2017-11-26 17:14:41 UTC
Wheels of justice slow, methodical for Gregg homicide suspects
After years of waiting in the Gregg County Jail, 4 of the county's 5
longest-waiting homicide suspects were sentenced and moved to prison this year.
Eleven of the 28 homicide suspects held in jail this year were released to the
Texas Department of Criminal Justice, but others have spent more than a year in
jail. These cases often are part of a balancing act, moving slowly enough to
ensure uncovering all possible evidence but quickly enough to meet the
constitutional right to a speedy trial.
District Attorney Carl Dorrough said waiting for DNA testing results to come
back from state labs is one factor that can slow down a case.
"Once we do our testing and are ready to go, we've had occasions where the
defense requested additional testing," Dorrough said.
Other factors, such as logistical challenges, also can come into play, Dorrough
"You have to make sure all your evidence is ready and available, all your
witnesses are ready and available, and you have to make sure the defense
attorneys are available and ready," he said.
Torry Reed, who waited nearly 5 years to go to trial after being charged with
capital murder, was transferred to prison in April after receiving a 75-year
sentence in connection with the 2012 fatal shooting of DeAundray Lamanze Rossum
His brother, Deion Reed, who was charged with murder in the same shooting, was
given 60 years earlier this year.
Dorrough said the Reed brothers' trials and lengthy waiting periods are
abnormal. Their cases were made more complicated because 2 defendants were
implicated in the same crime.
"If you have multiple defendants all charged with the same crime, it's very
difficult to try those cases together," Dorrough said. "Particularly in the
Reed brothers' case, they could not be tried together. They had to have
separate trials. Unfortunately, that strings things out further."
While the number of homicide cases in the county has increased in the past few
years, the number of courts available for murder trials and the number of
prosecutors available to work those cases has not changed, Dorrough said.
"At the end of the day, no one in our office is eating bonbons and drinking mai
tais, just sitting around," he said.
A state law implemented in 2013 also has slowed down some cases, Dorrough said.
The Michael Morton Act, created after Morton was imprisoned for a murder he did
not commit, requires the state to share all evidence uncovered with the
defense, ensuring no stone goes unturned and each case gets looked at from all
Dorrough said that means asking law enforcement about evidence they don't know
about or might not exist.
"If we fail to (turn over evidence), it's the prosecutors who are held
accountable," he said. "It's our licenses on the line, not those agencies who
provide the documents and information."
Defense attorney Jonathan Hyatt, who represents murder suspect Jessie Brown,
said delays in DNA testing are a "systemic problem," sometimes taking 18 months
"The whole process takes forever. ... The Department of Public Safety lab just
has a huge backlog (of evidence to test)," he said.
But overall, Hyatt said, there are more concerns involved with rushing into a
"If you're sitting in jail, you have short-term and long-term interests.
Long-term, it's getting resolution on your case, and short-term, it's getting
out of jail," Hyatt said. "Nobody wants to sit in jail forever, but I'd rather
be sitting in jail, accused of a crime, but get my best shot at the trial than
hurry up the trial and have to appeal and all of that."
However, the longer the wait, the more likely witnesses are to move away and
the less likely their memory of an event will be reliable in court, Hyatt said.
In addition to waiting on DNA testing or available resources, Dorrough said
processes such as going through inmate phone calls, which might provide crucial
evidence, or editing a video statement can hold up a case's progress.
"Technology hasn't necessarily been our friend when it comes to making it
quicker," Dorrough said. "It's labor intensive, going through all of that ...
but we do it on these kinds of cases because it might provide evidence for our
case or exculpatory evidence."
It has cost about $214000 to house the 15 homicide defendants in the jail - at
a combined total of 6,908 days - as of Saturday. The average daily inmate cost
for Gregg County Jail is $30.94.
Kyron Templeton, the longest-waiting inmate in the county jail, has cost the
county more than $45,000 since he was booked Nov. 26, 2013. Templeton is being
held on $2.5 million bond, charged with capital murder and aggravated assault
with a deadly weapon.
He is accused of stabbing and killing 2 people at a Christus Good Shepherd
Medical Center facility.
But Hyatt, the defense attorney, said even several years of inmate costs are
much less than the potential costs of appeals or a mistrial, both of which
could happen if a case is rushed too quickly.
Defendants in four of the county's six capital murder cases this year still are
awaiting trial, including Templeton, Aaron Bowling, Dustin Bennett and
Christopher Bell II.
Bowling is accused of killing his 2-year-old daughter using blunt force, while
Bennett and Bell were indicted in separate double-homicide cases.
A capital murder case takes "infinitely more resources" than a murder case,
Hyatt said. And if the prosecution seeks the death penalty, the trial could
easily cost upward of $1 million, he said.
After a conviction, the appeals process, which he said is likely in many of
these cases, adds to those costs.
"It's really shortsighted to try to push this stuff through when you don't have
all the evidence," Hyatt said. "What's going to happen is, if the guy gets
convicted, there will be an instant appeal... and we're right back to where we
are now, except it's 5 years later, and nobody wants that."
He said the only way around appeals is for the defendant to be offered a plea,
in which he or she enters a guilty plea in exchange for a reduced sentence
without the opportunity to appeal.
However, Dorrough said it requires just as much effort - not to mention time -
from the attorneys, investigators and law enforcement officials to get to a
"Ultimately, what you want to do is make sure justice is done," he said.
"Whether that's the result of an individual pleading guilty or if it requires a
jury trial or trial before the court."
(source: Longview News-Journal)
Justice hits hard when cops killed
The same day last week that authorities caught a fugitive wanted in the
shooting death of a New Kensington police officer, a Westmoreland County judge
scheduled the capital trial of another alleged cop killer to begin in January.
District Attorney John Peck has sought the death penalty in every case since he
took office in 1994 involving the fatal shooting of an on-duty police officer -
including against Ray Shetler Jr., accused of shooting a St. Clair Township
officer in 2015.
No decision has been made about whether to seek capital punishment for suspect
Rahmael Sal Holt, 29, the man authorities tracked down Tuesday in Pittsburgh 4
days after the shooting and killing of New Kensington Officer Brian Shaw.
"We will evaluate the case and determine if aggravating circumstances outweigh
mitigating circumstances," Peck said, adding that a decision could come early
Holt is the 13th person since 2000 to be accused of committing a violent crime
that took the life of a Western Pennsylvania law-enforcement officer.
7 of the 13 have been convicted and sentenced to prison.
3 received life sentences and 1 got the death penalty.
3 others committed suicide after allegedly committing violent crimes, 1 was
shot to death by police and 2 are awaiting trial, including Holt.
Holt, 29, is charged with 1st-degree murder and weapons offenses in connection
with Shaw's death.
Authorities said Holt shot Shaw multiple times the night of Nov. 17 when the
officer chased him after an attempted traffic stop.
If convicted of 1st-degree murder, Holt faces a sentence of at least life in
The last execution in Pennsylvania was carried out in 1999.
Determining whether to seek the death penalty typically depends on the details
of a murder, with chances increasing for more heinous crimes, said Wes Oliver,
a law professor at Duquesne University. Seeking a capital murder conviction is
easier when a police officer is killed, he said.
"Prosecutors are looking at it as a special victim rather than the nature of
the killing," Oliver said. "I think a police officer evokes a special
circumstance - especially when one is killed in the line of duty. Most district
attorneys do a good job evaluating these cases and when there is a killing of a
police officer, you have to ask that question. It's a different criteria when a
police officer is involved."
Under state law, juries can sentence a defendant to death following a
first-degree murder conviction if aggravating circumstances, or factors about
the killing, outweigh mitigating circumstances, which are details about the
crime and the defendant, that make it less severe.
The killing of a police officer is an aggravated circumstance under the law,
Michael Travaglia and John Lesko were sentenced to death for the 1980 killing
of rookie Apollo police Officer Leonard C. Miller. A Westmoreland County jury
in 1995 resentenced Lesko to death. Travaglia was resentenced following a jury
trial in 2005.
Lesko, of Pittsburgh, is still on death row. Travaglia, of Washington Township,
died in prison this year.
Attorney Jeff Miller defended Travaglia during his last round of appeals of his
death sentence. Miller said he expects Peck to seek the death penalty against
Shaw's suspected killer.
"In most counties, it would not be uncommon for an individual to be charged
with capital murder when there is a death of a police officer," Miller said.
Here is a look at Western Pennsylvania cases since 2000 involving the killing
of a police officer and their dispositions or where they stand in the legal
-- Michael Cwiklinksi , 47, committed suicide after fatally shooting his wife
and Canonsburg police Officer Scott Bashioum, 52, and wounding another borough
officer on Nov. 10, 2016.
-- Raymond Shetler , 33, is scheduled to go to trial in January on charges
that he fatally shot St. Clair police Officer Lloyd Reed, 54, as he responded
to a domestic call at Shetler's home on Nov. 28, 2015. Westmoreland County
District Attorney John Peck is seeking the death penalty.
-- Clair Fink of Ligonier was sentenced in February to 12 to 30 years in
prison for killing Ligonier Township police Lt. Eric Eslary, 40, in a violent
drunken-driving crash. Authorities said Fink, now 34, had been driving the
wrong way on Route 30 with a blood-alcohol level of more than twice the legal
limit. He is at a state prison in Clearfield County.
-- Police killed Eli Franklin Myers III , 58, after a 10-hour standoff at his
Rostraver home following a traffic stop along Interstate 70 in which he fatally
shot part-time East Washington police Officer John David Dryer, 46, and wounded
another officer. Police shot Myers when he emerged from his home with a weapon
and fired a shot at officers.
-- Charlie Post , 33, of Lower Burrell, committed suicide after he fatally
shot Lower Burrell police Officer Derek Kotecki, 40, on Oct. 12, 2011. Kotecki
had been attempting to apprehend Post in connection with a previous shooting.
-- Michael J. Smith , 44, of Cranberry, Venango County, committed suicide
after killing his wife and fatally shooting state Trooper Paul G. Richey, 40,
when the officer responded to Smith's home on Jan. 13, 2010.
-- Ronald Robinson of Pittsburgh was sentenced to two life sentences for
killing a Penn Hills man who owed him money for drugs and fatally shooting Penn
Hills police Officer Michael Crawshaw, 32, when he sprayed the responding
officer's car with rounds from an AK-47-style assault rifle on Dec. 6, 2009.
Robinson, now 40, is at a state prison in Forest County.
-- Richard Poplawski of Pittsburgh received a death sentence in connection
with the April 4, 2009, shooting deaths of city Officers Eric G. Kelly, Stephen
J. Mayhle and Paul J. Sciullo II. Poplawski, now 31, is on death row in a state
prison in Montgomery County. He received a stay of execution early this year as
he sought a new attorney for an appeal.
-- Christina Korbe of Indiana Township was sentenced to 15 years, 10 months in
prison for fatally shooting FBI Special Agent Samuel Hicks during a drug raid
targeting Korbe's husband on Nov. 19, 2008. Korbe, now 49, is an inmate at a
Danbury, Conn., federal prison.
-- Leslie Mollett of Pittsburgh was sentenced to life in prison for fatally
shooting state police Cpl. Joseph Pokorny in Carnegie following a car chase
along the Parkway West on Dec. 12, 2005. Mollett, now 42, is an inmate at a
Schuylkill County state prison.
-- Mark Leach of Cambria County was sentenced to life in prison for fatally
shooting state Trooper Joseph J. Sepp Jr. in Ebensberg during a DUI traffic
stop on Nov. 9, 2002. Leach was 54 when he died in a Greene County state prison
-- Jamie Brown of Aliquippa was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison after
being convicted of 3rd-degree murder in the March 15, 2001, ambush shooting
death of Aliquippa police Officer James Naim. Brown, now 40, is an inmate at a
Forest County state prison.
Death penalty trial upcoming for father accused of killing 5 kids in Lexington
Down a dirt road, toward the back of an overgrown lawn strewn with children's
toys and garbage, a warning sign once hung above the doorframe of a mobile
"Is there life after death? Trespass here and find out," read the message,
accompanied by an illustration of a handgun.
3 years ago, this trailer captured the interest of reporters and locals alike
in Red Bank, a small community 15 miles west of Columbia. Visitors clogged the
dead-end road, vying for a peek of the home where Timothy Ray Jones Jr. lived.
Stunned onlookers wondered what could have driven him to kill his 5 kids, as
The murder case against Jones, 35, has since inched forward with little action
or fanfare following his arrest that made national headlines in 2014. And now,
with his death penalty trial tentatively scheduled for February, residents of
the Lexington County community that mourned the Jones children say the public
has all but forgotten about the case and the 5 youngsters.
After the news trucks packed up, people seemed to move on "almost immediately,"
said Heather Gates, a resident of South Lake Drive, where Jones lived with his
kids, aged 1 to 8.
"It felt like, wow, just that quick, something so tragic can be forgotten so
quickly," she said. "I don't think people want to remember that kind of stuff.
As long as they can bury their head in the sand, they're good."
As another neighbor, Louis Zeibert, put it: "Pretty much everyone forgot the
Jones continues to spend his days behind bars awaiting trial. New tenants, a
family from out of state, moved into his former mobile home several years ago,
The trailer is where investigators said Jones strangled 4 of his kids and beat
the 5th child to death. He reportedly drove their bodies across 4 states for 9
days before dumping them in a wooded area in rural Alabama. Warrants later
revealed that Jones said he feared his kids were going to kill him, cut him up
and "feed him to the dogs."
His ex-wife, Amber Jones, who is the children's mother, in August filed a
lawsuit against several businesses she alleges sold him synthetic marijuana, or
spice. The lawsuit states Timothy Jones was under the influence of the drug at
the time of the killings.
She also filed suit against the state Department of Social Services last year,
claiming the agency received multiple reports of child abuse and knew Timothy
Jones was a threat but failed to protect the kids. He had primary custody of
Amber Jones' lawyer in the lawsuit against DSS, Columbia attorney Dick
Harpootlian, said she is looking forward to getting her ex-husband's criminal
prosecution over with "so she can move on to the extent possible with her
A gag order has prevented all potential trial participants from speaking out
about the murder case.
The children's obituaries referred to them earning their "angel wings." The
oldest, Merah, 8, had long chestnut brown hair and a big smile, absent a front
tooth in the photo that ran with her obituary. Elias, 7, was remembered as a
lover of the outdoors who collected critters. Six-year-old Nahtahn was a
prankster who wanted to be a sheriff when he grew up, like the character Woody
from "Toy Story." Gabriel, 2, boasted a "contagious" smile and big blue eyes.
The youngest, 1-year-old Elaine Marie, was a sweet baby who loved attention.
The kids are never far from stone carver Ron Clamp's mind at Memorial Design in
West Columbia, where a framed illustration of a statue that was to be dedicated
to the children hangs in his office. Clamp planned to create a 10-foot granite
statue of an angel protecting 5 children after a motorcycle club approached him
to design a memorial to draw attention to child abuse in 2014.
Fundraising for the memorial has been postponed because prosecutors and others
worried the statue, proposed for a park across from the Lexington County
courthouse, could lead to a mistrial in the murder case if the defense claimed
it unduly influenced jurors, Clamp said.
He hopes to one day create the statue to raise awareness.
"It was a sad part of the community's history," Clamp said.
On a Sunday afternoon, while serving bottles of beer to regulars at Charlie's
Sports Break, bartender Kim Cornett said it still pains her to think about the
Jones children, whom she described as innocent victims robbed of a "chance to
live their life." But their deaths aren't something people in her social circle
discuss anymore. For some, it's too painful.
"There for a while, it was just like Dylann Roof," said Cornett, referencing
Roof's ties to Red Bank. The self-avowed white supremacist lived in the Red
Bank community as a teen and attended White Knoll High School until 2010. Five
years later, he returned to Red Bank to stay with friend Joey Meek before
carrying out the mass shooting of nine black worshipers at Emanuel AME Church
"We talked about that for a little while, but we don't discuss it no more. We
just deal with it in our own way," Cornett said.
Gates, the South Lake Drive resident, is often reminded of the Jones children,
who were always quiet and polite when they played with her boys. She thinks of
the family when she spots a black Cadillac Escalade, like the SUV Jones drove,
and when families with young kids move into the neighborhood.
The case is still bewildering. Jones appeared "normal," Gates said. He was the
type of neighbor to wave back when neighbors said hello.
Gates' eyes filled with tears as she explained how the killings changed her
worldview, causing her to be more suspicious of others.
"I hope with all my heart it never happens again here, or anywhere for that
matter," she said, "but definitely not so close to home. I pray for that all
(source: Post and Courier)
Judge moves trial of man accused of killing 2 deputies
A judge has ordered a 75-mile move for the trial of a man accused of killing 2
Louisiana sheriff's deputies in 2012 and disabling 2 others.
Brian Smith is scheduled for trial Feb. 15 on charges of murder and attempted
murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty on the murder charges.
Smith's lawyer said he couldn't get a fair trial in St. John the Baptist
Judge J. Sterling Snowdy has moved the trial to St. Martin Parish, The Advocate
Smith and Kyle Joekel are both accused of killing Deputies Jeremy Triche and
Brandon Nielsen and wounding Deputies Michael Boyington and Jason Triche, who
are permanently disabled, in a shootout before dawn at a mobile home park on
Aug. 16, 2012.
Witnesses said the incident began when Boyington, working a security detail,
tried to pull Smith over. Smith drove away rather than show his driver's
license, and the gunfight followed a chase, authorities said.
Joekel, the only other defendant facing a possible death penalty, is scheduled
for a separate trial. It also will be moved.
Smith's father, Terry Smith, is also facing trial but not death. He's already
serving life in an unrelated case.
3 other suspects pleaded guilty years ago as accessories.
Richard Bourke, the director of the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center and
Smith's attorney, tried to convince Snowdy to move proceedings immediately to
St. Martin Parish, rather than waiting until the start of the trial.
The case is so well-known that an immediate move would increase chances of
prejudicing prospective jurors in the other parish, "defeating the purpose of
moving the trial in the first place," the judge ruled.
Bourke has appealed that decision to the state 5th Circuit Court of Appeal.
(source: Associated Press)
Without a Louisiana death penalty, what's there to lose after life in prison?
If you abolish the death penalty, how are you going to punish a lifer who
commits another murder in prison?
That is one question opponents of capital punishment struggle to answer. The
prospect of a 2nd life sentence can have little, if any, deterrent effect. It
is possible that a double murderer will have even less chance of a pardon in
the distant future, but such calculations will never stay a killer's hand in
the heat of the moment.
Prosecutors have frequently pointed out that nothing but a death sentence would
make any difference to the 5 lifers who murdered Angola guard David Knapps
during an escape attempt in 1999. Juries sentenced only 2 of the so-called
Angola 5 to death, however, and whether Jeffrey Clarke or David Brown will ever
see his execution day is an open question.
The next chapter in the saga will come when the state Supreme Court rules on
Brown's appeal, which it will have to do without the benefit of Justice Scott
Crichton's counsel. Crichton has recused himself after making an astounding
error when he appeared on a radio show in his native Shreveport.
Crichton, having reminded his interviewer that he was not at liberty to discuss
any pending case, proceeded to do just that by noting that the Angola 5
wouldn't have been around to kill Knapps if they had been sentenced to death
for the murders of which they had already been convicted.
Crichton has long been an outspoken proponent of capital punishment, and
lobbied against bills that sought to abolish it last year. But defendants whose
lives are at stake are especially entitled to an open mind on the bench, and
Crichton left the clear impression that his was made up. Brown's attorneys
sought his recusal, but Crichton relieved his colleagues of any embarrassment
by stepping aside voluntarily. This was such blatant violation of the judicial
code that it would have been a travesty for him to remain on the case.
Not that Brown can expect much sympathy from the rest of the court, for he has
already drawn a blank here. In 2014 ad-hoc district judge Jerome Winsberg
upheld Brown's conviction but threw out his death sentence because prosecutors
had been up to their old tricks. The withheld evidence, on this occasion was a
statement from another inmate that Barry Edge had said he and Clarke were the
ones who beat Knapps to death.
While that did not exonerate the other 3 making the escape attempt, Winsberg
ruled that it was quite possible that the jury would not have given Brown death
had they known about the statement. Edge, by then, had been given life, and
Winsberg's ruling was clearly correct. But he was overruled by an appeal court,
and the Supreme Court agreed.
Prosecuting the "Angola 5" had cost taxpayers an estimated $14 million by 2015,
and it will be a few more years before attorneys are done with their writs,
memoranda and whatever. It's never safe to assume that a death row inmate will
live long enough to be executed. They all spend decades in the shadow of death.
So while it true, as Crichton said on the radio, that a second life sentence is
pointless for a convicted murderer, the same is true of a death sentence if it
isn't carried out. Crichton, in court rulings, has also expressed some sympathy
for the argument that what must seem like an eternity on death row amounts to
cruel and unusual punishment. His suggested remedy it to streamline the system.
Such views hardly come as a surprise, given Crichton's background. Before his
elevation to the Supreme Court in 2015, he was a judge in Shreveport for 24
years and a prosecutor before that. Perhaps because of his familiarity with the
criminal element, his comments betray a distinct relish for capital punishment,
He has obviously given it a great deal of thought, and told his interviewer
that the condemned should be given a choice of lethal drugs, with the firing
squad as another option.
Whether a more efficient execution system would deter future lifers from
further homicides is, however, impossible to say. All we know for sure is that
the possibility of a death sentence for his assailants did not spare the life
of the unfortunate Capt. Knapps.
(source: James Gill, The New Orleans Advocate)
Nebraska moves closer to the execution of Jose Sandoval
The state of Nebraska has not executed anyone in 2 decades, but Norfolk killer
Jose Sandoval may soon break that hiatus.
Sandoval is an inmate on death row at the Tecumseh State Correctional
Sandoval planned and carried out the attempted robbery that killed 5 people in
under a minute in 2002. His victims include Lisa Bryant, a 29-year-old woman
and mother; Lola Elwood, a 43-year-old with 2 children; Jo Mausbach, 42 and a
mother of 2, she had worked at the bank for 27 years; Samuel Sun, father to 2
sons; and Evonne Tuttle, mother to 2 daughters.
Sandoval orchestrated and carried out the events leading to the murders of 5
people. Within a very short timeframe, he destroyed families and brought
tragedy to an otherwise tranquil town. Sandoval deserves to die, but the state
of Nebraska should not execute him.
Capital punishment is a symptom of a malfunctioning justice system. Multiple
studies spanning 30 years have all found that race plays an imminent role in
who ends up on death row. One such study was conducted by a law professor from
the University of Iowa named David Baldus. After examining more than 2,000
homicides that took place in Georgia beginning in 1972, Baldus and 2 of his
colleagues found that black defendants were 1.7 times more likely to receive
the death penalty than white defendants and that murderers of white victims
were 4.3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who killed
Then there's the possibility, however small, that people could be executed for
a crime they didn't commit. Sandoval's crime was caught on video and witnessed
by multiple bystanders, but what about the case of Carlos Deluna? A man put to
death in December 1989 for a murder he didn't commit. Or Cameron Willingham,
who was wrongly accused of burning his own house down with his 3 children
inside. A system that kills murderers has murdered multiple people.
The drugs that will inevitably kill Sandoval have been purchased. State
officials are required to notify an inmate of the drugs to be used at least 60
days before Nebraska's attorney general asks the state Supreme Court for an
Study shows how age matters when it comes to death penalty support
People's age, race, politics and religion influence opinions about the death
penalty in this country. But it may not have the effect you expect.
It's complicated how those factors work, both over time and with outside
influences, to shape views, according to a study published this month by 2
University of Nebraska professors - a criminologist and a sociologist.
Age matters, but it's not as simple as the older you get the more you support
capital punishment. People in middle age are the most likely to support a death
sentence, but that support generally peaks at age 50 or 55, then begins to
Criminologist Amy Anderson and sociologist Philip Schwadel found being in a
particular generation doesn't matter, but age and the time period matter a lot.
Add to that the effects of political ideology, religious affiliation, gender
The 2 professors, along with University of Arkansas criminal justice professor
Robert Lytle, used data from 4 decades of the General Social Survey to find
what's driving support and opposition to the death penalty.
Since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a ban on executions, approval of
people throughout the country has remained greater than 55 %. But it has
dropped from a high of 80 % in 1995 to 55 % in 2017.
Last year, after a high-profile campaign, 61 % of Nebraskans voted to reject
the Legislature's repeal of the death penalty. Only in Lancaster County did a
greater number of people vote to retain the Legislature's decision.
The 75 % of voters that supported the death penalty in Madison County, where 3
bank robbers killed 5 people in 2002, was one of the strongest areas of
rejection of the Legislature's vote to repeal.
One of the more interesting findings of their recent study, Anderson said in an
interview, was the effect on opinion of the violent crime rate. It's one of the
largest predictors of why death penalty support changes over time.
Generally, the murder rate and the victimization rate don't affect support, but
more the uniform crime reports compiled from law enforcement data, in which
numbers can be driven by enforcement of crime or media coverage.
The actual crime rate may not change much, but it seems like it is from those
enforcement numbers or heightened coverage, Anderson said.
In Nebraska, reported crime rose 2 % from 2015 to 2016, but decreased by 3.4 %
in Lincoln, according to the Nebraska Crime Commission.
Murder and manslaughter decreased 21.5 %, and robbery went down 5.7 %. But
reported cases of forcible rape increased throughout Nebraska.
After 2001, the U.S. crime rate started tracking downward, and then death
penalty opinions for specific groups such as women, nonwhites, Democrats and
independents begin trending down, Anderson said. But for groups of whites,
Republicans and evangelical Protestants, it remained high.
For those groups for which support remained high, it could have been a kind of
Sept. 11, 2001, effect, Anderson said. She would like to see further study on
whether people's sources of news - such as those that hype crime - affect their
opinion on the death penalty.
"You have groups that maybe don't understand the crime rate has actually gone
down because from their news coverage it doesn't seem like it," she said.
Anderson said there's also a hypothesis that as you get older you become more
conservative. But the study suggests that peaks toward the end of middle age,
then trends back down.
She and the others speculated that support of the death penalty through middle
age could result from having a family to protect, but as people age and begin
facing their mortality, they may think of death and capital punishment
Other influences they found on how people determine support or opposition to
the death penalty were religion, race and political ideology.
Catholics are less likely and Christian fundamentalists more likely to support
capital punishment. Support is higher among males, whites, Republicans and
people who identify as conservative.
Public opinion about the death penalty is important to understand, the authors
said, because it influences lawmakers when making policy, and even judges, when
they interpret existing policy.
The U.S. Supreme Court used public opinion, justices said, to assess evolving
standards of decency when it abolished the death penalty for people who were 18
or younger at the time of their crimes.
Public opinion is related to legality of capital punishment within states and
influences counties in charges, prosecutions and convictions in murder and
manslaughter cases, the study said.
Anderson undertook the study because she has an interest in public perceptions
of criminal justice policies, she said.
"Crime's important. We put people in jail. It affects people's lives," she
said. "So people's views of how they think policies work is important."
(source: Lincoln Journal Star)
Pace of executions in California may be up to Gov. Jerry Brown
When the California Supreme Court upheld a voter initiative in August to speed
up executions, some death penalty advocates assumed lethal injections would
resume before the end of the year.
3 months after the court's action, both backers and opponents of the death
penalty concede that executions might be more than a year away.
Gov. Jerry Brown's administration has yet to finalize an execution protocol,
which is necessary to resolve a federal court case that has blocked lethal
injection in California for nearly 12 years. An injunction stopping executions
also is pending in state court.
"Brown is the shot caller" in the litigation over lethal injection, said
Michele Hanisee, president of the Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys for L.A.
Hanisee expects the state to finalize a lethal injection protocol by January,
but if Brown "doesn't want it to move forward quickly, it won't move forward
quickly," she said.
Although no one can now predict when executions will resume, UC Berkeley law
school Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said "it is just a matter of time."
"The uncertainty in all of this," he added, "is what will Jerry Brown do."
Brown personally opposes the death penalty but enforced it as attorney general.
He took no position on 2 recent and unsuccessful ballot measures that would
have ended the death penalty.
Chemerinsky and other lawyers said it was conceivable that Brown and defense
lawyers could delay executions until Brown steps down as governor in January
Brown also could try to commute death sentences to life without parole, but his
power is limited by the California Constitution.
Unlike former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, who just before leaving office in 2003
commuted the death sentences of all of Illinois' condemned inmates, Brown would
need the support of the state Supreme Court to spare inmates with multiple
felonies on their records.
Lawyers estimate that at least 1/2 of all death-row inmates have committed 2
felonies. The governor would need the support of 4 of the 7 California high
court justices to commute those inmates' sentences.
Brown has 3 appointees on the court and a 4th vacancy to fill. But whether his
appointees would support commutations is questionable.
2 of them - Justices Goodwin Liu and Mariano-Florentino Cuellar - are
moderately liberal, but Justice Leondra Kruger, the 3rd, has voted with
conservatives on criminal justice issues.
Ronald Reagan was the last California governor to commute a death sentence,
deciding in 1967 to move Calvin Thomas off death row because Thomas had serious
Under former Gov. Pat Brown, Jerry Brown's father, 35 death row inmates were
executed. The elder Brown commuted the capital sentences of 20 others.
Among the most famous executions under Pat Brown's watch was that of Caryl
Chessman, convicted of robbery, sexual assaults and kidnapping. He was
sentenced to death under a law, later repealed, that made certain kidnappings
Chessman, who represented himself at trial, wrote 4 books on death row and
attracted international sympathy. The elder Brown tried to commute Chessman's
sentence, but the California Supreme Court refused to go along, on a 4 to 3
Jerry Brown has never faced the wrenching decisions that confronted his father
over executions, and the issue also is new for Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra,
appointed by Brown after Kamala Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Becerra, now the top law enforcement officer in California, has testified that
he supports the death penalty, but not "the way it is being executed," and
would enforce Proposition 66, the execution speed-up measure largely upheld by
the state supreme court in August.
Becerra also has said he would run for election to continue as attorney
Prosecutors are expected to press Becerra to move quickly to overturn the
injunctions preventing executions, but his role is to represent Brown's
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in the case, a Becerra press aide
Prosecutors, who sponsored Proposition 66, and crime victims also are
considering trying to intervene in the 2 court cases preventing executions.
Initiative sponsors generally have standing in state court to defend ballot
measures, but obtaining entry into a federal court case is more difficult.
U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg, an Obama appointee who is now presiding
over the Northern California federal case that stopped California from
executing, could allow crime victims or Proposition 66 sponsors to intervene,
but he is not required to do so by law, said Chemerinsky, the Berkeley law
"There is no enthusiasm inside the administration to do anything" to hasten
executions, said Michael D. Rushford, the founder and top executive of the
Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a conservative nonprofit that helped write
Voters narrowly approved the measure a year ago. The state Supreme Court ruling
that permitted its enforcement became final only a few weeks ago, delayed by an
unsuccessful request from challengers for the court to reconsider.
"There are laws in this state that if the administration doesn't want to
enforce, they don't," Rushford said, "and this is one of them."
Rushford's group sued to force the Brown administration to produce a
single-drug lethal injection method, which has not yet been made final, and has
warned it would sue the administration again if it does not move toward
There are about 18 inmates who could immediately be executed because they have
no appeals left. But these inmates have obtained federal stays to prevent their
executions until the lethal injection case overseen by Seeborg is concluded.
For the stays to be lifted, Seeborg would have to decide that California's new
single-drug method of execution, once finalized, did not violate the U.S.
Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Whatever he decides could
then be appealed.
Legal precedent favors those who want executions.
The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision in 2015 that makes it
difficult for inmates to successfully challenge lethal injection methods.
Brown's press office referred questions about executions and possible
commutations to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which said it
was revising a lethal injection protocol but declined to estimate how long that
Ana Zamora, a policy director of the ACLU of Northern California, said she does
not expect executions to resume soon.
"The D.A.s and the proponents of Prop. 66 really sold voters a false bill of
good," she said. "Nothing has changed. There are still significant problems
around lethal injection, and those are not going to go away anytime soon."
The ACLU opposes the death penalty, but even some supporters have little faith
that the state will reopen the execution chamber anytime soon.
It's as if we're all performers in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. -- U.S.
appeals court Judge Alex Kozinski, describing the state's inaction in
reinstating the death penalty.
U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski, a Reagan appointee who
supports the death penalty, wrote in October that California "has no functional
death penalty," despite the law to speed up executions and the fact that the
state's death row, with nearly 750 inmates, is the largest in the Western
California has failed to "come up with a workable protocol" for executions for
more than 10 years, Kozinski wrote.
"It's as if we're all performers in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta," the judge
said. "We make exaggerated gestures and generate much fanfare. But in the end
it amounts to nothing."
(source: Los Angeles Times)
The death penalty is dying. Here's what that means for the criminal justice
system.----Lawyers, not lawmakers, are killing the death penalty. There's a
critical lesson there.
What's the point of the death penalty? Is it about deterring crime or bringing
a measure of peace to victims? Is it about vengeance or justice?
In this interview, Brandon Garrett, a law professor at the University of
Virginia and the author of a new book on the subject, explores these questions,
but also makes a broader claim: that defense lawyers are helping to gradually
abolish the death penalty, and that we can improve the entire criminal justice
system if we understand why.
Our conversation, lightly edited for clarity, follows.
In the 1990s, we had 300 to 350 death sentences a year. In 2016, we had just
31. That's roughly a 90 % decrease. What accounts for that?
Death sentencing isn't just declining; it's dropped to almost nothing. There
are a few explanations. One is that homicide rates have declined. The 2nd is
that the resources for the defense to put on a case at trial have improved. The
3rd is that the entrenched practices of prosecutors have eroded over time, in
part because defense lawyers are winning more. So death penalty cases have
gotten harder and more expensive for the state to prosecute.
Racism is also a huge part of this story, right? [Read this 2016 Vox report on
racial discrimination in the justice system for more context.]
Absolutely. The data showed pretty clearly that death sentencing correlated to
murders with white victims, and so as homicide rates among white victims have
dropped, so too have death sentence convictions.
This book is not really about why we should end the death penalty but rather
about why the end of the death penalty will improve the broader criminal
justice system. Can you sum up your argument?
This book is about what the death penalty is doing to itself, and what we can
learn from that. The death penalty is dying and it's not because the courts or
lawmakers have killed it. It's been the people and the hard work of lawyers on
the ground. I think the death penalty is fading away because it doesn't work.
So now I think we need to start pulling the same levers that have been so
important in the death penalty world, and take what worked there and apply it
to regular criminal cases.
What does that mean exactly?
For instance, jurors, when they hear about mental health evidence and social
history, think differently about the worst murders in this country. In cases
that aren't death penalty cases, however, jurors don't have that opportunity
because of the nature of lower criminal trials and mandatory sentencing laws.
We have people sentenced to life without parole, without the same opportunity
to have their life stories and their mental illnesses or disabilities heard or
understood in a court of law. People with traumatic brain injuries or severe
mental illnesses have to be judged with these things in mind if we are to have
any comprehension of what they did and why they did it.
We have people in our jails across the country who aren't even screened for
mental health problems, much less given treatment. Now that we're having this
broader discussion about how to reduce mass incarceration, we should also be
talking about who we should be treating and not just punishing. And I think the
death penalty offers some important lessons on how we can think about criminal
punishment differently, on how we can consider people as individuals.
If we can consider even murderers as individuals, we can certainly do the same
for less serious crimes.
You said a minute ago that the death penalty doesn't work, and we should
clarify why that is. My understanding is that the death penalty doesn't deter
crime, has never deterred crime, which means it's primarily about vengeance,
not justice. Brandon Garrett
We've never had any evidence that the death penalty deters crime. The rise of
death sentencing in the 1970s accompanied a larger turn in criminal justice
policy in the United States, where people became more skeptical of
rehabilitation as a goal, and they basically threw rehabilitation out the
window and replaced it with retribution.
Lawmakers and prison officials all decided that the purpose of criminal
sanctions, the purpose of prison, is to punish, and we're not going to even try
to rehabilitate anymore, which essentially meant that they didn't care about
deterring crime anymore. It was just about imposing a rote punishment.
So no, the death penalty doesn't work if the goal of the justice system is to
deter crime. But if the goal is merely to punish without any concern for
preventing crime, then it works just fine.
One thing I gleaned from your book is that a big problem in our justice system,
from death penalty cases on down, is shoddy lawyering. Death sentences are
dropping in part because of better lawyering, and that's obviously a lesson for
the wider justice system.
That's right. One pricier solution I suggest in the book is to give other types
of criminal defendants the same kind of team that you get in a death penalty
case, and the same opportunity to present mitigation evidence. It would
certainly make sense to do that in life without parole cases. Death sentencing
is at a record low in this country, but life sentences are at a record high.
It's not like we have some crime wave that explains why we have 10 times more
people serving life without parole in this country.
Life sentences are taking up more than 10 % of our prisons, and so we have to
confront these life without parole sentences if we are going to do something
about incarceration in this country. Providing similar resources in those cases
makes sense, because if you are going to put someone away for the rest of their
life, without any chance of parole, that really should be someone who is
incapable of any kind of rehabilitation.
For other types of criminal cases, it may not make sense to provide a full
defense team, but we have public defenders offices that don't have the
resources to do basic investigatory work, much less mental health screening.
That has to change.
Do we have any idea how many innocent people have been executed in this
We don't. We know that large numbers of people have been exonerated from death
row, including 20 based on DNA testing, and over 120 additional people
exonerated based on other evidence. We know, based on that large body of
exonerations, what rate there is of death row innocence. Researchers have
estimated that there is more than a 4 % rate in death penalty cases. And we
also know that it's not like this happens in any one particular state or any
one county. The states that have the most death sentences have the most
So 4 % of people sentenced to death are later proven innocent?
Is there something particular to murder cases that lends itself to wrongful
One feature of murder investigations is that they can be quite hard to solve.
Some murderers are caught in the act, but often you have a murdered victim who
is the only person who saw what happened. You may some forensic evidence, but
unless there's DNA or some unusual forensic evidence, you may be relying on
circumstantial evidence, some kind of a confession statement, to solve the most
serious crime imaginable.
And there's enormous pressure to close murder cases, to reassure the community
that a murderer has been brought to justice, but there may not be any good
leads for the police to go on, and that provides a recipe for wrongful
convictions. "Death sentencing correlated to murders with white victims, and so
as homicide rates among white victims have dropped, so too have death sentence
What does America's criminal justice system look like post death penalty?
If we don't learn from some of the lessons of the death penalty decline, then
our justice system might actually be somewhat worse. We have all these
important constitutional protections and practical protections to provide
better representation, and to create more attention in death penalty cases. We
have more exonerations in death penalty cases. We have better litigation of
mental health evidence in death penalty cases. Unless we provide those
resources and move them to other types of cases, that attention will be lost.
On the flip side, the death penalty has always stood for retribution in this
country. The death penalty has largely existed as a symbol for how we can exact
the ultimate punishment on criminals. But with the death penalty off the books,
I think that sends a message that we are no longer a society that focuses
exclusively on retribution. And it helps to open up a space to talk about what
the right answer is for punishing criminals.
This principal of retribution is baked into our entire philosophy of justice in
this country. It's hard to imagine what it would look like without it.
Retribution absolutely defines criminal justice in this country, but it's
important to remember that it wasn't always this way. It wasn't until the 1970s
that this become the essential feature. We weren't always world leaders in
incarceration. We didn't always have the toughest and most severe sentences in
the world. Very few states had life without parole, in any modern sense, before
the 1970s. This whole tough on crime era is decades long, but it's new to us.
The United States, since colonial times, was known for adopting enlightenment
principles that criminal punishment is wrong, that retribution is medieval and
wrong. We were always more lenient in our attitudes toward criminal punishment,
and saw ourselves as being more advanced than these punitive European
societies. So it's kind of remarkable that we've completely reversed this is in
the span of a few decades.
My hope is that we're going back to where we started, as an imperfect but
comparatively enlightened country. If we can do it in the area of the death
penalty in the space of 15 years, then we can do anything.
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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