 16 years old in 1996 when he committed
three murders in Phoenix - a young man shot after a road-rage chase and a
couple killed over a debt while their 5-year-old boy watched. Since being
arrested after fleeing to Mexico for a year, Aguilar severely beat a guard,
McMurdie said. "He is going to be a danger to all whom he comes in contact
with the rest of his life." Aguilar got a sentence of natural life in prison
in the double-slaying, but prosecutor Maria Armijo successfully argued to
jurors that Aguilar should be sentenced to death for the road-rage killing
of Jonathan Bria. "He was basically living as an adult so we were able to
overcome the age because of his lifestyle," she said. Defense attorney
Robert Storrs said the trial judge permitted only some of planned defense
testimony on applying the death penalty to minors. Storrs said he wanted the
jury to hear that the last execution of a person under 18 when the crime was
committed occurred in 1881. "But we didn't get that into the jury." Nor did
the judge allow testimony that the United States is one of only a few
countries that permit such executions, Storrs said. The U.S. Supreme Court
last week announced it will decide whether the U.S. Constitution forbids the
execution of under-18 killers. The court ruled in 1986 that it would be
cruel and unusual punishment to execute murderers who were younger than 16
when they killed. Urging lawmakers to pass the current bill, attorney Marty
Lieberman noted that the Supreme Court cited states' views on executions of
mentally retarded murderers when it banned such executions. "You can't wait
for the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is waiting for you," Lieberman
6/05 - A
group of Assembly Democrats has announced a plan to seek a moratorium on capitol
punishment in California, citing the possibility of executing innocent people.
Assemblyman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood, said Tuesday he would
introduce a bill next year to halt executions until January 2009. That's about a
year after a report is due from an expert panel established by the state Senate
to examine how capital punishment is applied in the state.
Koretz said California stands "at grave risk of executing an innocent
person" unless it first examines a range of issues associated with the death
penalty. The debate over capital punishment has in recent years been infused
with accusations of uneven implementation and has been stoked by DNA evidence
testing, which has exonerated several convicts in various cases across the
country. "We can't take the risk that we're going to
get it wrong again and send an innocent person to their death," Koretz said.
"Time is of the essence." Koretz was joined by
Assembly co-authors Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View, and Mark Leno, D-San
Francisco, chairman of the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
2/07 - Lawmaker wants to divert
death-penalty funds to cold cases
Colorado State Rep. Paul Weissmann wants to abolish the death penalty and
use the savings from prosecuting and defending death penalty cases to solve
old cases, including 1,200 unsolved murders since 1970. Weissmann, a
Democrat from Louisville, said the state could save about $2 million a year
that is spent prosecuting and defending death penalty cases. He said the
money could be better spent catching criminals still walking the streets.
The legislation (House Bill 1094) would use the savings to help finance the
forensic unit, the chemistry lab and a cold-case unit in the Colorado Bureau
of Investigation. It would also allow local law enforcement agencies and
relatives of victims to request help solving old cases.
Tinkering with death - Editorial
The Colorado Supreme Court Monday reduced the sentences of 2 condemned
killers, George Woldt and Francisco Martinez Jr., to life without parole. The
decision almost certainly means that a 3rd killer, William "Cody" Neal, will
have his death sentence reduced to life without parole as well.
The annals of Colorado's crimes yield few more vicious criminals than
Woldt, Martinez and Neal. But don't blame the court for sparing them from
being strapped to a gurney. That fault lies squarely with the legislature and
former Gov. Roy Romer - who discarded a constitutionally tested death-penalty
law in favor of an experiment in which 3-judge panels would decide whether to
sentence convicted killers to death or life without parole.
The previous law actually did result in the 1st execution in Colorado
since 1967 - that of Gary Davis in 1997. But legislators were frustrated
because Colorado juries weren't sending more killers to death row. They voted
in 1996 - at Romer's suggestion - to change the law to allow 3-judge panels to
make the decision on life or death after juries had found killers guilty.
The 1996 change did not affect Davis, who was convicted under the
earlier law.) In the cynical arithmetic of
death-penalty proponents, the 1996 law was designed to produce more executions
because the previous law required Colorado juries to be unanimous in voting
for a death penalty - meaning there were 12 possible vetoes. The 1996 law
still required a unanimous decision but since it reduced the number of
possible vetoes to 3, backers hoped for more judgments of death.
In fact, it didn't work out that way, with only Woldt, Martinez and
Neal drawing the death penalty under the three-judge system. But the number of
cases where the new system was invoked was small - mercifully, because that
reflects the rarity of such heinous crimes - and no real judgment about the
"efficiency" of the new blueprint for death could be drawn before the U.S.
Supreme Court struck it down last year in an Arizona case that also voided
similar laws in Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Nebraska. The state Supreme Court
decision Monday was inevitable in the wake of that ruling.
For the record, The Denver Post has long opposed the death penalty and
still does. But even citizens who support the death penalty should share the
belief, so eloquently voiced by the U.S. Supreme Court, that the jury system
represents "the conscience of the community." The
death penalty is not a technical issue to be resolved by experts, but a
question that goes to the nature and soul of the community and its
representatives in court: the jury. And in the U.S. legal system, the jury is
also supposed to be the sole finder of fact. Laws requiring judges, not
juries, to determine whether a crime involved "aggravating factors" that
permit the imposition of a death penalty usurp that function by asking judges
to serve as fact-finders. Following last year's U.S.
Supreme Court decision, Gov. Bill Owens called a special session of the
legislature to reinstitute the pre-1996 law that returned the life-or-death
decision to the jury. If Colorado really has to have a death penalty, that's
the best way to do it. But this endless tinkering with the machinery of death
only underscores the arbitrary and capricious manner in which that irreversible
sanction is meted out in modern-day America.
Judiciary Committee set to finalize death penalty bill
In Hartford, the legislature's Judiciary Committee is preparing to
finalize a bill that would make 21 changes to the state's death penalty.
Lawmakers say the proposal to revamp the state's capital punishment
statute came from a blue ribbon commission appointed to ensure that innocent
people aren't put to death, and that minorities are not unfairly targeted.
The proposed bill, drafted from suggestions from the commission's
report, calls for the creation of a Death Penalty
Authorization Committee. The body would be made up of the chief state's
attorney and a representative from each of the 13
state's attorney's offices. It would approve any
request from a prosecutor before a death penalty case could proceed.
Connecticut has not executed anyone since 1960, when Joseph "Mad Dog"
Taborsky went to the electric chair for a murder and robbery spree.
The state currently has 7 men on death row.
Death Penalty Goes Nowhere In Md. Session
Seldom in the quarter-century since Maryland reinstated capital punishment has
this deeply contentious issue presented lawmakers with as much conflict as it
did during the just-ended General Assembly. The new
governor lifted his predecessor's moratorium on executions, even as a
state-funded study revealed disparities in how Maryland decides who should be
put to death. Within weeks, an execution warrant was signed for one of the 12
men on death row -- followed days later by the state attorney general's
impassioned call for outright abolition of such sentences.
Legislators responded with a score of bills that seemed to cover every
possible approach, from narrowing or expanding use of the death penalty to
requiring that a prosecutor seek it. Yet in the end,
virtually nothing changed. Not a single piece of
legislation made it out of either chamber by last week's adjournment -- though
one Senate proposal fell short 24 to 23, a result that both sides managed to
claim as a measure of victory. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich
Jr. (R) quickly fulfilled his campaign promise and ended
the ban on executions, but inmate Steven H. Oken's countdown was stayed
not long after by the state's highest court. That
ambiguous outcome may be fine with many Marylanders, death penalty experts say.
"It may not be a failure of government to do
something. It may be a reflection of the minds of the people," said Richard
Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty
Information Center. "They seem to want the death penalty on the books but not a
lot of executions." Maryland has executed only three people since 1961.
Still, looking back to the start of the session, it would have been hard
to predict this kind of stalemate. With the
possibility that Ehrlich's move could lead to as many as seven executions this
year, anti-death penalty momentum appeared to be building even before University
of Maryland criminologist Raymond Paternoster released his research in early
January. His study of nearly 6,000 homicide cases
across the state from 1978 to 1999 concluded that
prosecutors were far more likely to pursue the death penalty for black suspects
charged with killing white victims. Paternoster also
found that geography was a major factor in determining whether a suspect faced a
capital charge. The disparities were systemic, he stressed. "They cannot
be identified on a case-by-case analysis." Numerous
lawmakers pushed for further review of the research. Lt. Gov.
Michael S. Steele (R) said he would urge Ehrlich
not to dismiss it. Paternoster welcomed the
outside scrutiny because, as he repeated several days ago, "these facts are
troubling." Paternoster said he anticipated a
commission being formed to investigate the findings.
"I thought that was a noncontroversial position," he
said. But efforts at follow-up went nowhere. (Steele, who has been meeting with
prosecutors and others at Ehrlich's request, declined
through a spokesman to talk about the issue last week.) University of Iowa law
professor David C. Baldus, who also has studied Maryland's system, said
he expects the reaction would have been far different
had Paternoster found significant disparity flowing from defendants'
backgrounds. While the distinctions shouldn't
matter legally -- "both violate the Constitution," Baldus said -- "a
claim based on the race of the defendant carries much
greater weight from a moral standpoint than disparity based on the race of the
victim." Given that, legislating a moratorium
was always a long shot. Supporters such as Del. Salima Siler Marriott
(D-Baltimore) say they believe that they made strides
even in defeat: "In the Senate, we lost by one vote.
They filibustered it to death 2 years ago. That's progress."
And though opponents know the debate is not
over, blocking the moratorium bills was key for them this year. In fact, Sen.
Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford) came to the State House intent on doing nothing
else if that were what the task demanded. The
brother of Oken's 1st victim lives in her district, and she kept Dawn
Marie Garvin's gruesome rape and murder in mind as she
led the floor fight against the Senate measure.
"Sometimes stopping something is just as important as passing
something," Jacobs said.
Once Oken's execution was stayed, the pressure to address the death
penalty eased, several legislators suggested.
The 90-day session was packed with other critical concerns, which allowed
little time to delve into Paternoster's findings.
Gary Bair, solicitor general in the state attorney general's criminal
appeals division, watched from afar as the many bills
stalled. "There were just a lot of cross currents and no clear consensus," he
said. The attention now shifts
to the courts, state and federal. One week after the
Senate refused to temporarily halt executions, Bair was at the
U.S. Supreme Court to defend the death sentence of an inmate convicted of
drowning an elderly Baltimore County woman in her
bathtub in 1988. Kevin Wiggins contends he was incompetently represented at
sentencing when his trial attorneys failed to tell
jurors about the horrific abuse he had endured as a child.
Next month, Bair will go before the Maryland Court
of Appeals on a case that could upend capital punishment in the state far
beyond the General Assembly's recent considerations.
Oken, a three-time murderer, is arguing that Maryland's statute is
unconstitutional because of the standard it directs
judges or juries to use when deciding whether a convicted killer should be put
to death. "I'm hoping we don't need [future] political
action if the appeals court bites the bullet," his attorney, Fred Bennett,
acknowledged. Indeed, if the court finds for Oken, it
could force resentencing in all of Maryland's current death row cases. That
would restart the appeals process for each man. "It
would effectively stop executions," said Jane Henderson, co-director of the
Quixote Center, a Maryland-based social justice
organization. "We would definitely be years away from the next one."
8/02 - Elections supervisors suing over
death penalty ballot question
15 county elections supervisors sued the state Monday hoping to remove a
proposed constitutional amendment on the death penalty from the ballot,
saying it is too long and confusing. The
Legislature voted to place the question on the ballot during its 2001
session. It asks voters to put the death penalty in the Florida
Constitution and is similar to a measure approved by voters in 1998 and
thrown out by the state Supreme Court 2 years later. The justices said
the measure wasn't clearly written. Neither
is the current question, said Ion Sancho, the Leon County
elections supervisor. "Telling the voters
that they get to vote on a 714-word summary which a
third-year law student couldn't figure out simply is plain wrong," he said.
Proposed amendments placed on the ballot through citizens petitions are
limited to 75 words, but the Legislature does not have to follow the
same rules. The question,
which will be the first listed on the ballot, will take up
the entire front and back of a ballot page, Sancho said. He predicted
that some voters will not bother reading all of it and may skip the
remaining questions. "It will take more than
a few minutes for any voter to read this 714-word
monstrosity and that simply is not right," Sancho said.
But Sen. Locke Burt said the supervisors could have questioned the
proposed amendment when it was before the legislature and wondered why
it took so long to decide there was a problem.
"Where were they 2 years ago when this was going through the
legislative process?" asked Burt, R-Ormond Beach. "I
never had one supervisor of elections tell me that
it was too long or that it was too confusing." He
said the legislature was simply trying to clarify the question the
Supreme Court threw out. "If you want to
blame somebody, blame it on the Supreme Court," Burt said.
The lawsuit was filed in Leon County Circuit Court and names acting
Secretary of State Jim Smith and Attorney General Bob Butterworth.
3/03 - Bill: No death penalty for mentally
Those accused of murder who are judged to be mentally retarded would be
spared the death penalty under House-passed legislation endorsed by the Senate
Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Under the proposed law, potential capital
defendants would submit to a pretrial procedure in which a judge would
determine whether the defendant qualified to be excluded. Part of the test
will be that the defendant must have an IQ of less than 70 and have been
determined to be mentally retarded based on limited adapted functioning by age
12/03 - 2
legislators want executions again
2 Central Illinois lawmakers called Friday for a repeal of the moratorium on
the death penalty in connection with the Sept. 2 drowning deaths of 3 DeWitt
County children. In a letter to Gov. Rod
Blagojevich, state Rep. Bill Mitchell and state Sen. Bill Brady said they
believe the children's mother, Amanda Hamm, and her former boyfriend,
Maurice Lagrone Jr., should receive the ultimate punishment if convicted of
murder. "I represent the people of Clinton who are
mourning the tragic murder of 3 young children," said Mitchell, R-Forsyth.
"At the present time, if those accused of this monstrous crime are found to
be guilty, the most severe punishment they could receive is life in prison."
Mitchell's statement, however, is incorrect.
Under state law, Hamm and Lagrone could still be sentenced to death
if convicted of multiple 1st-degree murder charges. Executions could still
take place if Blagojevich lifts the moratorium put into place by his
predecessor, George Ryan. Jane Bohman, executive
director of the Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said Mitchell and
Brady are a good example of why the governor should wait on lifting the
moratorium. "It (the letter) points out how
emotions can cloud our judgment on this issue," Bohman said. "If we allow
our leaders to lead by emotion rather than by the cold, hard facts of how
deeply flawed our capital punishment system is, we could live to regret it."
Since Ryan imposed the moratorium, lawmakers have adopted new laws
aimed at reforming a death-penalty system that saw 13 death-row inmates set
free because of mistakes made by police and prosecutors.
Before leaving office in January, Ryan cleared Illinois' death row
out of fear the state would put an innocent person to death.
Despite the reforms adopted this year, however, Blagojevich has said
he's not ready to lift the moratorium. Spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said
Friday the governor wants to wait and see if the recently adopted reforms
work. In addition, Ottenhoff said the case
involving the drowning deaths of Christopher Hamm, 6, Austin Brown, 3, and
Kyleigh Hamm, 23 months, should work its way through the court system.
"We need to let the judicial process take its course," she said.
Mitchell and Brady, R-Bloomington, said Blagojevich should move
faster. "We have done our duty to address the
problems of a flawed system and that was only achieved by the commitment of
many hard working individuals," the letter read. "Their work should not go
in vain and the victims of violent crimes and their families today deserve
to have justice prevail." Bohman called Brady and
Mitchell's letter "very disappointing." "It shows
you how the system became such a mess in the 1st place," she said. "We know
now that over a dozen people, who everybody thought were just as evil as
everybody thinks these people are, were ready to be killed, and then it
turned out they didn't even do the crime."
12/03 - No place for a
A convicted felon is seeking to be reborn as an Illinois legislator. Aaron
Patterson, a former death row inmate, has filed for the Democratic primary.
The district Patterson hopes to represent includes parts of Englewood,
Canaryville, Bridgeport and Back of the Yards on the South Side. Patterson
was released from death row after former Gov. George Ryan decided the
evidence against him in a 1986 double homicide was insufficient. The former
gang leader claimed he was tortured by the notorious former Chicago Police
Cmdr. Jon Burge into giving a false confession. Since his release, Patterson
has, understandably, been an outspoken critic of the criminal justice
system. But we don't think convicted felons should hold public office. If
elected, Patterson would be able to make the laws, but he would be deemed
morally unfit to get a law license. He would be a representative of the
people, but would be unable to get a teaching position in a public school.
It isn't Patterson's death row exoneration that concerns us. It's his
criminal past. A former gang leader, Patterson was sentenced to 13 years for
a 1985 attempted murder and aggravated battery. The last thing a
gang-plagued community like Englewood needs is a former
gang-leader-turned-legislator who appears to have gotten one over on the
Chicago Sun-Times Editorial
3/03 - House panel advances bill on death
An Indiana House committee on Wednesday endorsed a bill requiring the state
Supreme Court to consider newly discovered evidence in death penalty cases.
The bill would require the Supreme Court to consider whether the
previously undisclosed evidence undermines the conviction or sentence and allows
the court to remand the case back to a trial court.
The Supreme Court currently reviews only the legal aspects of a case.
2 committee members raised concerns that the bill as written would open
the door for frivolous appeals. "This reeks with delays," said Rep. Dean Young,
R-Hartford City. But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Anita
Bowser, D-Michigan City, said evidence discovered after a death penalty is
imposed must be heard to prevent an innocent person from being executed.
The Indiana Civil Liberties Union, Indiana Public Defenders Council and
state attorney general's office also support the bill.
Indiana has 38 people under death sentences, including a woman being held in
Ohio. The state is challenging decisions to overturn the death penalties against
3 others who officially remain on death row.
Gay marriage, death penalty talks unlikely
Iowans should not expect a full-scale legislative debate of gay marriage or
the death penalty next year, Senate Democratic leader Mike Gronstal said Friday.
The Council Bluffs lawmaker, who is exploring running for governor in
2006, downplayed the possibility of a renewed debate in the Legislature about
imposing a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
"I think it's pretty unlikely we'll have a debate on that. We already
have a state law that outlaws gay marriage," said Gronstal. He was commenting on
the Iowa Supreme Court's rejection Friday of a lawsuit, spearheaded by
conservative lawmakers, to overturn a district judge's ruling that dissolved a
lesbian couple's out-of-state civil union. "It's one
of those issues where I don't see the votes to pass" in the Senate, Gronstal
said during a taping Friday of "Iowa Press," an Iowa Public Television program
that will be shown at noon Sunday. The
Republican-controlled House this year approved, 54-44, a constitutional
amendment declaring that only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in
Iowa. The proposal never came up for debate in the Senate, divided equally
between Democrats and Republicans. As co-leaders of
the Senate, Gronstal and Republican counterpart Stewart Iverson of Dows have the
power to block legislation they don't like. To become
part of the Iowa Constitution, House Joint Resolution 1 would have to be
endorsed by the Senate by the end of the 2006 session, then by the next General
Assembly in either 2007 or 2008, and finally by voters in a statewide
referendum. Gronstal noted that the Senate defeated a
similar anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment in 2004.
The Democratic legislative leader also said he would continue to block
any Republican efforts in the 2006 session to revive the death penalty in Iowa.
"It's pure politics for Republicans . . . I don't know why we would waste
our time" debating the issue, said Gronstal, who objects to capital punishment
on moral grounds and also maintains it would be a very costly addition to the
legal system. On the other hand, Gronstal said he
would still like to see the Legislature approve an increase in the state
cigarette tax. The Senate this year approved a plan to
double the cigarette tax to 72 cents a pack, but the proposal died in the House.
"I'm not convinced we'll have to raise it next year, but I am convinced
it's the right public health thing to do, to discourage young people from
starting smoking," said Gronstal, a former smoker.
On the issue of taxes, he said the 2006 Legislature is unlikely to revise
Iowa's income tax structure, but there will be "more opportunity" to make
changes in the state's cumbersome property tax system.
Gronstal said this week that he will decide by Sept. 1 whether to seek the
Democratic nomination for governor.
- Life-without-parole bill sent to Sebelius
A bill giving juries the option of sentencing someone to life in prison without
parole is headed to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius after the Senate agreed today to
technical changes approved by the House. The measure
creates an alternative to the death penalty in capital cases.
Currently, Kansas' harshest alternative to execution is the "Hard 50" --
life in prison without a chance for parole for 50 years.
First approved by the Senate last month, the bill won House passage last
week with minor changes. The Senate voted 39-1 today to accept the changes.
Legislative auditors said in December the average cost of a death penalty
case in Kansas is $1.2 million. An advisory group of judges and attorneys that
studied the state's death penalty law last year concluded the
life-without-parole option could save the state between $400,000 and $500,000
per trial. Of the 38 states that have capital
punishment, 35 have an alternative sentence of life without parole, auditors
said. The exceptions are Kansas, New Mexico and Texas.
7 people have been sentenced to death in Kansas since capital punishment was
reinstated in 1994. The state's last executions, by hanging in 1965, occurred
under a capital punishment law struck down as unconstitutional in 1973.
Life without parole is SB 422.
Kentucky Unborn Victims Bill Continues to Advance, Courts Get Involved
A 2001 automobile accident in which a pregnant woman and her unborn child died
may become the first challenge to Kentucky's unborn victims of violence
legislation, due to the rapid progress the bill is making.
The Senate Judiciary committee passed HB 108 Thursday, a bill that would
expand the definition of a homicide to include unborn children from the moment
of conception. The bill, which previously passed the House, now goes to the full
Senate. If it passes there without amendment, Governor Ernie Fletcher is
expected to sign it into law. As the legislation
includes an "emergency clause," it will become effective immediately.
The Kentucky Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments in the death of
Veronica Jane Thornsbury who was in labor when she was killed in an automobile
accident March 25, 2001 by a driver who was speeding and ran a red light while
under the influence of drugs. Charles Christopher
Morris, the driver, was charged with 2 counts of murder.
In a plea bargain agreement, Morris pleaded guilty to both counts, but
appealed the charge for the unborn child, as Kentucky has no law allowing for
such a charge, even at such a late term. He is currently serving two concurrent
10-year sentences. If the "fetal homicide" law is
passed before the Supreme Court issues a ruling, such grounds will not exist,
and the Court will have an opportunity to uphold the constitutionality of the
bill shortly after it is passed. Lawsuits against
similar laws in other states have been turned back and the unborn victims laws
have been upheld by the courts in every instance.
Senate President David Williams (R-Burkesville), predicted the legislation will
come to a vote this week, especially considering that the Senate passed a
similar bill, SB 4, in January. "I believe that it's a
good, strong piece of legislation that will protect the unborn," said Williams.
A difference in the two bills is the limit to penalties SB 4 allowed for
the death penalty, while HB 108 does not. The distinction
has earned HB 108 the endorsement from the
Kentucky Catholic Conference and the Kentucky Right to Life Association.
"Far too long have Kentucky mothers been told that their unborn children
don't matter in the eyes of the law when those children are killed or injured
because of the criminal acts of others," said Kentucky Right to Life Association
in a statement. "We are hopeful that the KY Senate
will be cognizant of the emergency provision on the bill and act quickly and
vote for HB 108, with no amendments. Kentucky Right to Life Association supports
the bill, as is, and we look forward with joyful anticipation to the day when
this bill becomes Kentucky law." According to the
National Right to Life Committee, 28 states have unborn victims laws, including
15 that cover mothers and their unborn children throughout pregnancy.
The presentation of three bills in the Kentucky legislature to protect
unborn children this session, HB 108, HB 3, and SB 4, comes after numerous
violent crimes and automobile accidents claimed the lives of several unborn
children -- none of which were ever recognized as being alive by the courts.
Charmaine Holbrook who lost her unborn child last summer in an automobile
accident, spoke at a rally for Rep. Lee's bill earlier this month. The other
driver, who tried to pass in a no-passing zone, will be tried for a single
charge of assault on Holbrook. He won't be held accountable for killing her
baby. "That man won't spend one day -- not one day in
jail for killing my daughter," Holbrook said in a choked voice. "That's
unthinkable." More recently, the body of 18-year-old
Ashley Renee Lyons was found shot to death in her car in January. Her family had
just found out hours before her death that she was 5 months pregnant.
"My grandbaby was alive. I saw pictures of him," said Lyons' mother,
4/04 - House Panel
Considers Bill to Put 'Fairness' in Death Penalty
Black Americans have been aware of problems with the death penalty for years,
the sponsor of a Senate bill to study the sanction's disparities told a House
committee Wednesday, and it's time something is done about those problems. "The
African-American public is very aware of these disparities, and they've been
saying this for years and years," Sen. Ralph Hughes, D-Baltimore, told the House
Judiciary Committee. "The criminal justice system in Maryland is unfair."
Hughes' bill, which passed the Senate 30-16 last month, would create a new
Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment. The panel would continue a University
of Maryland study of the state's use of the death penalty released last year and
would be charged with proposing solutions. The springboard for the bill was a
2003 University of Maryland study by Raymond Paternoster, commissioned by former
Gov. Parris Glendening, which found both racial and geographic bias in how the
state applies the ultimate sanction. "Inequalities have led to the death
penalty," Hughes said. "After the 2003 Report by Raymond Paternoster, nothing
was done to solve the problems presented by his study. The application of the
death penalty is not fair as far as we are concerned." Jane Henderson, director
of the Quixote Center, an advocacy group located in Hyattsville, pointed out in
her written testimony that Paternoster found the chance that the state's
attorney would seek a death sentence was twice as high if the person was black
rather than white. Black perpetrators of crimes who killed white victims were
nearly 3 times more likely to face the death penalty in Baltimore County than in
the city of Baltimore. Finally, everyone on death row currently is there for the
murder of a white person, she said the study found. Adding to the difficulties
surrounding the death penalty is the advent of reliable genetic testing, which
has been instrumental in freeing a number of death row inmates nationwide,
Hughes and others said. Hughes' bill would approve a commission consisting of 2
state senators, 2 delegates, the Attorney General, the State Public Defender, a
state's attorney, the president of the Maryland State Bar Association, the
secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services, and the president of the
Maryland Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People. Opponents have argued that Paternoster's study found that race was not a
relevant factor in the application of the death penalty. Gov. Robert Ehrlich has
said in the past that the death penalty has been administered fairly, but his
office could not be reached for comment on the bill. In 2002, Glendening imposed
a moratorium on executions while Paternoster completed his study. The moratorium
was voided with the election of Ehrlich.
Reinstate capital punishment (H 3834)
A House vote of 53-100
rejected Gov. Mitt Romney's bill reinstating the death penalty in Massachusetts.
The measure allows the imposition of the death penalty in specific first-degree
murder cases including multiple killings, murder with torture and murders that
were committed as an act of political terrorism or against a law enforcement
officer, judge, juror, prosecutor, attorney or witness. It also requires that
conclusive scientific evidence link the defendant to the crime scene, the murder
weapon or the victim's body, and prohibits a jury from imposing the death
penalty if one or more jurors harbor any residual doubt about the defendant's
guilt. Supporters said that this narrowly-drawn
legislation is almost foolproof and is "the gold standard for the death
penalty." They argued that it includes numerous safeguards to ensure fairness
and execute only those truly guilty of the most heinous murders.
Opponents said that any death penalty is fallible and irrevocable. They
argued that it is not a deterrent to murder and often discriminates along race
and class lines.
Vote falls short on death
penalty--Petition may be only way voters get say on issue
It appears a petition-gathering effort will be the only way voters soon will
be able to cast a ballot to end the state's 158-year-old ban on the death
penalty. The state House failed Thursday to get enough votes to put on the
Nov. 2 ballot a constitutional amendment allowing capital punishment for
certain 1st-degree murder cases. On a 55-52 vote, the House was 18 short of
the 2/3 vote needed to send the measure to the Senate. It's the 2nd time in
5 years that a resolution to allow the death penalty in Michigan failed in
the House. The resolution would have considered changing the state
constitution to allow the death penalty to be considered for 1st-degree
murder cases in which there is absolutely no doubt about a defendant's
guilt. Now, a 1st-degree murder conviction carries an automatic sentence of
life in prison without parole. Rep. Larry Julian, a former state trooper who
introduced the resolution, said he wouldn't ask for the measure to be
reconsidered. "It would take a traumatic experience for the public to come
forward and say they want this," the Lennon Republican said. Representatives
quietly listened to about 20 of their colleagues debate the issue for more
than 2 hours. Those who spoke on the issue focused on the effectiveness of
the death penalty as a deterrent, the religious aspects of state-sanctioned
killing and whether voters should be able to decide the issue. During the
debate, Julian introduced the families of Detroit police Officers Jennifer
Fettig, 26, and Matthew Bowens, 21, who were killed during a Feb. 16 traffic
stop. The families were in the House gallery for Thursday's debate with
Evelyn Sandborn of Sunfield, whose daughter Kassandra, who has developmental
disabilities, was stabbed to death by 3 men in 1998. After the vote, Bowens'
father, James, said he plans to go ahead with an effort to gather the
petition signatures needed to have voters decide in November whether the
death penalty should be considered for those convicted of killing a police
officer or corrections official. Fettig's mother, Kathy, said the people
ultimately will decide the issue. "It's just another political ploy so they
won't have to deal with it," she said about the failed House vote.
Democratic Rep. Brenda Clack of Detroit broke down crying during her floor
speech as she recounted the violent death of her nephew, Dana Jones.
"Nothing, I felt, would ever ease our pain but to have the killer suffer the
same experience Dana felt," she said. "Yet my strong religious background
let me know that to take a life was a crime in and of itself. While I can
never support the death penalty, I do hope that the person who took Dana's
life will never have a day of peace." Touching on themes of revenge,
justice, forgiveness and religion, an impassioned 2-hour death penalty
debate in the Michigan House failed to garner the 73 votes needed to put the
issue before the public. Still, the 55-52 vote Thursday showed some momentum
on the issue. When the same debate was held in 1999, only 30 House members
voted in favor of the death penalty. Watching the debate from the gallery
above the chamber were the families of 2 Detroit police officers killed on
duty last month and that of Kassandra Sandborn, a disabled Sunfield woman
stabbed and beaten to death by 3 young men who pretended to befriend her.
The families support the death penalty. The measure's sponsor, Rep. Larry
Julian, R-Lennon, implored his colleagues to let voters decide, even if they
oppose the death penalty. Those convicted of premeditated murder in Michigan
face mandatory life without the chance of parole. Julian's measure would
allow executions only for those who were convicted with absolute certainty
of their guilt. Michigan has a 158-year-old prohibition in its constitution
on the death penalty; voters have not addressed the issue since it was
included in the 1963 revision of the state constitution. Julian said it was
time to let a new generation decide. "These are cold-blooded, vicious,
violent murderers," Julian said. "Let's give this generation a chance. Let
this generation voice their opinion." Rep. Gary Woronchak, R-Dearborn, said
he opposes the death penalty but was persuaded to vote for it when he looked
at the grieving families. "I don't support capital punishment, but I do
support the people's right to self-govern," Woronchak said. Opponents argued
that revenge would not help victims' families, nor would it deter crime. "It
does not bring back one life. It does not ease that pain at all. After that
person is executed, your loved one is still dead," said Rep. Bill McConico,
D-Detroit. Another opponent, Rep. Julie Dennis, D-Muskegon, said Christians
must practice forgiveness. "It is about what Christ has asked us to do in
our lives, that we too forgive," she said. But death penalty supporter Rep.
Fulton Sheen, R-Plainwell, said both could be practiced. "There's a
confusion today between forgiveness and consequences," he said. "Forgiveness
should not remove the consequences." Rep. Jim Howell, R-St. Charles, said
the most serious crimes deserve the most serious punishment, death. "Are we
giving justice to the families and the victims of these most serious,
heinous crimes?" he asked. Eleven Republicans joined 41 Democrats in voting
no. The measure was supported by 51 Republicans and 4 Democrats.
2 area House members
say public should make death penalty decision
Southwest Michigan's state House members have strong feelings about last
week's attempt to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to allow
capital punishment. The resolution failed Thursday in a 55-52 vote in the
House, 18 votes short of the two-thirds required to send the measure to the
Senate. Of those voting, Southwest Michigan representatives Neal Nitz and
Mary Ann Middaugh voted with the majority. Charles LaSata voted against it.
However, a petition effort by voters could put the measure on the Nov. 2
ballot. Neal Nitz, R-Baroda, who represents the 78th District, said he voted
for the amendment to keep up with changes in society. "The reason I voted to
allow the death penalty to be added as a form of sentence was that I felt
that the Constitution was changed back in 1963, over 40 years ago, for the
Constitution to express the true feelings of the residents of the state of
Michigan would be to let the people decide it. "It was stated that there
were 1,000 murders between 1959 and 1963, and 34,000 between 1959 until
today. Times definitely have changed. You talk with people, a lot of them
seem in favor of the death penalty." He said the House heard from opponents
and proponents of capital punishment at length before the vote. He said
legislators also discussed concerns that if the death penalty were allowed,
poor people and minorities would be executed in disproportionately higher
percentages that wealthier people and whites. Although the vote to put an
amendment on the ballot failed, Nitz said the issue is not dead. "Our vote
would not have changed the issue at all. (It) would have just let the matter
come before the people in November. So I voted to let the people decide for
themselves on the issue," he said. Charles LaSata, R-St. Joseph, said he
assumed voters in the 79th District sent him to Lansing to make decisions.
He voted against putting the amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot. "For me, it was
fairly straightforward," LaSata said. "Literally, back in law school I wrote
a paper on miscarriages of justice and Michigan being the 1st colony, state
or nation to abolish capital punishment 158 years ago. "I respect my
colleagues' view, but based on empirical evidence we were supplied, there is
no deterrent effect. It's also more expensive to put someone to death than
to incarcerate them for life." LaSata said he also wondered about the
soundness of instituting the death penalty when just 60 miles from his
district, the state of Illinois found literally dozens of innocent people on
death row. Illinois' previous governor, George Ryan, suspended the death
penalty indefinitely so that Death Row cases could be reviewed. Now there is
discussion about abolishing the death penalty in Illinois. "At a time when
states are moving away from capital punishment, I didn't feel Michigan
should be moving toward it," LaSata said. "That doesn't prevent citizens
from a petition drive. That's their right." LaSata said the proposed
petition language would allow capital punishment if the victim were a police
officer or corrections officer. He said that raises questions of what
offenses should rate death. He asked about the murderers of children: Should
they not face the death penalty? Although LaSata received many more e-mails
and telephone calls on the issue of same-sex marriage than he did on the
death penalty, he said all the communications he received opposed instating
capital punishment. "I don't base my decisions on those, but it was
interesting that all were opposed," he said. In Van Buren County, Mary Ann
Middaugh, R-Paw Paw, who represents the 80th District, also saw her "yes"
vote as a vote to let the public decide. "When the issue was before us, I
had two choices: A yes vote would have placed the issue on the ballot for
all Michigan residents to make that decision. A no vote would have limited
it to me, then I would have decided. If I voted 'yes,' it would have given
the people a voice." But Middaugh refused to say whether she favors
continuing the 158-year rule of no capital punishment or amending the state
Constitution to allow it in very limited circumstances in which, as she
said, "there is no doubt, not beyond a shadow of a doubt, but no doubt at
all" of the murderer's guilt. The proposed amendment would have allowed use
of the death penalty for first degree, premeditated murder in which there
was absolute certainty of the suspect's guilt. "I have been contacted by
people on both sides of issues, and I was not afraid to let the voters
decide the outcome," Middaugh said.
3/04 - Death penalty
Gov. Tim Pawlenty's death penalty proposal suffered a near-certain fatal
setback Wednesday when a Senate committee voted decisively against
reestablishing capital punishment in Minnesota. "I can't justify the
intentional taking of a life in the state I want to live in," said Sen.
David Knutson, R-Burnsville, an ally of the Republican governor on most
other issues. Knutson and Sen. Mike McGinn, R-Eagan, a retired St. Paul
police commander, joined all 6 DFLers on the Crime Prevention and Public
Safety Committee in an 8-2 vote that effectively killed the death penalty
for this year. Sen. Mady Reiter, R-Shoreview, sponsor of the bill that would
have put the capital punishment question to voters in November as a proposed
constitutional amendment, acknowledged its likely demise, saying the defeat
blocks her from bringing it to a vote on the Senate floor. Meanwhile, House
Judiciary Chairman Steve Smith, R-Mound, said he plans neither further
hearings nor a vote on the issue. The Senate setback "doesn't help move it
along in the House," he said. Even Pawlenty conceded defeat. "He knew from
the beginning that it had little chance of passage," said his spokeswoman,
Leslie Kupchella. "But he was pleased that it got a hearing." Reiter,
however, said the long-term fight has only just begun. "There's going to be
a hue and cry that will not be stopped," she said. "The average Minnesotan
would like the death penalty. People just have to know that they'll be
safe." Minnesota is one of 12 states without capital punishment, having
abolished it in 1911 after the gruesomely botched hanging of a murderer
named William Williams in 1906. "People forget there was a victim in that
case, a 16-year-old boy named Johnny Keller," said Sen. Dave Kleis, R-St.
Cloud, who voted for Reiter's bill. The other yes vote came from Sen. Carrie
Ruud, R-Breezy Point. Her district includes Pequot Lakes, the hometown of
Dru Sjodin, whose disappearance last fall prompted Pawlenty's call for the
death penalty. The vote followed 2 hours of sometimes-tearful testimony from
witnesses on both sides of the issue. Proponents included parents and
friends of murder victims and the Pequot Lakes police chief. Among the
opponents were parents of other murder victims, an exonerated death row
inmate, a prosecutor and religious leaders headlined by Archbishop Harry
Flynn, spiritual leader of more than 1 million Minnesota Catholics. Flynn
stressed his church's "consistently pro-life message" and belief that "every
human life is sacred from conception to natural death." He added: "The death
penalty diminishes each of us. It is a sign of growing disrespect for human
life." Reiter, a Catholic, cited her catechism to support the opposite view:
"Traditional teaching of the church does not preclude recourse to the death
penalty." She added: "We've got to get rid of these predators among us." Jim
Stuedemann, whose daughter, Jolene, was raped and killed in their Woodbury
home in 2000, said life in prison without possibility of parole is too light
a sentence for the murderer. "I see no place in the prison system for an
animal like him," he said. However, Don and Mary Streufert of Duluth, whose
daughter, Carin, was raped and killed in 1991, said they "see no sweetness
in revenge, only bitterness and alienation." Through restorative justice
programs, the Streuferts have met Carin's two murderers in the prisons where
they are serving life sentences. "It has been our experience that healing
occurs when we face and confront the killers of our loved ones," they read
in a joint statement. "With the death penalty, we destroy these
opportunities. More is lost than what can be gained from exercising again
the base desires met when we kill." The opposite view came from Ann
Schwartz, whose father and sister were stomped to death by an intruder in
their Minneapolis home. "He should have been stomped to death himself," she
said. Debate among committee members focused largely on costs and benefits
of the death penalty. Reiter claimed that it deters crime because "criminals
have no wish to die," but opponents noted that murder rates in most states
without capital punishment are below the national average. Reiter
acknowledged that the average public cost of a death penalty case -- $2.3
million to $3.2 million -- is 50 percent higher than the alternative of life
in prison without parole. "It is not a cheap public safety solution," she
said. "In fact, it is a very expensive one." Her bill did not specify costs
of restoring capital punishment, although she said the burden would be borne
by the state, not local governments. Opponents noted that 113 inmates have
been exonerated and released from U.S. death rows since 1973, but proponent
Sue Ann Bleess of Sauk Rapids said no executed convict has ever been proven
innocent. "That shows the system does work," she said. Pequot Lakes Police
Chief Mark Forsberg praised the death penalty as a tool that can help
authorities negotiate with killers to lead them to victims' bodies. "It can
help law enforcement, help families, help the missing people," he said.
However, Washington County Attorney Doug Johnson said the death penalty
extends the length of murder trials to as much as 20 weeks. "I've never
heard one prosecutor say, 'I wish we had the death penalty,' but I've heard
a lot say, 'I'm glad we don't,'" he said.
penalty debated in House committee
HELENA — The system that results in people getting capital punishment is
broken, advocates of abolishing the death penalty told a legislative
committee on Friday. “It’s a crazy system. It’s broken and it’s costly, and
it doesn’t work regardless of how you feel about the criminal, the crime and
the retribution,” said Elizabeth Griffing, a former assistant attorney
general who once supervised death-penalty cases on appeal. Her testimony
came in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a bill to replace the death
penalty with life in prison without parole. The Senate recently approved the
bill, with bipartisan support. Opponents to the legislation argued that the
death penalty serves as a deterrent to crime, and is a just punishment for
horrific crimes. “If the death penalty maybe stops one murder, one person
from committing murder, then isn’t it worth it?” asked Rep. Janna Taylor,
R-Dayton. She cited the case of Lana Harding, a Conrad teacher. Her killer,
Duncan McKenzie, was executed in 1995. There are two people on death row in
Montana. Source: Great Falls Tribune
- Nebraska alters death penalty protocol
In an attempt to strengthen its hand in approaching court arguments, the
state has changed the way it administers electrical jolts in executions.
The change - to 1 15-second jolt of electricity instead of 4 cycles
amounting to 8 jolts total - was adopted by the Nebraska Department of
Corrections in anticipation of hearings this month on whether the electric chair
used by the state amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
The court arguments, scheduled April 26 to 28, involve 3 men convicted in
the slayings of 5 people inside a Norfolk bank in 2002.
The protocol for administering the electric jolts has been a contentious
legal issue in recent years and has been among the reasons some state lawmakers
have advocated replacing the electric chair with lethal injection for
administering the death penalty. "This is a perfect
example of the risks that are inherent in what is clearly an outmoded means of
execution," said Attorney General Jon Bruning, whose office advised the
corrections department on the change. "There are
clearly more humane ways of executing people. When we
put our beloved pets down, we use lethal injection; we don't electrocute them."
It is not the 1st time Nebraska has changed its electrocution protocol
because of legal concerns. The state adopted a
protocol of 4 jolts and four pauses in response to a series of botched
executions in Florida, including one in 1990 in which flames shot out of an
inmate's head. But two district judges in Nebraska, in
2001 and 2002, ruled that the on-and-off protocol conflicted with state statutes
that say "the application of such (electric) current shall be continued until
such convicted person is dead." While both judges
upheld the constitutionality of using the electric chair, one of the judges,
Robert Hippe of Scottsbluff, also said the on-and-off protocol provided "the
potential for the inmate to regain consciousness and experience substantial and
unnecessary pain." With no executions scheduled, the
state had deferred any changes in the protocol in anticipation that the Nebraska
Legislature might adopt lethal injection. The
Legislature postponed debate on the issue this spring in the face of a promised
filibuster by Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, a leading death penalty foe.
There also was a possibility that the Nebraska Supreme Court would weigh
in on the protocol issue. But the 2 death-penalty cases in which the issue was
raised - those involving convicted murderers Raymond Mata Jr. and Kimberly Sue
Faust - never got to the high court. Mata was granted a new sentencing hearing
and Faust was sentenced to life in prison. The Norfolk
bank hearings, though, made addressing the protocol issue more urgent, said
Steve King, a spokesman for the corrections department.
King said the department made the change even though it believed the old
protocol was constitutional. Madison County Attorney
Joe Smith said he didn't think the change would affect his arguments that the
electric chair still can be used in Nebraska. One of
the defense attorneys in the Norfolk case, Jim Mowbray of the Nebraska
Commission on Public Advocacy, said the change in protocol will require new
testimony about that type of execution. He added that
he is waiting to interview experts before deciding if the new protocol is better
or worse than the old one. Nebraska is the only state
remaining that uses electrocution as its sole means of administering the death
penalty. The new protocol calls for administration of
a 15-second-long jolt of 2,450 volts of electricity. After a 15-minute wait, a
coroner then checks for signs of life. King said
authorities on the subject have assured Nebraska officials that such a
continuous jolt would be sufficient. Previously, an
initial eight-second jolt of 2,450 volts was administered, followed by a
1-second pause, then a 22-second jolt at 480 volts. After a 20-second break, the
cycle was repeated 3 more times. Since executions
resumed in Nebraska in 1994, all 3 men who have died in the electric chair -
Harold Otey, John Joubert and Robert Williams - received multiple jolts.
- Anti-terrorism amendments approved by Nevada panel
In Carson City, the Assembly voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt amendments to a
Nevada anti-terrorism bill - changes hailed by civil libertarians concerned that
the initial plan was too broad. But while AB250, sponsored by Assembly Speaker
Richard Perkins, was revised, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada still
is worried about some of the wording in the bill. Richard Siegel, head of the
Nevada ACLU, said his organization has more concerns about SB38, a
Senate-sponsored anti-terrorism measure. Siegel added the concerns are warranted
because terrorists convicted under the proposed law could get sentences ranging
from life imprisonment to the death penalty. "We feel pretty good about what's
been accomplished in the Assembly," Siegel said. "But the language in the Senate
bill was not as carefully tailored." Siegel also credited the conservative
Nevada Eagle Forum for helping to raise many of the same issues brought up by
the ACLU, adding, "The truth is, there's a left-right coalition that's working
on this." The amendments to AB250 include wording to protect peoples' free
speech rights. The changes include a line that says "coercion" doesn't include
protests or other forms of civil disobedience. "One of our major concerns was
that acts of civil disobedience or labor protests not be considered acts of
terrorism," Siegel said. Other changes tighten the definition of terrorism to
exclude the use of fear as a tactic. Now it's the use of sabotage, coercion or
violence to cause "great bodily harm or death to more than one person." Also
covered are the use of such tactics to destroy, contaminate or impair buildings,
communication networks, transportation or utility services or "any natural
resource or the environment." Siegel said he still has some concerns because
wording in the Assembly bill dealing with damage to structures or services might
be used to prosecute arsonists as terrorists. The amended version of AB250 is
expected to come up for a final vote in the Assembly in a few days. From there,
it must go to the Senate for its review. Perkins, D-Henderson, said that while
all of the acts covered under his bill are already illegal, it's still necessary
to codify terrorism in Nevada's statutes and to increase the penalties. "The
people who do these types of despicable things deserve to be punished more
stringently," Perkins said during an earlier hearing on the bill.
- Bill to abolish death penalty halted
SANTA FE — A bill to abolish the death penalty in New Mexico has been halted
this session. The Senate Judiciary Committee took
no action on the measure during a hearing Wednesday night, effectively
shelving the bill. The hearing chamber was packed
with both death penalty supporters and opponents, including Sam Millsap, a
former San Antonio, Texas, district attorney. He once supported the death
penalty but changed his mind after discovering a man he sought the sentence
for might not have committed murder. Millsap said
an argument he often hears in favor of the death penalty is that it deters
crime. But murder rates remain highest, he said, in areas of the country
where capital punishment is used most. "There is
simply no evidence the existence of a death penalty has a deterrent effect,"
he said. The measure would have replaced the death
penalty with a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell, a panel member, voted against removing the
death penalty. He said he supports capital punishment because some crimes
are so serious it's the only fitting sentence. "To
me it's extremely unethical to eliminate the death penalty," he said. "It's
immoral not to have it. It means we have less respect for life."
Bill sponsor Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, said because the chance
exists for an innocent person to be executed under the death penalty, it
should be abolished. "For me it's a matter of
justice," she said. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Gail
Chasey, D-Albuquerque, said often people agree with the death penalty in
principle but don't support it because they realize the justice system isn't
perfect. Adair said tools such as DNA give the
judicial system confidence about whether a person is innocent or guilty of a
murder. Millsap said DNA evidence is one tool, but
it's not the "be all, end all" in determining a person's guilt.
Sen. Lidio Rainaldi, D-Gallup, voted against the bill. After the
meeting, he said he believes there are instances that warrant the death
penalty. "What happens if there's no death penalty
and there's a fireman or a policeman shot?" he said. "What do you do then?"
Chasey said she was disappointed about the bill's fate but plans to
propose the measure in a future legislative session.
The measure failed the Senate Judiciary committee on a 4-to-5 vote.
The legislation is House Bill 190. Source:
Las Cruces Sun-News
12/03 - NY Court
Is Called Anti-Death -- Overturn in 2 cases reignites state debate
At first, James Cahill 3rd seemed to be precisely the kind of killer New
York had in mind when it revived its death penalty 9 years ago. In April
1998, Cahill resolved a pre-dawn argument with his wife, Jill, by bashing
her with an aluminum baseball bat with such force that it dented her skull
and knocked her from the room and into a coma. 7 months later, he sneaked
into the Syracuse hospital room where she was still recuperating and slipped
potassium cyanide into either her mouth or feeding tube, killing her. A jury
sentenced Cahill to death in 1999 after deliberating for five hours. But
last month, a majority of New York's Court of Appeals vacated that
punishment, ruling that even though there was no doubt of Cahill's guilt,
the murder was not atrocious enough to qualify under the state's death
penalty statute. Issued a year after the high court overturned the first
death penalty sentence to reach them - imposed on Darrel Harris, who
admitted killing three people in a Brooklyn nightclub - the ruling has
provoked the most passion about the death penalty in New York since the
mid-1990s, when the topic helped George Pataki unseat then-Gov. Mario Cuomo
through a campaign that focused on the incumbent's opposition to capital
punishment. The Cahill decision revealed a deep schism within the state's
highest court. The 4-judge majority chided the trial judge for not being
careful enough in selecting an impartial jury, and rejected what they
considered the jury's overly elastic interpretation of who qualifies for
execution under the state's law. 2 of the Court of Appeals judges wanted to
go even further and strike down as unconstitutional 1 provision in the law
concerning the instructions judges must give jurors. On the other side, two
dissenting judges, noting "the extreme disagreement that envelops the
members of this court," lambasted the majority for imposing its own views
over those of the death penalty's legislative architects and ignoring the
"measured, reasoned verdict" of the jury. Many death penalty advocates
agree. "As presently constituted, I don't think the Court of Appeals has the
stomach for a death penalty actually carried out," said Robert Blecker, a
professor at New York Law School in Manhattan who favors capital punishment.
"They will find one way or another to prevent it." The ruling has prompted
some members of the Republican-led State Senate to consider breaking with
their tradition of rubber-stamping Pataki nominees next month, when they
hold a confirmation hearing on Pataki's choice to fill the latest Court of
Appeals vacancy. The nominee, Robert Smith, is a widely respected Manhattan
lawyer and Republican donor who has represented two death row inmates before
the U.S. Supreme Court and admitted to an ambivalence about capital
punishment. Sen. Dale Volker, one of the authors of the death penalty
statute, said that many of the state's district attorneys are pressing the
Senate to reject Smith if he indicates significant qualms on the subject.
"He's a very bright guy. He's a problem," said Volker (R-Depew). "We're
getting a lot of flak on this one." While much of the current fury is aimed
at the Court of Appeals, legal experts note that many of the reasons for New
York's delay in executing anyone can be traced to features that lawmakers
originally included in the death penalty statute, and the way it has been
applied in the subsequent 9 years. To avoid allowing ill-equipped or
incompetent lawyers to be assigned to represent defendants, New York
lawmakers created a well-funded capital defender office to represent
defendants aggressively from trial up through appeals. Prosecutors and death
penalty opponents say that office has lived up to that intent, often filing
motions of many hundred pages and effectively marshaling arguments. Defense
attorneys have been able to take advantage of small errors made by trial
judges, few of whom were even on the bench in 1963, when New York last
executed someone. "The dozens of ancillary issues that arise in the course
of a capital trial haven't been thought through," said Kevin Doyle, the
state capital defender. In some ways, New York is not that different from
other states that have revived their death penalties since the U.S. Supreme
Court allowed executions to be reinstated in 1976. On average, it has taken
those states 15 years before they conducted their first execution, according
to data compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington,
D.C., nonprofit. "It's just a matter of time," said Sean Byrne, executive
director of the New York Prosecutors Training Institute, based in Albany. "I
think one would be mistaken to think that a reversal on the first two cases
means there is some larger problem with the death penalty." But New York's
district attorneys have been more cautious than most in pursuing cases. As
of Oct. 1, all but 5 of the 38 states with capital punishment had more
people on death row than did New York, according to the NAACP Legal Defense
and Education Fund. Through July, New York prosecutors sought the death
penalty in only 50 of 799 murder cases where they were considering it,
according to the state Capital Defender Office. There are now 5 people on
death row. 3 are from Suffolk: Steven LaValle, who raped and stabbed to
death a jogger in Medford; Robert Shulman, who dismembered 3 prostitutes;
and Nicholson McCoy, who gagged and killed a supermarket co-worker. Another,
John Taylor, was convicted of leading a robbery at a Wendy's restaurant in
Queens in which he and an accomplice fatally shot 5 people. The only
upstater awaiting lethal injection is Angel Mateo, convicted of abducting
and killing a mentally ill man in Rochester. In its appeals, the Capital
Defender Office has argued that New York's death penalty is unconstitutional
because it is not being administered evenly. Death penalty opponents point
out that although upstate counties account for only 20 % of all murders,
they bring 65 % of all capital prosecutions. In large part, experts say,
that is due to the district attorneys of two of New York's busiest criminal
jurisdictions: the Bronx's Robert Johnson, who has voiced his philosophical
disapproval of execution, and Manhattan's Robert Morgenthau, who is widely
believed to share that opinion though he has publicly said he will consider
it on a case-by-case basis. Together, Johnson and Morgenthau have declined
to bring capital cases against any of 145 defendants indicted for 1st-degree
murder from 1995 through July 2003. So far, however, sweeping arguments
about the unfairness of the death penalty have yet to sway the Court of
Appeals, which instead has vacated the 1st 2 death sentences to reach it on
specific, sometimes technical, flaws in the trials. In the Cahill case, for
instance, the court found that the jury had wrongly decided he murdered his
wife to stop her from testifying that he had beaten her. The court also
rejected the jury's conclusion that he had committed a separate crime -
burglary - when he broke into his wife's hospital room. Those 2 assertions
had been the prosecutions' rationale for invoking the death penalty, which
requires at least 1 of 13 aggravating factors to be present, to avoid the
death penalty from being arbitrarily or randomly administered. But Judge
Albert Rosenblatt's majority opinion determined that "the better part of the
evidence reveals that defendant was motivated to poison his wife because
their marriage and family life were being destroyed." That issue is not
expected to play a central part in most of the pending five appeals. Still,
capital punishment opponents hope and supporters fear that New York will
continue to be 1 of 6 of states that have yet to execute anyone since
reviving their death penalties. Those include Connecticut, which restored
its death penalty three decades ago, and New Jersey, which reinstated its
law in 1982. "Until the composition of the court changes, DAs around the
state will be very reluctant to file death penalty notices," said Onondaga
District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, whose office prosecuted Cahill. "When
I look at the emotional toll the family went through, that this office went
through, I'll be hard-pressed to ever file a notice again." The state Court
of Appeals' 4-2 decision last month to vacate the death sentence of James
Cahill provides the clearest indication yet of where the judges stand on the
NC leaders to take up execution issue
(click for full article)
RALEIGH -- Forced into an ongoing debate over capital punishment by a
judge's order, top state officials next week will consider the role a doctor
must play in executions, Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry said Wednesday.
Three executions have been put on hold since a Wake County Superior Court
judge ruled last week that the 10-member Council of State must approve a recent
change that keeps doctors from actively participating in the execution process.
The Council of State ended up at the center of the issue last week when
Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens stayed three pending
executions. His ruling came in response to the North
Carolina Medical Board decision declaring that any participation by a physician
violated medical ethics. The policy conflicts with the state law requiring a
doctor's presence at executions, so the state changed its methods so that a
doctor would be present but not have an active role. A nurse and a medical
technician would monitor the inmates' vital signs. If
a problem arose requiring the doctor to intervene, officials would stop the
execution and reschedule it, allowing the physician to assist without breaching
ethics rules. Relying on a law originally written in
1909, Stephens said such a change in the state's process for imposing a death
sentence requires the approval of the governor and the Council of State.
Berry, a supporter of capital punishment and one of three Republicans on
the council, believes the council's action would merely address a
"technicality." "In the meantime we have a de facto
moratorium on the death penalty," she said, calling it unfair to victims'
- Yates wants moratorium on executions in Ohio
With the 10th anniversary of the Lucasville riots as his backdrop, state
Rep. Tyrone Yates said today he will have legislation prepared calling for a
moratorium on executions in Ohio. Saying that the
death penalty is not a deterrent to the types of crime it is meant to stop and
that life sentences without parole would sufficiently protect society from its
worst criminals, Yates, D-Cincinnati, said he would begin researching the issue
more thoroughly and have legislation drafted for possible introduction in coming
months. "The time has come for a moratorium," he said.
"The center of action must be in the halls of the Ohio legislature."
Yates said he is getting involved because nearly one fourth of the people
on Ohio's death row are from Hamilton County. He called the county's record of
sending people to death row "particularly troublesome."
Yates spoke at a press conference this morning where death penalty
opponents marked the 10th anniversary of the Lucasville uprising.
Nine prisoners and correctional officer Robert Valandingham were killed
in the 11-day uprising. Five people eventually were
convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death. Their cases are in
various stages of appeal. James Ware, whose sentence
was overturned on appeal, has a Hamilton County re-trial date of April 28.
Senate votes to add crimes to death penalty law
(click for full article)
Murdering a woman who is known by the killer to be pregnant would carry a
possible death sentence under a bill approved by the Senate Monday.
The measure, passed 19-11, returns to the House for action on amendments.
Several senators opposed the bill despite their support for capital
punishment, saying it should have allowed a separate murder charge for slaying a
fetus. "This bill is silent to the second life," said
Rep. Roger Beyer, R-Molalla. "There is no justice for the second person."
A bill permitting a separate criminal charge for killing a fetus was
passed by the Republican-controlled House in May, but hasn't advanced in the
Democrat-run Senate. Abortion-rights advocates claim
the House bill is meant to be a step toward outlawing abortion by establishing a
fetus as a person. The bill is modeled after the California law that allowed
Scott Peterson to be convicted of two murder charges for killing his pregnant
wife, Laci, and their unborn son. Senate Majority
Leader Kate Brown, D-Portland, said it's time to add the death sentence to
murders of pregnant women and that there have been 1,900 such killings in the
United States since 1990. Brown said other provisions
in the bill would eliminate inconsistencies under which killing a regular law
enforcement officer is a capital crime but murdering a reserve officer is not.
Also, murder of a witness in an adult criminal court proceeding can mean a death
sentence, but murdering a witness in a juvenile court proceeding isn't a capital
offense. Several opponents of the measure said they
staunchly oppose capital punishment and that a prison term without chance of
parole is a more severe sentence. "The death penalty
has no place in the criminal justice system" said Sen. Ginny Burdick,
D-Portland. "The government is not perfect."
The move to increase possible penalties for murdering juvenile court
witnesses stems from the 1994 killing of Aaron Iturra by teenage members of a
Eugene street gang organized by "gang mom" Mary Thompson. Prosecutors said
Thompson persuaded two youths to kill Iturra to prevent him from testifying
against Thompson's son in an assault case. Killing a
witness to prevent testimony in a criminal proceeding is aggravated murder, with
possible sentences of death, life without parole, or life with possible parole
after 30 years. Thompson's sentence of life without
parole was reduced, to allow parole, after the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in
2000 that juvenile court proceedings technically are not "criminal" proceedings.
1/00 - The Assembly gave final legislative approval to a bill that
would provide about $80,000 to survivors of murdered police officers by
diverting profits from a Meadowlands benefit concert for a convicted killer of a
Philadelphia policeman. The lower house, in a 70-0 vote, agreed to donate the concert profits to the
200 Club, a statewide network that helps families of police officers killed in
the line of duty. A concert was held last Jan. 28 at the Continental
Airlines Arena in East Rutherford to benefit the defense fund for Mumia Abu-Jamal,
a former radio reporter on Pennsylvania's death row for the 1981 killing of
Officer Daniel Faulkner. The concert featured The Beastie Boys, Rage Against the
Machine, Bad Religion and Black Star. Police groups opposed the concert. The bill would divert profits made by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition
Authority. Abu-Jamal, who is black, contended that police coerced an
eyewitness to testify against him, unfairly stacked a jury with white people and
railroaded him to a guilty verdict in the 1981 shooting of Faulkner, 26, who had
stopped Abu-Jamal's brother for a traffic violation. Abu-Jamal's case has
attracted widespread support among death penalty opponents. Police and prosecutors say
Abu-Jamal was fairly convicted on physical
evidence and testimony. The bill, A-3036, now advances to Gov. Christie Whitman.
2/01 - An epidemic of domestic violence can be stemmed
with a new law that calls for the death penalty in spousal abuse cases that end
in murder, an Upstate lawmaker said. "We have to get rid of this
stigma that this is a domestic problem," said Rep. Becky Meacham-Richardson,
R-Fort Mill, who is pushing for the Domestic Violence Prevention Act. "It
is not. It is a criminal problem." Her bill not only imposes the death
penalty, it also would not allow prosecutors to drop charges once a feuding
couple say they've worked things out. In addition, it requires a two-day waiting
period in jail for those arrested for domestic violence, and it mandates
counseling for anyone convicted of the crime. "Each year, more women are
injured by domestic violence than are killed by automobile and cancer deaths
combined," Meacham-Richardson said, quoting national statistics from the
American Bar Association. 39 women in South Carolina died last year as a result
of domestic violence, she said. "We are facing a crisis." Attorney
General Charlie Condon urged the House Judiciary subcommittee not to water down
the bill, saying South Carolina's per capita rate of men killing women is more
than twice the national average. The national rate in 1998 was 1.4 women per
100,000 people while the state rate was 3.1 %. Nearly 54,000 domestic violence
offenses were reported in the state in 1999 and 1/4 of all aggravated assaults
were domestic violence. "That's unbelievable. It's inexcusable and it's
unacceptable," Condon said. "Turning one's spouse or girlfriend into a
punching bag, sparring partner or dead victim deserves complete contempt from
everyone." Some lawmakers questioned the no-drop policy, saying it mandates
that a solicitor try a case and takes away any chance for a couple's
reconciliation after a nasty fight. "I've had numerous cases the next day
where she's begging to have him back," said Rep. Jim Klauber, a Greenwood
attorney. Meacham-Richardson said such requests are just another symptom of
domestic violence. "She's really not thinking correctly," she said.
"She needs help." The S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and
Sexual Assault called the legislation well-meaning but said it doesn't address
an immediate problem that another law has caused. Recently passed legislation
requires an arrest in domestic violence situations, but coalition director Vicki
Bourus said what is happening more frequently is that officers are taking both
the man and the woman in the dispute into custody. The arrest law was meant to
protect women, she said. During one recent week in Lexington County, she said 66
% of all cases involved dual arrests - an alarming figure considering the state
Criminal Justice Academy's training curriculum provides that the maximum should
be about 4 %. "Is it isolated or is it a trend?" Bourus said. "We
don't know, but it's troubling." The battered women's support group hasn't
taken an official position on the bill, "but we have some serious concerns
about it as it is written," she said. "There's an assumption that
preceded this bill that the perpetrator and the victim would be identified
correctly. We don't need to be adding laws to laws that are not now being
enforced." Judge Mel Maurer, president of the S.C. Summary Court Judges
Association, said he doesn't believe South Carolina has adequate support
services in place for either victims or defendants in domestic abuse cases and
said the bill takes away the option of not sending someone to jail. The S.C.
Coalition Against the Death Penalty opposes the bill's provision that calls for
capital punishment. "There is no evidence to suggest that availability of
the death penalty has any impact on preventing crimes," state coordinator
Bruce Pearson said. Columbia attorney David Bruck, an expert on death penalty
cases, said he doesn't think most people will support expanding the death
penalty for crimes that are driven by jealousy, rage, and sometimes, mental
illness. "Domestic violence is a terrible scourge in our society, but
murders of some partners are typically not premeditated," he said. Meacham-Richardson
said she believes women need to know that the law is on their side.
2/07 - Death Penalty
Repeal Fails In South Dakota Senate
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) -- An effort to repeal the death penalty in South Dakota
failed today in the state Legislature. The Senate State Affairs Committee
killed a bill that would have put an end to capital punishment in the state
and required that the death sentences of four people on death row be
commuted to life in prison without parole. Those who supported the bill say
the government has no right to kill people, and modern prisons can keep
society safe from the most dangerous felons. But those who opposed the bill
say even people on death row can kill again -- placing prison guards and
other prisoners at risk. The committee killed the repeal measure on a vote
of seven to one. South Dakota is scheduled to have its first execution in a
half century in July. The bill was SB161.
committee voted to divert the legislation into the House Judiciary
Committee's summer and fall agenda for further study. The bill had the backing
of death penalty opponents, including the Tennessee Catholic Public Policy
Commission and the legislature's Black Caucus. Its House sponsor, Rep. Rob Briley, D-Nashville, said he wants the Judiciary Committee to conduct hearings
on several death penalty issues.
- Governor signs life-without-parole
bill into law
Legislation that will allow life
without parole for Texas' most heinous murderers, the first significant
change in the state's death penalty laws in decades, was signed into law
today. Gov. Rick Perry signed Senate Bill 60
today. It will replace a current law that allows life in prison with the
possibility of parole, with life in prison without the possibility of
parole. "I believe this bill will improve our
criminal justice system because it gives jurors a new option to protect the
public with the certainty a convicted killer will never roam our streets
again," Perry said in a statement released after the signing.
The measure by Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, sparked intense
controversy during the legislative session that ended in May. Several
big-city prosecutors and victims rights groups opposed it because it would
make death sentences harder to obtain, and civil liberties groups and other
prosecutors pushed for its passage to give juries more choices.
As filed, the bill would have given juries three choices: life in
prison with the possibility of parole, life without parole or a death
sentence. But late in the session, with its chances of passage rapidly
evaporating, Lucio agreed to drop life in prison with the possibility of
parole to get it approved by lawmakers. Then, in
recent weeks, rumors had swirled that opponents were lobbying hard for Perry
to veto the bill. In a session when death-penalty
supporters successfully fought several other changes in current law, Lucio
said he thought it was better to compromise than face defeat again. He has
tried three times previously to enact a life-without-parole measure —
without success. Lucio could not immediately be
reached for comment. In approving the new law,
Texas becomes the 48th state with a life without parole statute. The new law
will take effect Sept. 1 and will apply only to those defendants who are
convicted after that date. In a related
development, Perry this morning also signed into law House Bill 93, which
changes the wording on death certificates of executed inmates. Instead of
"homicide,'' the cause of death will be listed as "judicially ordered
Governor Says No Executions on Sundays, Mondays or Holidays
In Salt Lake City, Gov. Olene Walker has signed a bill banning executions on
Sundays, Mondays or holidays as a cost-saving measure. Executioners normally
don't work weekends or holidays, when it costs $45,000 in overtime to carry out
an execution, said Rep. DeMar Bowman, R-Cedar City, who sponsored the measure
approved by the Utah Legislature on Feb. 19. Mondays are out because it takes a
full day to set up an execution, and that would require corrections officials to
work on Sunday. Walker has said she'll sign another bill passed by the
Legislature that abolishes the firing squad as an option for condemned killers.
Walker has yet to sign that bill, which makes lethal injection the state's only
method of capital punishment. Walker has until March 23 to sign, veto or let
become law without her signature 419 bills passed by the Legislature.
1/03 - Lawmakers turn down payment to ex-inmate
A panel of legislators rejected a request to pay Earl Washington Jr. $1 million
for the 9 years he spent on death row for a rape and murder he did not commit.
The 5-2 vote does not automatically kill the compensation measure,
HB2662, but members of the House of Delegates made it clear they want to delay
paying damages to Washington for at least a year. A majority of the lawmakers
said they would be willing to give Washington a smaller amount.
However, they wanted to wait on the outcome of a pending lawsuit against
officials in the town of Culpeper and Fauquier County. Washington's attorneys
say law enforcement officers coerced a confession from their client, who is
mildly retarded. The General Assembly is considering 2
requests for compensation from men who were wrongfully convicted of crimes.
The Senate gave preliminary approval for a $1.5 million claim, SB863,
filed for Marvin Lamont Anderson, who served 15 years in prison for the rape and
abduction of a Hanover County woman. Anderson was the
1st prisoner to be exonerated by DNA evidence in Virginia. House members who
reviewed the Washington claim Sunday said they will likely agree to a financial
award for Anderson, although they were inclined to be less generous than the
Senate. Del. Riley E. Ingram, R-Hopewell, said the
cases differ because Washington does not dispute that he beat an elderly woman
in an incident unrelated to the wrongful murder conviction.
Washington was sentenced to 30 years in prison for that attack. He served
18 years for the assault and murder convictions, with half of his term spent on
death row. The director of the Virginia Criminal
Sentencing Commission determined that Washington would have served between 5 and
7 years for the assault if he had not also been convicted of murder.
In contrast to Washington, Anderson has no criminal record.
"He's entitled to something," Ingram said of Anderson. "Now, whether we
should make him a millionaire, that's another question."
Last year, the legislature awarded its largest claim ever, $750,000, to a
New Kent County man who spent 11 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
The 3 claims are raising questions about whether Virginia needs to
establish guidelines for compensating people who are wrongfully convicted of
crimes. 15 states and the District of Columbia have
laws to determine such awards, according to the National Conference of State
Legislatures. Maryland and Tennessee limit claims to
actual damages; North Carolina allows $10,000 for every year in prison with a
cap of $150,000; California allows $100 per day, up to a maximum of $10,000; and
Texas allows $25,000 for every full year served in prison, up to 20 years.
Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan cleared death row in his state this
month, basing his decision on several high-profile reversals of convictions.
The state caps claims at $35,000, but some cases of egregious misconduct
have legal grounds for larger settlements. Cook County agreed to pay $36 million
to 4 men wrongfully sent to death row. Richard Dieter,
executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information
Center, said men wronged by the state are entitled to compensation for the
difficulties they face in clearing their names, readjusting to society and
getting a job. Washington's lawyer, Robert T. Hall,
said his client planned to use the money he requested for a house and perhaps a
car. Washington makes about $12,000 a year working
full time as a janitor in Virginia Beach, Hall said.
11/01 - Governor Locke proposes anti-terrorism legislation --
Washington laws would be tougher than most other states -
Washington state joined the war on terrorism last week with Gov. Gary Locke
and Attorney General Christine Gregoire proposing sweeping legislation aimed at
preventing attacks and prosecuting those who might try them. "Washington
state will not be a home to terrorism. Washington state will not be a friend to
terrorists, and Washington state will not be a money conduit for
terrorism," Gregoire said at a news conference in Seattle. "We know we
can never take our safety for granted again." Many states have taken steps
to combat terrorism, but most have been limited to setting up task forces,
stockpiling medical supplies, adding security at public buildings or gathering
information. Few appear to have enacted new laws to address the threat, though
Washington officials said the federal government has asked them to do so.
"There are sort of generic statutes that you can use," said Assistant
Attorney General Jerry Ackerman. "What we're trying to do is focus the
crime on the weapon." To that end, for example, contaminating public water
supplies as part of a terrorist attack would be a felony punishable by life in
prison. Another proposal would allow the death penalty for a terrorist act
resulting in a death. Similar acts that cause only injuries or property damage
could result in a life sentence. Civil libertarians reacted with caution, saying
they want to see how the proposed legislation is written, though some expressed
concern about elements of the package outlined by Gregoire and Locke.
"We're now going to have a terrorism mental state being applied to a range
of criminal activities," said Jerry Sheehan of the American Civil Liberties
Union of Washington. The ACLU is concerned that the proposed laws might target
people committing acts of civil disobedience, not terrorism. "Is a nun
who's spilling her own drawn blood on a Trident (submarine) a terrorist because
she is seeking to change public policy through intimidation?" Sheehan said.
But Locke said that the proposed laws aren't meant to stifle public debate.
"Compromising civil rights is not a substitute for a terror-free
society," the governor said. Some of the proposed laws duplicate those
already adopted by the federal government under the USA Patriot Act. For
example, the new federal regulations require flight schools to conduct
background checks on students, something Locke's proposal would also require.
But Gregoire said the state has to have its own anti-terrorism laws because
"the federal government simply does not have the resources to do it
alone." Two proposals, dealing with wiretaps and the state's open records
act, were requested by the federal government, she said. One would allow
information gleaned through federal wiretaps to be used in state courts.
Currently that information would not be allowed because federal privacy
regulations are weaker than state laws. Recently adopted anti-terrorism
legislation will allow federal investigators to skip federal court review to
obtain wiretap approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a
panel that has never rejected FBI requests for secret warrants. The federal
government also asked state officials to exempt from public disclosure any
information related to national safety. Gregoire said there have been instances
where the FBI and other federal agencies have been reluctant to share
information with state officials for fear that the information would be released
to the public under the state's open records act. For example, Gregoire said,
she was recently asked not to take notes during a teleconference with Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The exemptions would apply only to highly sensitive
materials having to do with intelligence, terrorist threats or plans to deal
with terrorism, Gregoire said. "We're only talking about information that
is highly sensitive," Gregoire said. But Sheehan expressed concern about
this particular proposal. "The principle is worrisome ... to weaken (the
law) just because the feds say they are uncomfortable," he said, pointing
out the public disclosure laws were enacted in 1972 through a state initiative.
"This came directly from the people of the state of Washington,"
Sheehan said. Locke also targeted those who would frighten people already on
edge because of the Sept. 11 attacks and subsequent anthrax exposures on the
East Coast. One proposal would make it a felony to stage a terrorist hoax. A
misdemeanor isn't stiff enough for those who make bogus claims to alarm others,
Locke said. "These are no longer just pranks," Locke said. "These
are very, very disruptive and can even hurt people in terms of the panic that
might ensue." Larry Erickson, executive director of the Washington
Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said officers have been called to
investigate everything from sugar to talcum powder because of fear of anthrax.
"We're not going to put up with these kinds of hoaxes," he said,
adding that all they do is spread fear. Other proposals would create new
penalties for possessing or releasing such weapons of mass destruction as
radioactive materials, chemical weapons or biological agents, strengthen state
laws against price gouging, and make it a felony to raise money for terrorist
activities. There is also a proposal to regulate money transmitting businesses,
such as the Barakat Wire Transfer in Seattle and others federal agents raided in
a nationwide sweep 2 weeks ago. Federal investigators believe the businesses
were part of a syndicate funding the al-Qaida network connected to Osama bin
Laden. Typically, the businesses don't wire money in a traditional sense, but
deal mostly in cash, calling a trusted person in the other country to deliver
money to the recipient. Later, the delivery person and the business settle among
themselves. Ackerman said the trick will be to regulate these businesses without
damaging legitimate money transfer operations. "We have to be very
careful," he said. Locke and Gregoire staff members are now drafting bills
for introduction when the Legislature convenes in January.
GOV. LOCKE'S ANTI-TERRORISM PROPOSAL
Gov. Gary Locke's anti-terrorism proposal seeks to: Apply the death penalty
to acts of terrorism that kill 1 or more people. Make terrorist acts causing
injury or property damage punishable by up to life imprisonment. Make possession
of weapons of mass destruction a felony punishable by up to life imprisonment.
Upgrade hoaxes made for terrorist purposes to a felony. Allow intelligence
gleaned from federal wiretaps that do not meet state wiretap standards
admissible in state courts. Regulate money transmitters, which generally deal
with cash and maintain few written records. Exempt from public disclosure
documents relating to national security, response plans, vulnerability
assessments and other material relative to terrorism threats. Strengthen state
laws against price gouging. Require background checks for flight school
students. Make it a felony to knowingly raise, collect or solicit money to
State push for death penalty not quite dead
During its 15-month session, the Wisconsin Legislature debated same-sex
marriage, carrying concealed weapons and other policy issues that expose
deep ideological rifts. However, another other
big-time controversy erupted early on in the session, but it quickly sank
and never quite reappeared. Senate Bill 2, a
measure authored by Senate President Alan Lasee, R-Rockland, sought to
reinstate the death penalty in Wisconsin. It never
underwent a Senate committee hearing, much less a vote.
Lasee's bill, introduced in January 2003, would have reinstated the
death penalty for offenders at least 16 years of age who are convicted of
1st-degree intentional homicide in the death of a victim who
is under 16 or an unborn child. Included in
the legislation were new procedural requirements for the court system,
including a separate jury hearing to advise whether to impose a life
sentence or death, as well as a Supreme Court review of cases that result in
death sentences. Separate legislation by Rep. Dean
Kaufert, R-Neenah, would have put the issue on a statewide ballot. That
legislation also went nowhere. Opponents have long
countered that the death penalty fails to deter violent crimes and adds
costs to the court system. Plus, there's always the risk that an innocent
person could end up on death row. Wisconsin hasn't
had capital punishment in more than 150 years.
Lasee said it was clear last session that Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle would
have vetoed any such bill. And the past session
showed just what a losing proposition that would have been.
Efforts to reinforce the ban on same-sex marriages through state law
and repeal the state's ban on carrying concealed weapons both ranked high on
the GOPs agenda but couldn't get past Doyle's veto pen via override.
However, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which
would bypass Doyle, did clear its first hurdle.
Lasee said legislation to bring capital punishment back to Wisconsin won't
go away. "Given the world we live in, the willful taking of innocent lives
demands that at some point we need to join other states to reinstate the
death penalty," he said. Sticking around Lasee,
the most senior Republican senator with 27 years in the chamber, is wrapping
up his 1st 2-year session as the Senate president.
The group will elect leadership positions when it convenes again next
January, and Lasee sees himself as president again.
If Republican senators keep their majority after this falls
elections, they'll be in a position to nominate and elect a president.
"I don't see any reason why they'd want me out," he said.
Lasee's Senate seat is up for re-election in 2006.
2/04 - Juvenile Death-Penalty Bill
A proposal to eliminate the death penalty for people younger than 18
advanced in the state House Monday. State law currently allows the death
penalty for anyone 16 and older who is convicted of 1st-degree murder, under
certain circumstances. House Bill 5, sponsored by Democratic Representative
Jane Warren, would raise the minimum age to 18. The House Judiciary
Committee voted unanimously to send the measure to the full House for
further debate. David Fassler, a psychiatrist from Burlington, Vermont, told
the committee that the brains of adolescents function differently from the
brains of adults. He says the instinctual part of the brain develops first,
followed by the parts of the brain that control reasoning and help us think
before we act. Fassler says 28 states do not allow execution for individuals
times since 10/5/01