2017-08-02 14:22:49 UTC
Judge rules trial can go forward in St. Clair Township police officer's
A Westmoreland County judge ruled Tuesday that enough evidence exists to allow
murder charges to stand against a New Florence man who could face a death
sentence if convicted of fatally shooting St. Clair Township police Officer
Common Pleas Court Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio, in a 14-page opinion, said a
statement Ray Allen Shetler Jr. made in the days after the fatal shooting
provided the prosecution with enough evidence to allow its case to move
Shetler, 32, is accused of 1st-degree murder for shooting Reed on Nov. 28,
2015, as the officer responded to a domestic abuse call from Kristin Luther at
her New Florence home. Prosecutors said when police arrived Shelter stepped
outside with a rifle, shooting Reed once in the chest.
The judge rejected an argument from defense lawyer Marc Daffner, who contended
Shetler did not know Reed was a police officer and asked that the 1st-degree
murder charge be dismissed.
"Defendant stated that he knew and/or assumed that it was an officer because
Ms. Luther was on the phone, and then when defendant walked outside the officer
was behind the tree and he could see the officer had a flashlight,"
According to police, Luther called 911 for help because Shetler, her boyfriend,
was drunk and abusive. When police arrived, they saw Shetler leave the Ligonier
Street home with a gun, officers testified.
Officer Justin Dickert, assigned as Reed's backup for the domestic call,
testified at a previous court hearing that Shetler heard Reed order him to drop
his gun. As he ran along a tree line he heard 4 or 5 shots, 2 of which he said
came from Shetler's rifle. Dickert testified he believed Reed fired 3 shots.
Police said Shetler ran from the scene, swam across the Conemaugh River and was
arrested hours later. The suspected murder weapon was found in brush near the
The judge Tuesday also dismissed a defense argument that sought the dismissal
of a lesser charge of 3rd-degree murder, as well as a request from Daffner to
review Reed and Dickert's personnel records.
District Attorney John Peck has said he will seek the death penalty against
Shetler if he is convicted of 1st-degree murder. The trial is tentatively
scheduled to begin in October.
WILL JUSTICE BE DONE FOR TOMMY BRYSON?
Prosecutors have indicated it's their intention to seek the death penalty for
Tommy Bryson's accused kidnapper and killer, Philip Michael Stroupe II, Good.
But how likely is it that justice, swift and sure, in the form of the death
penalty, will REALLY happen in this local capital murder case?
In North Carolina, the death penalty has been upheld by the courts and can only
be used when someone has died in the commission of a crime.
We advocated the death penalty for the individuals responsible for the
terrifying home invasion and brutal, senseless murders of virtually helpless
and completely defenseless Connie and Ricky Sparks in Hendersonville in
November of 2007. If ever there was a local case that cried out for the extreme
penalty, it was that one. Life sentences were imposed by our local courts
We also advocated the death penalty in the 2009 home invasion and homicide of a
man as good and decent as Oscar Lee "Poochie" Corn that year. Corn had finished
reading his Bible that awful night and was about to work a shift at Ingles when
a crime that we all shudder to imagine happened in the sanctity of his home.
The end result was no death penalty, but life in prison instead.
The death penalty is supposed to be the ultimate deterrent to such horrible
crimes. But in fact, the death penalty is used so seldom in even the most
extreme cases, where innocent people have died, here and across North Carolina,
that it's hardly a deterrent at all.
And this unfortunate reluctance by the "system" to use the full force of law
and impose "equal justice" on those who have taken innocent lives has sadly
been going on for many years, almost to the point of establishing a precedent
against the death penalty. A few weeks ago, we observed the 51st anniversary of
Henderson County's infamous "triple murder". Though never officially solved,
the primary suspect in that case was Edward Thompson who kidnapped and
assaulted a local woman, shot a deputy sheriff, and terrorized the whole
community for weeks. Thompson's crimes were so atrocious and horrible he was
declared an "outlaw' by the governor of North Carolina, under the law at that
time, which would have allowed anyone in the community to shoot Thompson on
sight. In the end though, Thompson was allowed, by our local courts and the
criminal justice system, to live out his days at the expense of the very
communities and taxpayers whose lives he shattered and filled with fear...while
serving a life sentence.
Just as loudly as these cases, where the whole community had been shaken by the
violent, senseless, criminal horror of it all,, the Tommy Bryson kidnapping and
homicide is crying out for justice...and for the death penalty for his accused
killer, Philip Michael Stroupe II.
We're not lawyers and don't pretend to know all the finer points and legal
complications involved in capital crimes and the death penalty. But we do know
and understand the need for simple justice, sure and swift.
The reluctance of our criminal justice system, here, statewide, and across the
country to use the tools it has for justice and to protect us all is a
frightening thing for decent, law abiding folks. And what happened to a good
man like Tommy Bryson, on his way to take a family member to the doctor, and
allegedly at the hands of a fugitive outlaw filled with evil and brutality, is
inexcusable, unforgivable, and worthy of no mercy at all.
But, as in the cases of victims like the Sparks and Corn, and with the worst of
the worst like Edward Thompson...the Tommy Bryson kidnapping and homicide is
now in the hands of a justice system that has let us down in the past...and
clearly failed to deter such horrible capital crimes.
Fellow citizens, remain vigilant and let's watch the prosecution of Stroupe and
all the others who may have harbored him or were accessories in his crimes,
very closely. And if, when all is said and done, some legal "cop out" is used
and the ultimate deterrent is not imposed and carried out...the time will have
come to hold the "system" and those elected or appointed who make the laws,
interpret the laws, and enforce the laws, those who hold these offices and the
public's trust, fully and completely accountable. Enough is enough.
As always, we invite your comments...on our comments.
(source: Editorial; By WHKP News Director Larry Freeman)
Man accused in deadly Penske shooting spree found incompetent to stand trial
A Cobb County judge signed a petition for involuntary commitment Tuesday for a
man accused of opening fire at his Kennesaw workplace 7 years ago.
Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Jesse James Warren in a shooting
spree at the Penske facility in January 2010. 3 people died and 2 people were
The shooting killed Van Springer, Jaider Marulanda, and Roberto Gonzalez.
Penske employee Zach Werner was paralyzed in the shooting and died from his
injuries in 2013.
Gonzalez's brother-in-law, Joshua Holbrook, was shot and sustained permanent
"He loved life and most of all he loved his family. We miss him every minute
and we'll miss him forever," Maralunda's wife said in court Tuesday.
Holrook couldn't make it to court because of an emergency trip to the hospital
caused by his injuries, so Prosecutor Jesse Evans read Holrook's statement.
"I'm not going to ask how he or what he was thinking. I really don't know. I
think he gets satisfaction from knowing pain and hell he caused all of our
families and friends," he said.
2 forensic psychiatrists testified that Warren suffers from a delusional
disorder and still believes Penske stole $500 million that was given to him by
the military for inventing Wi-Fi. They no longer believe Warren can be
medicated to the point of being fit to stand trial.
Prosecutors sought the death penalty but lost a Supreme Court battle to have
Warren forcibly medicated.
Judge Mary Staley Clark agreed with the psychiatrists that Warren remained a
danger to himself and others and ordered him committed to a state mental
"We can at least take some solace knowing the defendant is locked up in a
prison hospital and not able to inflict this on any other person in the
public," Evans said.
(source: WSB TV news)
Trial starts for Santa Rosa County inmate accused of killing fellow inmate
Testimony in the trial of a Santa Rosa County inmate accused of killing his
cellmate is expected to begin in the coming days.
Shawn Rogers, 36, allegedly attacked Ricky D. Martin in their shared Santa Rosa
Correctional Institution cell in March 2012.
According to Rogers' original indictment, he used batteries wrapped in a
pillowcase and some kind of sharp razor-like object to both beat and stab the
victim to death. He faces one count of murder and one of kidnapping -
inflicting bodily harm or terror on others.
If he is convicted and the jury sides with the state's recommendation in the
case, Rogers will be sentenced to death.
The trial officially began Monday, and the state and defense have been in jury
selection for 2 days. Because of the jury selection process, neither Assistant
State Attorney Bill Bishop nor Rogers' attorney, Kenneth Brooks, were available
for comment Tuesday.
The trial is the 2nd time Rogers has faced charges in connection to Martin's
death. The state continued prosecution of the case until January, when it
dropped charges to wait out Florida's then-unclear death penalty laws.
At the time, State Attorney Bill Eddins said the case was unique in that there
was no detriment to dropping charges because Rogers is already serving a life
sentence, so there was no chance of him walking free in the interim.
Lawmakers spent months going back and forth on the constitutionality of the
state's death penalty laws after determining a 10-2 jury verdict was not enough
to send someone to death row. By March, they decided a unanimous jury vote was
necessary to sentence a defendant to death.
Following that decision, the state again filed murder charges against Rogers in
May. Because he had been set to go to trial earlier in the year, it took only
weeks for the attorneys to reassemble their case.
While Rogers is facing criminal charges in the murder, several Florida
Department of Corrections officers are facing a federal civil lawsuit on behalf
of Martin's family.
According to court documents, the family claims Martin and Rogers should never
have been placed in the same cell. The suit alleges that Rogers, a larger, more
violent offender serving a life sentence, shouldn't have been allowed to bunk
with Martin, a smaller offender who had less than 2 years left to serve.
The family also claims the jail was negligent in its surveillance practices and
did not check the cells frequently enough, allowing a prolonged attack on
Martin to occur.
The suit further claims there are racial motivations to Martin's death.
Martin's family claims that Rogers, a black man, was allegedly angered by the
news of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin's death and had claimed he was going to
kill a white man in retaliation.
That lawsuit is ongoing in federal court.
Rogers' criminal case is scheduled to continue for three weeks in Santa Rosa
(source: Pensacola News Journal)
New lethal injection drug focus of Florida execution fight
It's not unusual for lawyers representing death row prisoners whose execution
dates have been set to file last-minute appeals to try to get more time to
argue about why their clients should be spared.
But an attempt by death-penalty lawyer Marty McClain on behalf of Mark James
Asay, scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection late this month, is even
For one, McClain is challenging a new triple-drug lethal injection formula,
never before used in Florida or any other state.
In addition, McClain - who has represented more than 200 condemned prisoners
over the past 3 decades - is accusing the state of hoodwinking him into
agreeing to a legal delay that could cost his client a review by the U.S.
Gov. Rick Scott last month rescheduled Asay's execution for Aug. 24, more than
18 months after originally signing a death warrant for the death row prisoner,
who was sentenced to death nearly 3 decades ago.
Asay was 1 of 2 death row inmates whose executions were put on hold by the
Florida Supreme Court in early 2016 after the U.S. Supreme Court, in a case
known as Hurst v. Florida, struck down as unconstitutional the state's death
penalty sentencing system. Lawmakers later revamped the sentencing system.
Asay was convicted in 1988 of the murders of Robert Lee Booker and Robert
McDowell in downtown Jacksonville. Asay was accused of shooting Booker, who was
black, after calling him a racial epithet. He then killed McDowell, who was
dressed as a woman, after agreeing to pay him for oral sex. According to court
documents, Asay later told a friend that McDowell had previously cheated him
out of money in a drug deal.
A Jacksonville judge on Friday rejected a request by Asay to put the execution
on hold. Asay's lawyer challenged, among other things, a new drug protocol
adopted by the Florida Department of Corrections this year.
In the new protocol, Florida is substituting etomidate for midazolam as the
critical 1st drug, used to sedate prisoners before injecting them with a
paralytic and then a drug used to stop prisoners' hearts.
In a 30-page order issued Friday, Duval County Circuit Judge Tatiana Salvador
ruled that Asay failed to prove that the new 3-drug protocol is
Etomidate, also known by the brand name "Amidate," is a short-acting anesthetic
that renders patients unconscious. 20 % of people experience mild to moderate
pain after being injected with the drug, but only for "tens of seconds" at the
longest, the judge noted.
"Defendant has only demonstrated a possibility of mild to moderate pain that
would last, at most, tens of seconds," Salvador wrote. "Therefore, this court
finds the potential pain and anesthetic aspect of etomidate does not present
risks that are 'sure or very likely' to cause serious illness or needless
suffering or give rise to 'sufficiently imminent dangers.'"
Salvador rejected a request by McClain for a rehearing on Friday's order, but
the lawyer's motion gives a glimpse into arguments he can be expected to
present to the Florida Supreme Court as Asay's case winds its way up the
Asay argues that the state failed to provide him notice of the revamped lethal
injection protocol, essentially keeping McClain from having enough time to
present evidence at the circuit court hearing last week.
McClain also argues that the Jacksonville judge failed to fully consider the
implications of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, in a case known as Glossip v.
Gross, focused on lethal injection protocols.
That ruling requires prisoners challenging lethal injection procedures to
establish that "any risk of harm was substantial when compared to a known and
viable alternative method of execution."
McClain argues that, instead of the new drug protocol, corrections officials
should use the 3-drug lethal injection procedure involving midazolam,
vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride that was in effect when Asay's
original death warrant was signed last year, or a single-drug protocol adopted
by some other death-penalty states.
Despite numerous challenges to the use of midazolam as the 1st drug in the
lethal injection process, courts have repeatedly upheld its use, McClain wrote.
Etomidate is another matter, he wrote.
"It carries a risk of pain and a risk of seizure-like movements as Mr. Asay
dies. This raises Eighth Amendment bases to challenge both the substantial risk
of pain and the undignified manner of death," he wrote.
The use of etomidate - which could cause pain for up to 20 seconds - "creates a
risk that is substantial harm when compared to known and available alternative
methods of execution," McClain added, referring to the standard laid out in the
The change in the protocol has come as states have scrambled to obtain
lethal-injection drugs because manufacturers have refused to sell the
substances to corrections agencies for execution purposes.
Florida Department of Corrections officials maintain that the use of etomidate
is "compatible with evolving standards of decency," a standard used by the
courts in evaluating death penalty procedures.
"The process will not involve unnecessary lingering or the unnecessary or
wanton infliction of pain and suffering. The foremost objective of the lethal
injection process is a humane and dignified death," Department of Corrections
spokeswoman Michelle Glady said in an email, quoting from the agency's lethal
injection protocol adopted earlier this year, when asked about Asay's latest
In another issue in the case, McClain argues that Attorney General Pam Bondi's
office, which represents the state in death penalty cases, used its power to
"obtain a strategic advantage" by getting him to sign off on a legal delay.
In a letter to Scott last month, McClain argued that Bondi had misrepresented
the status of the case when she gave the governor a go-ahead for scheduling the
After McClain filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, known as a "writ of
certiorari," this spring, Bondi sought a 30-day extension in the case.
McClain said he interpreted Bondi's request for a postponement, to which he
agreed, to mean that the state would not seek a new execution date for Asay
until after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the appeal this fall.
Without the 30-day extension, the U.S. justices could have taken up Asay's
appeal before their summer hiatus, which started on June 28 and lasts until
October, McClain argued.
Instead, the court gave Bondi until July 5 to file her response to Asay's
2 days before the deadline, Bondi certified to Scott that Asay was eligible for
execution. After Scott signed Asay's death warrant on July 3, setting the
execution date for Aug. 24, Bondi quickly filed an objection to Asay's appeal
in the U.S. court.
(source: Palm Beach Post)
Booneville Man Facing Possible Death Penalty After Charged In Murder Of
A Booneville man is facing the death penalty in connection with that city's 1st
homicide in years.
This case began late last week with the discovery of a female's body in a
wooded area and was wrapped up quickly with the arrest of the victim's
There is a steady stream of visitors at Karen Branda's Booneville apartment.
They are shocked and saddened that the woman found less than a half mile away,
in a wooded area, was Brandas daughter, 35 year old Laura Ann Rutledge.
"I just want to thank the police officers here because they did do a good job,
they didn't let up, they knew something was wrong," Branda said.
Her estranged husband, 22 year old Mike Brian Rutledge, is charged with capital
murder. Booneville Police Chief Michael Ramey says evidence shows Laura Ann
Rutledge was kidnapped, held against her will, and eventually beaten and
stabbed to death, before being dumped in the woods.
"In my opinion, yes it's good he's off the streets, and the police department,
along with the district attorney, we assure you the police department will
prosecute him to the fullest," Chief Ramey said.
Chief Ramey says Mike Rutledge was on probation for burglary of a dwelling at
the time of the murder. The chief says Mike Rutledge had been accused of
assault in the past involving his wife, but charges were never filed.
Laura's mother says she knew her daughter was in abusive relationship and she
warned her to leave many times.
"My daughter kept saying, I love him, I love him and this is the end result,"
And she has a warning for women in similar situations.
"Please, if a man hits you once, go, run, don't wait because he will do it
again," she said.
Now, along with planning a memorial service for her daughter, Karen Branda is
also preparing to take care of Laura's 2 minor children.
A memorial service is set for Wednesday at Booneville Funeral Home.
(source: WCBI News)
Catholics pledge against death penalty
A national organization is urging Catholics to do what it takes to halt the
death penalty - including in Oregon.
In May, the Catholic Mobilizing Network - based in Washington, D.C. - sent out
a National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty. Since then, almost 12,000
church leaders, including a handful of Catholic bishops, and others have signed
on, promising to take action. The Oregon Catholic Conference, public policy arm
of the state's bishops, has signed.
Karen Clifton, executive director of the network, said the initiative was
sparked by a plan from Arkansas officials to execute 8 men in 11 days before a
batch of lethal drugs expired. The pledge is a continuation of a campaign by
the U.S. Catholic bishops.
"This pledge amplifies Pope Francis' call and invites Catholics and all people
of good will to educate, advocate and pray for an end to the death penalty,"
Citing the Catholic Church's long-standing opposition to the death penalty,
Bishop Frank Dewane of the Diocese of Venice, Florida, signed the pledge. He is
chairman of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
"This pledge will provide an encouragement to parish priests to begin to talk
more about the death penalty, not just saying the same thing every time, but to
really bring it into the discussion," Bishop Dewane said. "It is a matter of
life, so they need to be talking about it."
St. John Paul II in the 1990s taught that modern means of incarceration made
executions unnecessary. Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample has called the
death penalty a "blight" and has supported efforts to overturn it.
Pledge signers include the popular writer Jesuit Father James Martin and St.
Joseph Sister Helen Prejean, of "Dead Man Walking" fame. She will come to
Oregon in October.
Oregon's death penalty is on hold, but almost 3 dozen prisoners are on the
state's death row.
"In every one of the states that has repealed its death penalty, as far back as
Michigan in 1847, the Catholic Church has been central to the messaging and
efforts to repeal the law," says Ron Steiner, chairman of Oregonians for
Alternatives to the death penalty.
In recent years, Catholic bishops, clergy and laity were key in banning
executions in New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut and
"Education, based on faith teaching or on more practical issues - like cost,
innocence, bias, arbitrary nature of its administration - is the key to
repealing the death penalty," Steiner says.
In Oregon, where repeal requires a vote of the people, education is even more
influential than in states that worked bans in their legislatures.
"To a large degree, the citizens of Oregon are not well-versed in the facts
that surround the death penalty," says Steiner. "Discussion groups, faith
formation sessions, book clubs, events and presentations are ways for people to
learn more, then be able to make more informed decisions when it becomes time
Steiner imagines families discussing the topic around the dinner table at home.
(source: Editorial; Ed Langlois, The Catholic Sentinel)
Fell trial may be delayed a year
A decision last month in the Donald Fell case may delay the start of his 2nd
death-penalty trial by a year or more.
Judge Geoffrey Crawford, of the U.S. District Court in Vermont, said in a
decision dated July 19 that not taking action on pending motions in the case
could delay the case, but pointed out a delay is inevitable.
"The practical considerations are that in all likelihood, this case will not
return to the trial court of a year or substantially longer," he said. "In the
meantime, the district court is scheduling other work out to about 6 months. If
the appeals were withdrawn tomorrow, trial would not be reset until early in
Crawford, who is expected to hear the case, was responding to a motion filed by
prosecutors and defense attorneys. The prosecution asked Crawford to rule on
some pending motions while waiting for a decision from the 2nd Circuit Court of
Appeals, while Fell's attorneys asked Crawford to wait until the appeals court
issues a decision.
The case has attracted more attention than other violent crimes because it is
the 1st capital case in Vermont in about 50 years.
Fell, 37, is facing felony charges of carjacking and kidnapping. Police said
Fell and his childhood friend, Robert Lee, in November 2000, kidnapped Terry
King, 53, of North Clarendon, from the Rutland Shopping Plaza and took her and
her car to New York.
Prosecutors said Fell and Lee were fleeing the area because they had killed
Fell's mother, Debra Fell, and her friend, Charles Conway, in Rutland.
After King was killed, police searched for Fell and Lee and arrested them in
The case was tried in federal court in 2005; Fell was convicted and in 2006 was
sentenced to death.
The conviction was overturned, however, because a juror in the trial had
investigated the case independently and discussed what he found with other
The Vermont U.S. attorney's office has already said it plans to seek the death
penalty again if Fell is convicted a 2nd time.
Fell's retrial was expected to begin in September, but was delayed over a
dispute between the U.S. attorney's office and Fell's attorneys.
If Fell is convicted again, prosecutors want to present information at
sentencing that includes statements Lee made to police and letters he wrote to
Lee died in prison while his trial was pending in 2003.
In a memo submitted June 29, Michael Burt, a San Francisco attorney who is a
member of Fell's defense team, said the 2nd Circuit decision could have a large
impact on the way defense attorneys approach the case.
"In sum, it is the defense's position that the government's appeal involves not
just the narrow issue of whether Lee's statements to the police are admissible
at a sentencing phase, but a whole host of broader issues that may effect the
validity of the indictment and the basic structure of the trial itself," Burt
The prosecution's position, written by Assistant U. S. Attorney William Darrow
is that if the court were to continue to rule on some of the pending motions,
"the court and the parties can be prepared to go forward with trial after a
decision from the court of appeals, rather than face substantial additional
delay to resolve a backlog of unrelated issues."
Darrow argued against anymore of the "extraordinary delays already present in
this nearly 17-year-old case."
Crawford's decision notes there are about 20 pending motions, but said the
appeal "divests the trial court of jurisdiction over the aspects of the case
involved in the appeal."
"The district court has no desire to complicate the progress of the appeal,"
Crawford wrote. "Motions which appear to be unrelated may well have some
bearing on the issue on appeal. The trial court's orders could trigger requests
for additional briefing which may not be entirely helpful to the progress of
Burt did not return a call Tuesday afternoon. A spokesman for the U.S.
attorney's office said the office had no comment on the motion or Crawford's
(source: Rutland Herald)
The gown and the gallows----How prisoners dressed for their executions says a
lot about the condemned and the pageantry of American capital punishment,
according to a new UC sociology study.
What would you wear to your own execution?
It's a moot question in the United States now as most death row prisoners wear
prison garb. But for more than 2 centuries, the choice was up to the condemned.
And what they wore to the gallows or gas chamber spoke volumes both about the
convicts and the culture of capital punishment, according to 2 sociologists
with the University of Cincinnati.
Associate professors Annulla Linders and Erynn Masi de Casanova will present
the findings of their paper, "Dressed for Death: Execution Attire, Gender and
Respectability," on Aug. 12 at the American Sociological Association's annual
conference in Montreal.
"People put on clothing for all sorts of life's performances. But since this is
a final performance, it's quite significant," Linders said.
No social science researcher before had examined the idea of clothing as a
public statement at executions. Linders has studied newspaper accounts of
executions for her UC research into capital punishment.
One line in an 1800s story caught her attention: "He was dressed like a free
Suddenly, it occurred to Linders that the choice of what to wear on your last
day on Earth was fraught with significance.
"That 1 quote somehow captured the tension between the convict and the state
and the claims of respectability of both. After that, everything fell into
place," she said.
She invited Masi de Casanova, a Sociology Department colleague in the McMicken
College of Arts & Sciences, to collaborate on a new research project. Masi de
Casanova had studied the social norms of clothing before, albeit those of
workplace attire. This was something completely new, she said.
"What's interesting to me is it's the collision of the mundane with the
spectacular," Masi de Casanova said. "Everybody wakes up and puts clothes on to
go to work or school. It's an everyday thing that everyone does. But what do
you do when you wake up in the morning and get dressed for your own death?"
"I grew up in Sweden, which had its last execution in 1910. For me coming to
the United States, the continued use of capital punishment was something that
struck me as very, very strange. It was fundamentally incomprehensible. And it
remains incomprehensible." - Annulla Linders, UC associate professor of
sociology Capital punishment has always fascinated Linders. She has studied the
culture and practices of respectability and morality surrounding
"I grew up in Sweden, which had its last execution in 1910. For me coming to
the United States, the continued use of capital punishment was something that
struck me as very, very strange," she said. "It was fundamentally
incomprehensible. And it remains incomprehensible."
Linders used the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center's database to get
names and dates of the condemned and then spent days at the Library of Congress
poring over 2,000 news accounts of executions between 1800 and 1965. She found
a description of the prisoner's attire in stories written about 188 executions:
137 of men and 51 of women.
Some of the stories were accompanied by an artist's sketch of the condemned,
sometimes wearing a hood at the gallows or awaiting their fate in a cell.
Newspaper photography became more common after the Civil War. But the UC
researchers found no published photographs of the condemned at executions apart
from one notorious example in the New York Daily News.
A reporter smuggled a camera under his pants leg for the execution by electric
chair of Ruth Snyder, who was convicted in 1927 of murdering her husband. The
image of a woman strapped to an electric chair at Sing Sing prison became
"It was outrageous," Linders said. The hidden-camera photo violated efforts by
prison officials to drape these formal procedures in decorum, something Linders
said prisons consciously tried to accomplish with uniformity of dress and
ceremony throughout the sometimes-hideous commission of the execution.
"There were periods in the early 20th century when states prohibited
journalists from attending executions," Linders said. "It was in part because
they were describing executions in such detail that even the more embarrassing
details were splashed on the front pages."
The public was fascinated by the 1865 trial of Pennsylvania's professional
poisoner Martha Grinder, who was convicted of killing 2 women. The Pittsburgh
Post described the fine merino dress and slippers that Grinder wore to the
"They were dressed as if they were going to a party. And that was really
disturbing to the audience to have to look at them and think of them as women
they were putting to death."- Erynn Masi de Casanova, UC associate professor of
The UC researchers found some clear trends in what the condemned wore for this
final grim catwalk.
Male prisoners often donned new suits, usually in dark, somber colors and
sometimes purchased for the occasion by the local sheriff. They would be
freshly shaven with shined shoes or even a flower in a lapel.
"Execution victims aimed to leave the world of the living with as much dignity
and respectability as they could muster," their research paper concluded.
"I feel it's an insistence on their identity as an individual and not just this
crime they committed, whether they were guilty or not" Masi de Casanova said.
Some prisoners refused the offer of a new suit and wore their own clothes to
the hangman's noose, she said.
"It's a place where they were free to resist in a situation in which they don't
have a lot of agency," Masi de Casanova said.
These final expressions of identity also manifest themselves in the convict's
choice of his or her last meal, which most death penalty states still try to
honor today. Photographer Henry Hargreaves replicated the final meals of death
row inmates for his art series, "No Seconds."
Religion, too, has always been a part of executions. Some convicts asked to be
draped in a white hood or shroud as a symbol of their entry into heaven, the
"It seems like the women, especially, had an idea about how they wanted to look
in their final moments. They were dressed as if they were going to a party,"
Masi de Casanova said. "And that was really disturbing to the audience to have
to look at them and think of them as women they were putting to death."
During the execution by electric chair of Martha Place, convicted of strangling
her stepdaughter in 1899, the Brooklyn Eagle commented on the conspicuity of
the witnesses in the gallery at Sing Sing prison.
"The woman physician was bright looking, sharp in her movements and rapid in
what she did. But her attire was what gave the scene a strange aspect. She wore
a gray dress and a huge hat with pronounced crimson trimmings," the paper
"She looked so out of place in the execution chamber. It's so incongruous,"
"It's the collision of the mundane with the spectacular. ... What do you do
when you wake up in the morning and get dressed for your own death?" - Erynn
Masi de Casanova, UC associate professor of sociology
In fact, the more sensational the case, the more likely the reporters were to
describe the attire the condemned was wearing, the UC researchers found. This
was true of "professional poisoner" Martha Grinder, a reputed Pennsylvania
serial killer convicted of murdering 2 women in 1865. Even the New York Times
covered her trial and eventual hanging.
Grinder chose "a fine merino dress of brown color, fitted loosely at the waist,
with high neck and flowing sleeves fastened at the wrist," the Pittsburgh Post
dutifully reported. "Her feet were encased in neat white hose and slippers."
The newspaper found that Grinder seemed "more anxious about her personal
appearance than the dread event soon to take place."
As time went on, states began executing prisoners in centralized locations
instead of at county courthouses. Executions became more consistent and
impersonal, limiting the audience of witnesses to smaller and smaller groups of
family or victims.
In newspaper accounts, few convicts resisted their captors at the very end,
facing their deaths not kicking and screaming but with resolve and dignity.
"The idea is if you're a man, you have to face your death like a man," Linders
said. "Executions when they're professionalized become increasingly permeated
by masculinity. They become a masculine show."
The UC researchers hope their presentation is well-received at the national
sociology conference. But neither would speculate on what they might choose to
wear if faced with their fateful own judgment day.
"I don't think today we'd have a choice," Masi de Casanova said, "But I'd put a
lot more thought into my last meal, that's for sure."
UC sociology professors Erynn Masi de Casanova, left, and Annulla Linders found
that attire at executions was fraught with cultural significance. They will
present their research at the American Sociological Association's annual
Swampscott resident Anne Driscoll helps spotlight plight of exonerees
In the conclusion to the film "The Exonerated," Sunny Jacobs makes an
appearance and says that after she was released from prison, her grandchildren
told her she had gotten lost.
"I told them, yes I was, but I'll never be lost again," she proclaims.
Jacobs was convicted of homicide involving 2 Florida police officers in 1976
and put on death row. After 17 years in prison, she was found innocent when her
conviction was overturned on appeal and she was released in 1992. Another
person, Walter Rhodes, first confessed to the killings in 1979.
Jacobs and current husband Peter Pringle, who was wrongly imprisoned for
homicide in Ireland, discussed the plight of exonerees worldwide and the
challenges they face at the Salem Regional Visitor Center auditorium last
Thursday, July 27.
The event, the final installment of the inaugural Summer at Salem State
(University) Social Justice Institute Series, was moderated by award-winning
journalist, author and activist Anne Driscoll. The Swampscott resident received
the 2016 Salem Award for her commitment to social justice and human rights.
"I think it's appropriate that we're here to discuss this issue tonight on the
325th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials. It's an appropriate setting," said
Driscoll before commencing her discussion with Jacobs and Pringle. "The witch
trials are, in my view, the worst wrongful convictions in American history."
When asked about the historical backdrop of the witch trials, Jacobs said the
popularity seems to stem more from the fascination with witches than the actual
injustice of the event. But she said she sees progress in how the public views
social justice issues.
"I think we're getting closer. Society is really starting to face it head on,"
Jacobs observed. "Hopefully, America can lead the way with injustice and the
death penalty. We can find a better way in the 21st century."
The 2005 film starred well-known actors, including Susan Sarandon as Jacobs,
Brian Dennehy, Danny Glover, Aiden Quinn, and Delroy Lindo. It dramatized the
true stories of 6 people wrongly convicted of homicide in the United States and
eventually freed after years of imprisonment and brutal treatment. The film
exposes a flawed justice system marred, at times, by corruptive forces.
"I think the main purpose of the film was to make people aware that this type
of thing happens and that exoneration is not the end of the struggle for those
people wrongly convicted," Jacobs pointed out. "The film gives them a voice and
respectability they may not otherwise have had."
"The question of the death penalty has been portrayed through the media mostly
as an abstraction. The film brings a human side to the issue," Pringle said.
"The system is a crude one where terrible things are often done. There is a
saying, 'It's not justice, it's just us.' If enough of us care enough, we can
have justice. But too often we leave it up to appointed officials to take care
of it for us. It says homicide on the death certificate for people executed,
and this is being done in our name."
Jacobs' 1st husband, Jesse Tafero --- whom she had 2 children with --- was
wrongly executed for the Florida police murders in 1990. His execution turned
even more gruesome when the electric chair malfunctioned and caused a horrible
Driscoll raised the question of the role journalists and the media play in
wrongful convictions and the death penalty.
"It's very important to support [media outlets and journalists] who are willing
to stand up and be accounted for," Jacobs responded. "I felt like I was tried
by the media before I ever went to trial, and people were really affected by
what they saw in the papers. It's important for the media and filmmakers to try
and give a balanced account."
Pringle said the media should not be monopolized where opinions, ratings and
profit are the main objective.
"In Ireland, once people are charged, the media are not allowed to speculate. A
combination of good investigative journalists and lawyers can contribute
enormously to achieving justice," he explained.
Pringle added capital punishment and wrongful imprisonment are a global problem
and America can lead the way towards abolishing these practices.
"It would set an example for the rest of the world. The death penalty is an
abomination and a sad reflection on us all," he said.
Jacobs and Pringle first met at an Amnesty International program on the death
penalty and have since established The Sunny Center Foundation
(www.thesunnycenter.com), located in Ireland, to provide an environment of
healing for exonerees who have been wrongly incarcerated.
"Peter and I chose the path of forgiveness and healing, and we've become part
of each other's healing," said Jacobs. "[Exonorees] are not accepted back into
society by the public. They're not honored or treated with respect. This is a
way to welcome them back and make them part of the community."
Pringle pointed out that of approximately 2,000 exonerees currently in the
U.S., only 4 % receive compensation of any kind.
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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