2017-06-04 18:47:44 UTC
A broken system
I write in response to Jack Flanagan's May 31 letter to the editor berating
Congresswomen Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter for voting against the "Thin
Blue Line Act," which would have subjected a person who kills a police officer,
firefighter or first responder to a capital murder charge. Flanagan argued that
family members should have the peace of mind to know that if someone takes the
life of a first responder he will experience the ultimate penalty: death.
I do not presume to speak for all murder victim family members. I respect that
they are a diverse community of varying opinions about all manner of things,
including the death penalty. But as chair of New Hampshire's Coalition to
Abolish the Death Penalty, I have had the privilege to meet and speak with many
survivors over the years. Many of them have expressed disappointment and
frustration with the death penalty system. Here are some reasons why:
Currently there are 2,902 people on death row awaiting execution. Less than 1 %
of those sentenced to death will actually be executed. But the mere imposition
of the death penalty exposes family members to years of court hearings or other
proceedings, often putting them under unbearable pressure.
On average there are 13 years between a sentence of death and execution. And
that is when execution actually occurs.
65 % of death penalty cases are overturned on appeal.
About 4 % of people sentenced to death will be found to have been wrongly
convicted and will be exonerated.
Our death penalty system is broken beyond repair. Exposing family members to
this system does not bring "peace of mind." The reality is that for many
victims it increases their pain and becomes an unending nightmare.
Kuster and Shea-Porter showed leadership and compassion in voting no on the
ill-conceived "Thin Blue Line Act."
(source: Letter to the Editor, Concord Monitor)
Capital punishment too costly to justify
Centre County voters favored a new DA, Bernie Cantorna, in the recent primary
election. I can find no record of his position on capital punishment.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, district attorney candidate Larry Krasner ran on a
promise to never seek the death penalty. On May 16, Krasner defeated six other
Democrats to win his party's nomination. His overwhelming victory made it clear
voters want to end capital punishment.
This is not a surprise in light of a 2015 statewide poll showing a majority of
Pennsylvanians prefer life in prison over the death penalty as punishment for
murder. Cost likely plays a large role in this. According to the Reading Eagle,
Pennsylvania has spent $816 million over the past 38 years on a system so
broken that 6 innocent people were released from death row and only 3 men were
Taxpayers' money should improve the lives of Pennsylvanians and not be
squandered on failed government policy. The American Society of Civil Engineers
gave our state's infrastructure a C- rating. That $816 million sum would go a
long way toward improving our roads and bridges.
Capital punishment is simply too expensive to justify in Pennsylvania any
longer, and the election of Larry Krasner shows plenty of support to end it. We
live in the shadow of SCI Rockview, home to the execution chamber that hasn't
been used since 1999.
Our lawmakers should support abolishing the death penalty. I call on Bernie
Cantorna to publicly oppose the application of the death penalty.
(source: Letter to the Editor, Centre Daily Times)
Jury: Man should be executed for murdering 83-year-old woman in Orlando
A jury voted unanimously that a man convicted of murdering an 83-year-old woman
during a home invasion should be executed.
The Orlando Sentinel reported Saturday that an Orange County jury voted 12-0
late Friday to recommend 30-year-old Juan Rosario be executed. The case was
overseen by Ocala-based State Attorney Brad King, who was assigned by Gov. Rick
Scott. He reassigned 23 cases from local State Attorney Aramis Ayala after she
announced earlier this year she would not seek the death penalty in any cases.
Rosario was convicted earlier of breaking into Elena Ortega's home in September
2013 to burglarize it and then fatally beat her when she woke up. He then set
fire to the house.
His attorneys said they will try to convince the judge to spare Rosario.
(source: Orlando Sentinel)
Melson case revives old questions about Alabama execution methods
Alabama uses midazolam in its 3-drug execution procedure. The drug has been
present in botched executions and drawn controversy. Until Friday afternoon,
Alabama was preparing to conduct its 2nd execution of the year, just 2 weeks
after the last one.
But a federal court's decision to stay the June 8 execution returned the focus
to long-standing questions about Alabama's methods of executing people.
Robert Melson, who turns 46 on Monday, was sentenced to die in 1996 for the
1994 murder of 3 workers at a Popeye's Chicken in Gadsden. With 4other inmates,
Melson is seeking a court a hearing on whether Alabama's switch to midazolam -
present in botched executions in the past - represented a major change in
execution procedures. The brief that sought -- and ultimately won -- Melson's
stay of execution -- cites the execution of Ronald Bert Smith last December,
who media witnesses said gasped and coughed for 13 minutes in the 34-minute
"Mr. Smith's execution, during which Mr. Smith was not anesthetized, but
responded to 2 consciousness tests and coughed and wheezed for 13 minutes
during the execution, illustrates the unreliability of midazolam as the 1st
drug in a 3-drug execution protocol," a filing by Melson's attorneys said on
The plaintiffs in the suit say they should be be allowed to argue for alternate
methods of execution, such as lethal injection methods using a single drug.
They also argue a consciousness test performed by Department of Corrections
officials is insufficient to determine unconsciousness, and say their attorneys
should have access to a phone during an execution to allow them access to a
The Alabama Attorney General???s Office, as it has in the past, pushed back on
the midazolam claims, arguing that Melson is not challenging the use of
midazolam but the lethal injection process itself, and say time has run out on
that challenge, as it did when Smith challenged the process prior to his
"Because Smith only alleged one-drug protocols, he was, in effect, challenging
the constitutionality of the ADOC's 3-drug protocol, regardless of the 1st drug
administered, and the statute of limitations on that claim expired in 2004,"
the attorney general's office wrote in a reply brief filed Wednesday.
Murders at a restaurant
Near midnight on the evening of April 16, 1994, four workers at a Gadsden
Popeye's - Bryant Archer, 17; James Baker, 17; Tamika Collins, 18 and Darryl
Collier, 23 - were closing up the restaurant. According to court records,
Collier unlocked the back door of the restaurant to allow Archer and Baker to
take the trash out.
When they opened the door, 2 men wearing bandanas entered drew guns and ordered
the workers back into the office to get money out of the safe. The 2 men then
ordered the employees into a freezer, where 1 of the men began shooting.
Baker, Collins and Collier were killed with wounds to the head. Archer, shot
four times, managed to get out of the freezer and call 911. When police
arrived, he said 1 of the men was Cuhuatemoc Peraita, then 17, who used to work
at Popeye's and who had a distinctive haircut, but didn't know the 2nd man, who
murdered his coworkers.
Just over an hour later, Gadsden police pulled over a black Monte Carlo.
Peraita was a passenger in the car, driven by Melson who was 23 at the time.
Melson and Peraita were both arrested and charged in the robberies and murders.
A jury convicted Melson in 1996 and sentenced him to death. Peraita, sentenced
to life without parole in 1995, is now on death row for participating in the
murder of inmate Quincy Lewis at Holman Prison in 1999.
Melson's conviction was upheld by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in
1999, and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his appeal in 2001.
Melson in the past challenged the adequacy of his representation during the
post-conviction process known as Rule 32. While Alabama appoints attorneys to
represent indigent inmates in the direct appeals process, it does not do so for
the post-conviction segment, and Melson relied on out-of-state attorneys who,
he said, lacked experience with death penalty cases and missed critical
deadlines in the process. The federal courts rejected the argument, with the
U.S. Supreme Court declining to hear the case in 2014.
The key to his current appeal is midazolam, whose presence in botched
executions stirred nationwide debate over its use. Midazolam is supposed to
render a condemned inmate unconscious before he or she is injected with
rocuronium bromide, which paralyzes the muscles, and potassium chloride, which
stops the heart. But medical professionals say midazolam cannot reliably
maintain unconsciousness in the face of high-stress events, such as an
Neither Thomas Arthur, executed May 25, nor Christopher Brooks, put to death in
January 2016, showed visible signs of distress during their executions after
receiving the drug. But midazolam has been present in botched executions in
Ohio and Arizona. In 2014, Ohio inmate Dennis McGuire appeared to gasp and
struggle for 10 minutes after receiving an injection of midazolam and
hydromorphone, a narcotic. Later that year, Arizona inmate Jospeh Wood gasped
600 times during his execution, which took 2 hours.
Smith's execution in December drew sharp criticism from his attorneys, who said
he was "not anesthetized at any point" during the execution. The Alabama
Department of Corrections said at the time there was "no observational
evidence" that Smith suffered.
"This is not the time to accelerate Alabama's executions," attorneys for Melson
wrote in their request for a stay. "It is the time for measured thought on the
legal questions surrounding this method, a method that is decreasing in use in
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that inmates challenging their methods of
execution must propose feasible alternatives. Citing the issues with midazolam,
Melson and other death row inmates have argued the state could administer a
single dose of compounded pentobarbital, midazolam or sodium thiopental in
place of the current procedure.
The state used sodium thiopental, a barbiturate, as its sedative until 2011,
when drugmaker Hospira stopped manufacturing it in the United States amid
concerns about its use in executions. The state switched to pentobarbital
afterward, but its supply of the drug ran out. In September 2014, the state
announced in a court filing it switched the sedative to midazolam.
In its reply to Melson's stay, the Attorney General's Office said Melson was
not challenging midazolam, but the 3-drug execution method. The time to do so,
state attorneys argue, has passed.
"The fact that Melson alleged that sodium thiopental, pentobarbital, and
midazolam - the very drugs that the ADOC has used in its 3-drug protocols -
should be used in alternative 1-drug protocols confirms that his allegations
about the ADOC's 2014 substitution of midazolam are window dressing hiding the
untimely nature of his true claim: a challenge to the continued use of 3-drug
protocols," the May 31 filing said.
Midazolam has a 3-year shelf life, and the state of Alabama's supply is not
clear. Arkansas scheduled several executions earlier this year because its
supply of midazolam was about to expire. The Alabama Attorney General's Office
declined to comment on the matter Friday.
(source: Montgomery Advertiser)
We need a death penalty fast track
What will it take to get the death penalty on the fast track?
Here in Jackson, another child is dead because those who commit this type of
crime know that the system works very slowly and few will be put to death.
Defense types and do-gooders want the death penalty abolished. This is insane
and anyone who wants to serve in public must state if they believe in capital
Those of us who have worked in the prison system know that the system sucks as
well as programs to change them. If you commit capital murder, a fast trail and
quick death are in order. We can care less what made him/her do the crime. Just
Money Powell Jr
(source: Letter to the Editor, Jackson Clarion-Ledger)
Driven by belief in retribution, freelancing prosecutor Hugo Holland emerges as
face of Louisiana's death penalty
When he's not flying his four-seat RV-10 around the state, seeking the death
penalty for yet another accused killer or lobbying the Louisiana Legislature to
keep the practice of execution alive, Hugo Holland finds refuge in a cozy
man-cave here that serves as both an office and an arsenal.
Less than two miles from downtown Shreveport, the bunker-like work space
resembles a war room in more than one way. An array of World War II memorabilia
complements a collection of two dozen long guns and a high-tech radio terminal
Holland uses to chat with people around the world while his wife and neighbors
are still sleeping.
On the opposite wall, a photo of prisoners laboring at the Louisiana State
Penitentiary at Angola hangs next to an ultrasound image of the child Holland
and his wife are expecting. He sips coffee here in the company of his cats, one
of whom he named Oswald after the presidential assassin he considers "the most
maligned man in U.S. history."
Hefty file folders clutter the floor, the work product of a prolific freelancer
who handles some of the most high-stakes prosecutions in the state. Many
involve capital punishment, a specialty Holland honed before a scandal forced
him to resign from the Caddo Parish District Attorney's Office.
In the 5 years since then, so-called circuit riding - he holds commissions from
18 Louisiana district attorneys - has made Holland one of the most influential
and best-paid prosecutors in the state.
Indeed, understaffed district attorneys don't solicit Holland's services only
when a defendant's life is on the line. One folder on the floor of his office,
lying feet from a six-pack of Southern Drawl beer, relates to a public
corruption case in Alexandria. Others involve a cold-case murder and
racketeering prosecutions in Lake Charles.
Still, Holland is best known for his expertise in capital cases, having sent 10
people to Louisiana's death row - a "macabre" statistic he swears he isn't
tracking. Much to his chagrin, 1/2 of those death sentences have been
overturned, and none has been carried out.
"If a stray kitten was hit in the street, I'd pick it up and take it to the
vet, pay the bill and then try to adopt it out," Holland said in an interview
last week. "But it would not faze me in the least to watch a man executed, and
that would include hanging or firing squad. I've seen enough videos. I've seen
people killed violently."
Holland routinely fields calls from district attorneys who have never hired
him, seeking advice on how to respond to defense motions or adverse court
rulings. Particularly in rural parishes, he is called upon to prosecute
first-degree murder cases, among the most complex and contentious proceedings
in criminal law.
Bridget Dinvaut, the St. John the Baptist Parish district attorney, tapped
Holland to seek the death penalty against two avowed "sovereign citizens"
charged with killing 2 sheriff's deputies in 2012.
"The only thing that we can do with animals that do stuff like that is put them
down," Holland said, referring to an earlier death penalty case he prosecuted
against a group of inmates, known as the "Angola 5," who were convicted of
savagely beating a prison guard to death. "They've got no place in society,
even prison society."
Blunt and bellicose
Bald, blunt and bellicose, Holland has emerged as an outspoken champion of the
death penalty at a time when capital punishment remains on life support in
Louisiana, hobbled in recent years by a dearth of lethal injection drugs.
The Caddo Parish DA's Office pays him thousands of dollars a year not to
prosecute cases but to lobby lawmakers in Baton Rouge, where he's shined a
harsh light on funding for defense lawyers in capital case - "They spend money
on experts like a drunk sailor in Thailand goes through hookers" - and, as
recently as last month, helped defeat a bill that would have abolished the
death penalty in Louisiana for future murder cases.
Holland, 53, says he does not want to live in a society without capital
punishment. While he has a financial incentive in keeping it on the books, he
insists his "passion" stems from his unwavering belief in "lex talionis," the
law of retaliation. The death penalty has failed to deter murderers, he
acknowledges, but it offers an avenue for state-sanctioned retribution - so
victims don't have to exact it themselves.
"It's the Old Testament thing: an eye for eye," Holland added. "I can't imagine
how it's fair for you to take another human being's life and yours not be
Holland's efforts - his next legislative undertaking will involve unclogging
the "bottleneck" of post-conviction relief, he said - have not escaped the
notice of the state's capital defenders, who have accused him of flouting state
law by working full time in multiple judicial districts.
Public records compiled by these attorneys show Holland earned more than
$200,000 last year from nine Louisiana parishes, a figure Holland said isn't
entirely accurate because he farms some of his assignments out to other
"Hugo Holland is the face of Louisiana's broken death penalty," said G. Ben
Cohen, an attorney with the Promise of Justice Initiative, a New Orleans
nonprofit that opposes capital punishment. "I don't think there is a prosecutor
in Louisiana who would look at Hugo to see whether (his multiple billings are)
a crime. But, at the very least, the legislative auditor needs to look at Hugo
Holland's setup for fraud, waste and abuse of public funds."
Holland, Cohen added, has "a perverse incentive to push for the death penalty,
where he gets paid a premium hourly rate to pursue capital punishment. At the
same time, he is getting paid $900 a day to lobby the Legislature to reduce the
funding for poor people facing the death penalty."
State law prohibits dual-office holding, including the contemporaneous holding
of 2 "full-time appointive" positions or "full-time employment" in state
Holland receives a state salary known as a "warrant" in Calcasieu Parish, where
last year he won an improbable conviction in a 1962 murder, the oldest
prosecution in U.S. history of a suspected serial killer.
At the same time, he earns $50,000 a year to run the Webster Parish division of
the 26th Judicial District Attorney's Office, where he screens every felony
case and is expected to be in court twice a week. He also regularly prosecutes
cases in several other parishes.
"Give him a death penalty case, walk out of the room and he'll handle it
competently," J. Schuyler Marvin, the Webster Parish district attorney, told
The Advocate last year. "If you want to talk about the history of the death
penalty, he knows as much about that as anybody in Louisiana."
Holland insists none of his myriad gigs amounts to full-time employment. "By
law, these are part-time, appointed positions," he said.
"I'm not ashamed of the fact that I worked my way through college and law
school, and I've developed a skill set that people are willing to pay for," he
added. "I can take a case that would take a 5-year assistant district attorney
2 hours to review, and I can review it in 10 minutes."
Missing 'the whole truth'
Unlike many of his colleagues, Holland did not grow up in a family of law
enforcement. He was raised in Shreveport, the son of a school teacher and
When he was about 7, a man broke into his great-grandmother's home and severely
beat the 97-year-old, sending her to the hospital, and raped another family
member. The assailant was never caught.
It was Holland's 1st exposure to injustice, and it made a lasting impression.
"I realized only later that the people who make this system run, who are in
charge of making decisions on who gets prosecuted, are the district attorneys,
and that's why I went to law school," he said. "I wanted to be on the side of
taking care of these a**holes who do this sort of thing to people."
For all the zeal Holland brings to the courtroom, he is equally drawn to the
gun-toting, badge-wearing part of law enforcement. While attending LSU in the
early 1980s, he was a reserve deputy for the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's
Office, where he received training in corrections and patrol work. Today, he is
a reserve police officer in Bossier City.
He passed on a job as an investigator with the state Attorney General's Office
and went to law school. After graduating, he clerked with the Louisiana
District Attorneys Association before getting hired as a prosecutor in rural
Grant Parish, north of Alexandria.
The man who soon succeeded his boss as district attorney of the 35th Judicial
District - he declined to name him - "basically told me that I was not
Christian enough and said, 'Get out,' " Holland said. "This guy was a
fundamentalist, evangelical, and if you weren't evangelical he really didn't
want you working for him."
In 1991, Holland was hired as a misdemeanor-cases assistant under Paul
Carmouche, the Caddo Parish district attorney at the time. He quickly moved up
to felony cases and, by 1992, found himself seeking - and obtaining - a death
sentence against an accused armed robber and murderer named Percy Davis. "I was
thrown into the deep end," Holland recalled. "I didn't know what I was doing or
how to do it, but I figured it out."
As he spoke, Holland called up several gruesome crime-scene photographs on his
computer, offering them as arguments in support of the death penalty. "This is
the way we found Charlie," he said, motioning to his screen, which displayed
the remains of an elderly Korean War veteran. "That was his head that we found
in the dumpster. He'd been cut up - legs and torso were found someplace else."
Over the years, attorneys and other visitors to Holland's office at the Caddo
Parish DA's Office often asked about his portrait of Nathan Bedford Forrest,
the Confederate general who was an early member and reputed leader of the Ku
Klux Klan. While some visitors took offense or inferred a racist motivation
behind the portrait, Holland insisted he merely admired Forrest as a cavalry
He complained to The Advocate that people never inquired about any of the other
portraits he had, including Thomas Jefferson, the French military officer
Marquis de Lafayette, the German general Erwin Rommel and Winston Churchill.
It's not the truth but "the whole truth" that's frequently omitted by his
courtroom adversaries, Holland said, be it in a discussion about his personal
track record or a broader debate on the death penalty.
"I don't think that Hugo is as bats**t crazy as Dale was," said Richard C.
Goorley, a longtime capital defender in Shreveport, referring to Dale Cox, the
former acting district attorney in Caddo Parish who made national headlines in
2015 when he told The Shreveport Times that "we need to kill more people."
"He's a good prosecutor and a good trial lawyer," Goorley added of Holland. "If
he was bad, nobody would care."
A 'controversial' prosecutor
Gary Evans, the DeSoto Parish district attorney, described Holland as "a big
gun," saying he hired him shortly after he took office to handle a host of
felony cases. In an interview last year, Evans said Holland had earned a 100 %
conviction rate in cases he took to trial.
"They're a little bit controversial, and that's the reason you called me,"
Evans told a reporter, referring to Holland and Lea Hall, another former Caddo
Parish prosecutor who has freelanced in DeSoto Parish and other jurisdictions.
"What's happened now?"
Holland eschews reading fiction in his free time, saying he has no time for it.
A history buff, he is equally likely to invoke Hitler and Scripture in the
"The guilty man flees when none pursueth, but the bold stand like a lion," he
told a Webster Parish jury last month, persuading the panel to convict a man of
unlawfully carrying a weapon.
Holland long has been accused of playing dirty and even hiding evidence to
secure death sentences - an allegation that causes him to bristle. In a 2000
murder trial, defense attorneys argued that Holland withheld witness statements
that exculpated Corey Williams, a 16-year-old found to have an intellectual
disability when the crime occurred.
"I don't know how he manages to avoid discipline," said Letty DiGiulio, a
longtime capital-case defender who opposed Holland in several cases and filed a
bar complaint against him 5 years ago. "What stands out mostly is that he's
always willing to lie, cheat and steal. He will say exactly the opposite of
what is established by the record, and he'll do it over and over."
Holland said he has never considered running for public office, though in 2001
his name was on President George W. Bush's desk as a finalist for U.S. attorney
of the Western District of Louisiana. Bush eventually tapped Donald W.
Washington for the post.
Perhaps the most remarkable part of Holland's career is how quickly he
recovered from a 2012 scandal that cost him his job in Caddo Parish.
Charles Scott, the district attorney at the time, asked Holland and Hall to
resign after the state inspector general determined they falsified paperwork to
obtain eight fully automatic M-16 rifles from a military surplus program. The
prosecutors said they needed the weapons for their special investigations
The inspector general, Stephen Street, said the applications for the weapons
did not violate state law. But he recommended that Scott, who died in 2015,
"consider appropriate measures to ensure the truthfulness and accuracy of all
documents" leaving the District Attorney's Office.
Holland vehemently disputed Street's findings. He said he was unemployed for
only "about 2 days" following his resignation, given his extensive contacts and
willingness to travel the state prosecuting cases on a freelance basis. Within
months of his departure, he said, he had been rehired in Caddo Parish to lobby
"Hugo was in my section when I was a district court judge, so I know how to
control Hugo," said James E. Stewart Jr., the current Caddo Parish district
At the Legislature last month, Holland pounced on a proposal to get rid of the
death penalty like a hungry dog. Railing against the "abolitionists," he
insisted the criminal justice system had "a 99.5 % success rate in getting the
right person." Exonerations of longtime inmates, he said, are merely
indications "that our system works."
"Life in prison just sometimes doesn???t do it," he told lawmakers, referring
to the case of David Knapps, an Angola prison guard beaten to death in 1999
during an inmate takeover. "Our system is designed to keep people from seeking
their own retribution, which is why we have the death penalty."
(source: The Advocate)
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