2017-05-12 12:37:15 UTC
Deadly games----The Court of Criminal Appeals must treat executions with a new
sense of skepticism.
How can you tell if a criminal is too mentally disabled to merit the death
If you're a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, you look at the prevailing
standards of psychology and medicine.
If you're a judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA), you look at his
ability to hustle pool.
This mismatched standard has the state's highest criminal court rehearing the
death sentence of Bobby Moore, who was convicted for shooting a grocery store
employee during a robbery in 1980. Moore's lawyers have argued that he is
mentally disabled and executing him would violate the Eighth Amendment's
prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
In a 5-3 decision released in March, the Supreme Court found that the CCA
failed to consider current clinical standards when determining Moore's
intelligence and relied too much on invented standards that have no real basis
in medicine or law. Among those invented standards were the facts that Moore
"lived on the streets, mowed lawns, and played pool for money."
Now the CCA is going to reconsider Moore's death sentence, and we encourage
them to listen to the dissenting judge who had it right the whole time: Judge
Over the past several capital punishment cases to face the CCA, Alcala has
refused to shy away from pointing out the flaws in our state's death penalty
process. In fact, the former prosecutor and trial judge has twice called for
the CCA to address the underlying constitutionality of the death penalty
There are 3 key legal arguments to consider: Is the death penalty in Texas
unconstitutionally arbitrary because race, rather than violence, is a better
predictor of its application?
Is the death penalty in Texas unconstitutionally cruel because it essentially
requires convicts on death row to sit in solitary confinement for years, if not
Is the death penalty in Texas unconstitutionally unusual because, since 2010,
capital punishment is practiced in only 16 counties out of more than 3,000
across the United States?
Beyond the legal realm of Alcala's expertise, Texas also needs to consider the
deep questions of policy and morality wrapped up in the application of
Innocent people like Anthony Graves have been rescued from death row. Others,
like Cameron Todd Willingham, were executed while questions of guilt still
There's no undoing a mistaken execution, yet Texas persists.
The death penalty doesn't save money - the constitutionally compelled appeals
process is often more expensive than life in prison. And there's no conclusive
evidence that it does a better job at deterring crime. In fact, states without
capital punishment routinely have lower murder rates.
That's why the rest of western civilization has abandoned the practice.
Countries like Iran, China, North Korea and Saudi Arabia sit among Texas' peers
in executing criminals - not exactly the company the Lone Star State should
want to keep.
Questions of life and death aren't a game - pool hustling or otherwise. Nor
should executions be treated like a political pawn. The CCA and the entire
state of Texas need to address the death penalty with a new and serious
(source: Houston Chronicle)
Jury Clears the Prosecutor Who Sent Cameron Todd Willingham to death
row----John Jackson did not commit misconduct in 1992 case, a jury finds.
After a trial of more than 2 weeks, a Texas jury on Wednesday found that former
state prosecutor John Jackson had not committed misconduct in the 1992 death
penalty trial of Cameron Todd Willingham.
By an 11-to-1 vote, a Navarro County jury rejected claims by the State Bar of
Texas that Jackson made false statements, concealed evidence favorable to
Willingham's defense and obstructed justice.
The state bar had accused Jackson of failing to disclose to Willingham's
defense lawyers that jailhouse snitch Johnny Webb had been promised favorable
treatment on an aggravated robbery conviction in return for testimony at
Webb testified at Willingham's trial that while he and Willingham were in the
Navarro County Jail Willingham confessed to setting a fire that killed his 3
daughters. In 2014, Webb recanted that testimony, saying Willingham never
confessed and that he had testified after Jackson promised him leniency on his
own criminal charge.
Jackson testified during his trial that he had made no deal with Webb. He said
he only made efforts to obtain a reduction of Webb's conviction from aggravated
robbery to simple robbery and an early release from prison because Webb was
being threatened in prison.
Willingham was executed on Feb. 17, 2004 for setting the fire that killed his
daughters on Dec. 23, 1991 in their Corsicana, Texas home. The prosecution's
case against him was 2-pronged - testimony by fire investigators that their
analysis of the fire debris showed the blaze was deliberately set and Webb's
assertion that Willingham had confessed.
Weeks before the execution, an independent fire expert concluded there was no
evidence the fire was deliberately set. Over the next decade numerous experts
also reached the same conclusion.
The verdict was a defeat for the state bar, which filed a complaint in 2015
seeking to disbar Jackson. The complaint was the culmination of more than a
decade of investigation by the Innocence Project, which unsuccessfully sought a
posthumous pardon for Willingham.
During the trial of the bar complaint against Jackson, state bar lawyers showed
jurors excerpts of a pre-trial video deposition of Webb during which he said
that he had lied at Willingham's trial after Jackson promised him favorable
treatment on his own case.
However, when Webb took the witness stand in person, he refused to answer
questions about whether he had lied at Willingham's trial and invoked his Fifth
Amendment protection against self-incrimination more than 50 times. He also
said he couldn't recall or did not remember nearly 100 times.
The trial was attended by a group of supporters of Jackson, who was elected a
Navarro County District judge after Willingham's trial. Judge David Farr, who
presided over Jackson's trial, admonished the Jackson supporters for repeatedly
expressing audible sounds of disgust and disbelief during Webb's testimony.
The complaint against Jackson was filed by the state bar after the Innocence
Project uncovered documents, including letters from Webb to Jackson and letters
from Jackson seeking an early release from prison for Webb. The bar had accused
Jackson of violating several sections of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of
Professional Conduct that prohibit making false statements to a judge as well
as obstructing justice.
The state bar previously was successful in obtaining the disbarment of 2 other
former prosecutors for making false statements and obstructing justice. In
2013, Williamson County District Judge Ken Anderson resigned as a judge and a
lawyer and pled no contest to a contempt of court charge for failing to reveal
evidence of innocence in the case of Michael Morton, who was exonerated after
being wrongly convicted and serving 25 years in prison for the murder of his
In June 2015, former prosecutor Charles Sebesta was disbarred for concealing
evidence of innocence while prosecuting Anthony Graves, who was convicted and
sent to Texas death row for the 1992 murders of 6 people. A federal appeals
court reversed Graves' conviction in 2006 and he was released in 2010 after a
special prosecutor conducted a re-investigation of the case and concluded that
Graves was innocent.
Withholding evidence that is favorable to a defendant, whether it is evidence
of innocence or evidence that undercuts a prosecution witness such as Webb, is
one of the most egregious acts of misconduct a prosecutor can commit. The
National Registry of Exonerations, a national database of more than 2,100
wrongful convictions in the U.S. since 1989, reports that official misconduct,
which includes misconduct by prosecutors, police and other government
officials, has been a contributing factor in about 1/2 of the 2,023 wrongful
convictions in the Registry.
(source: Maurice Possley is a journalist who investigated the Willingham case
for The Marshall Project in 2014 in a collaboration with The Washington Post.
He is also a senior researcher for the National Registry of
Lawyers cite troubled past in plea to spare inmate's life
Lawyers for a Georgia inmate scheduled for execution next week are asking the
state parole board to spare his life, citing a rough childhood, substance abuse
from an early age and his intellectual disability.
J.W. Ledford Jr., 45, is scheduled to be put to death Tuesday. He was convicted
of murder in the January 1992 stabbing death of his neighbor, 73-year-old Dr.
Harry Johnston, near his home in Murray County, in northwest Georgia.
A clemency application submitted by his lawyers and released Thursday by the
State Board of Pardons and Paroles asks the board to take into account details
and factors that the courts have been legally or procedurally barred from
"The citizens of this state have empowered this Board to make decisions not as
judges under the law, but as human beings, to serve as the conscience of our
community," Ledford's lawyers wrote.
The parole board plans to hold a meeting Monday to hear arguments for or
against granting clemency. The board is the only authority in Georgia with
power to commute a death sentence.
Ledford's lawyers do not deny that he killed Johnston, and they say his
troubled background serves not as an excuse but rather to give insight into
how, at age 20 and with no history of violence, he came to kill his neighbor.
Conasauga Judicial Circuit District Attorney Bert Poston, whose office
prosecuted Ledford, did not immediately respond to a call Thursday afternoon
seeking comment, but he has previously said he plans to attend the hearing and
ask the parole board not to grant clemency.
Ledford told police he had gone to Johnston's home on Jan. 31, 1992, to ask for
a ride to the grocery store. After the older man accused him of stealing and
smacked him, Ledford pulled out a knife and stabbed Johnston to death,
according to court filings. The pathologist who did the autopsy said Johnston
suffered "1 continuous or 2 slices to the neck" and bled to death.
After dragging Johnston's body to another part of the property and covering it
up, Ledford went to Johnston's house with a knife and demanded money from
Johnston's wife, according to court filings. He took money and 4 guns from the
home, tied up Johnston's wife and left in Johnston's truck. He was arrested
later that day.
Ledford told police he had a number of beers and smoked a couple joints in the
hours before the killing.
Known as "Boy" because he was his parents' 1st male child after 6 girls,
Ledford's childhood was characterized by whippings and verbal abuse from his
father, who was strict when sober and mean when drunk, the clemency application
says. Ledford's older sisters and cousins began giving him alcohol when he was
7 or 8 to watch him get drunk and then began giving him drugs around age 10,
the application says.
Ledford is intellectually disabled and that caused him to struggle throughout
school and later made even simple jobs requiring minimal skills difficult, his
lawyers wrote. State law and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibit the execution
of the intellectually disabled, which means Ledford is ineligible for
execution, his lawyers argue.
State and federal courts have consistently rejected Ledford's claims of
intellectual disability, but his lawyers are urging the parole board members to
use the extra discretion they're allowed to consider the totality of his
The clemency application also includes testimonials from friends, family
members and pen pals who say he has offered them support and help even from
prison. 2 prison guards are quoted as saying he never gave them trouble and got
along with other inmates and officers.
Life without the chance of parole was not a sentencing option at the time of
Ledford???s trial, but 5 of the jurors from his trial told his lawyers they
would have chosen that instead of death had it been available, the application
(source: The Republic)
Florida Supreme Court Vacates Death Penalty Convictions
The Florida Supreme Court has reversed the murder convictions of Ralph Wright
Jr. Wright had been convicted of the 2007 murder of a Pinellas County woman and
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that there was no direct evidence tying
Wright to the murders. Wright was an Air Force officer stationed in Tampa. He
met Paula O'Connor and later allegedly had his son. Wright denies the child was
his. O'Connor and the boy were found strangled. The court says there's no
physical evidence Wright committed the crimes.
(source: WFSU news)
Death sentence overturned in James Card case
James Armando Card will be coming back to Bay County for a new sentencing
hearing in the coming months after the Supreme Court of Florida overturned his
In a 4-3 ruling issued May 4, Justices ruled James Armando Card, 70, should get
a new sentencing hearing because his death sentence handed down in June of 1999
was 11-1, and not 12-0.
Card was convicted of the June 3, 1981, kidnapping and murder of Janice
Franklin. Card robbed the Western Union office where Franklin worked and
kidnapped her. According to testimony during his trials, Card was armed with a
knife when he robbed the Western Union office.
During a struggle, Franklin's fingers were severely cut on both hands, almost
severing several fingers on her right hand. Card forced Franklin in a car and
drove 8 miles to a wooded area where he promised he wouldn't hurt her.
When they got to the wooded area, Card instead came up from behind her, grabbed
her hair, pulled her hair back and slit her throat. The cut to her throat was 2
1/2f inches deep according to court testimony. It severed her windpipe and her
esophagus and cut into the bone itself.
Card stood over her and watched her bleed. Card and Franklin knew each other
and according to the court it was particularly "wicked and vile" because
"Franklin knew her attacker, had to suffer during the long drive from the
wounds to her hand and must have been traumatized and terrorized during the
whole process.... The defendant (Card) told Vicki Elrod that he even enjoyed
Up next for Card is DNA testing ordered by the state which is being done by
Florida Department of Law Enforcement on evidence from trial. Those results
should be back within 8 weeks. A hearing on setting a date for a new penalty
phase is set for mid-July.
Card is one of Bay County's longest-tenured members of death row, having been
there since 1982. Only Charles Kinney Foster whose been on death row since
October of 1975 has been there longer.
Card has already dodged 2 death warrants. Just a day before he was scheduled to
die in 1986, the Supreme Court of Florida issued an emergency stay of
execution, saying it need to take sufficient time to review new appeals from
On August 18,1987, then-Governor Bob Martinez signed another death warrant, but
a district court granted Card another stay of execution on September 16, 1987.
Since that time, another death warrant hasn't been signed for Card.
(source: WJHG news)
2 death sentences against Palm Coast killer tossed out----David Snelgrove, now
44, was sentenced to death in 2009 for killing Glyn Fowler, 84, and his wife,
The Florida Supreme Court has thrown out two death sentences against a Palm
Coast man, who beat and stabbed his elderly neighbors to death 17 years ago,
because jurors did not unanimously recommend death.
David Snelgrove, now 44, was sentenced to death in 2009 for killing Glyn
Fowler, 84, and his wife, Vivian, 79. The couple lived across the street from
Snelgrove in the city's B section. Snelgrove broke into their home in June 2000
to rob them and pawn their jewelry to support his cocaine habit. He beat and
stabbed them 38 times.
In Snelgrove's case, jurors recommended death by a vote of 8-4 for each count
of 1st-degree murder. Circuit Judge Kim C. Hammond, who has since retired,
sentenced Snelgrove to death in 2009.
But the state Supreme Court ruled last year in a case known as Hurst that
jurors must unanimously recommend death before a judge can sentence someone to
die. The justices ruled that the Hurst decision is retroactive to a 2002
decision by the U.S. Supreme Court known as Ring v. Arizona.
The state Supreme Court cited the non-unanimous jury vote when it vacated
Snelgrove's death sentences in the ruling released Thursday and ordered a new
sentencing phase. Snelgrove's conviction stands.
Florida legislators were warned after the 2002 Ring decision about flaws in the
state's death penalty but lawmakers did not require a unanimous jury vote until
Snelgrove now faces a 3rd sentencing. The one the Supreme Court threw out from
2009 was his 2nd.
A jury convicted Snelgrove in 2002 of the killings. The jury in 2002 voted 7-5
to recommend Snelgrove be put to death, and Hammond sentenced him to death.
But the state Supreme Court in 2005, while upholding his conviction, struck
down the death sentences because the jury had provided one sentencing
recommendation for both murders.
Snelgrove lived with his aunt and cousin on Bayside Drive in the Indian Trails
neighborhood. It was Snelgrove's aunt who realized something was wrong when she
spotted newspapers piling up outside the Fowlers' home.
Snelgrove apparently cut himself breaking into the Fowlers' house through a
back window. Snelgrove's blood was found throughout the house, including on
Vivian Fowler's body.
The state Supreme Court's decision could impact a number of defendants in
Volusia and Flagler counties who were convicted since 2002 and sentenced to
death on less than unanimous verdicts. Troy Victorino and Jerone Hunter, who
were convicted and sentenced to death for the Deltona massacre in which 6
people were killed, are likely to receive new sentencing hearings because
neither received a unanimous jury vote for death.
Flagler County defendants on death row without unanimous jury votes besides
Snelgrove are Cornelius Baker and William Gregory. Baker kidnapped Elizabeth
Uptagrafft during a home invasion robbery in Daytona Beach in 2007 and shot her
to death in Flagler County. Gregory shot his girlfriend, Skyler Meekins, and
her boyfriend, Daniel Dyer, to death with a shotgun as the pair slept in her
grandparent's house near Flagler Beach in 2007.
2 killers get new death sentence hearings
Barry Davis, convicted in 2015 of one of the most heinous crimes in recent
Northwest Florida history, will receive a new death sentence hearing by order
of the Florida Supreme Court.
The court on Thursday issued 7 rulings on death penalty convictions. 4 of them
involved cases in which the defendant was convicted and sentenced to die in
Florida's First Judicial Circuit.
Davis and Michael Hernandez, who was sentenced to die March 23, 2007, in Santa
Rosa County for killing Ruth Everett, will return to court for a 2nd penalty
phase of their trials.
The Supreme Court ruled to uphold the death penalties meted out in 2013 to
Steven Cozzie and in 2005 to Jesse Guardado.
Davis, Cozzie and Guardado were all convicted and sentenced in Walton County.
"We're happy to have the 2 sentences confirmed and now we'll begin to prepare
for the 2nd penalty phase for Mr. Davis," said Greg Anchors, the chief
assistant state attorney for Walton County.
Anchors said Assistant State Attorney Clifton Drake will present the state's
case in the 2nd death penalty hearing of Davis.
Anchors also noted that at the same time it ruled he should receive a new death
penalty hearing, the Supreme Court upheld Davis' convictions for the killings
of John Hughes of Santa Rosa Beach and Heidi Rhodes of Panama City Beach.
Cozzie and Guardado both were sentenced to die by unanimous 12-0 recommendation
of the juries that heard their cases. Cozzie raped and killed 15-year-old
tourist Courtney Wilkes and Guardado robbed and killed prominent local
businesswoman Jackie Malone.
Davis and Hernandez benefited from rulings by the U.S. and Florida Supreme
Courts that declared the state's death penalty procedure unconstitutional
because it did not require unanimous agreement among jurors that the ultimate
punishment was warranted.
The Florida Legislature passed a law this year that requires death penalties be
handed out only after a jury votes 12-0 to recommend that sentence.
By the time legislators created the new law, though, the state Supreme Court
had ruled that all death penalty convictions since 2002 were subject to review.
Davis was sentenced to die Aug. 31, 2015, for the murders of Hughes and Rhodes.
Although the bodies of the couple were never found, testimony from Davis'
girlfriend convinced jurors that he had beaten Hughes and Rhodes unconscious
and then left them submerged in a bathtub to die. He then stole all Hughes'
belongings and burned the couple's bodies.
The jury recommended by a 9-3 vote to have Davis put to death for killing
Hughes and 10-2 that he should die for killing Rhodes.
A Santa Rosa County jury recommended by an 11-1 tally in 2007 that Michael
Hernandez be put to death for the killing of Ruth Everett, the mother of a man
Hernandez and Christopher Shawn Arnold set out to rob Nov. 8, 2004.
After entering Everett's home, Hernandez broke Ruth Everett's neck and slashed
Anchors said the Supreme Court has been "spasmodically" ruling recently on
requests from around the state for rehearings of death penalty recommendations.
Thursday's rulings indicated it had turned its focus to the First Judicial
There are 2 remaining First Judicial Circuit cases that have not been ruled on.
-- Robert Hobart, for whom a Santa Rosa County jury recommended death by a 7-5
vote on Dec. 3, 2012. Hobart was convicted of killing Robert Hamm and Tracie
-- Thomas McCoy, who was sentenced to death Nov. 19, 2010, in Walton County
for killing Curtis Brown. Jurors voted 11-1 to recommend death.
Cozzie death sentence upheld by Supreme Court of Florida
The latest appeal for Steven Anthony Cozzie has been denied by the Florida's
In an opinion released Thursday, the Supreme Court of Florida upheld Cozzie's
In the 6-1 ruling, the justices said Cozzie's sentence "is proportional in
relation to other death sentences that this Court has upheld."
Cozzie, 27, strangled, beat and sexually battered Courtney Wilkes, 15, on June
16, 2011 in a wooded area near Seagrove Beach in Walton County. Wilkes was on
vacation with her family when the murder happened on the day before the family
was scheduled to go home.
A jury recommended death for Cozzie by a 12-0 vote when he was convicted of the
crime. Cozzie was 21 when the crime occurred.
In upholding the jury's recommendation of death Justices wrote "This Court has
repeatedly affirmed the death penalty where the defendant has kidnapped,
sexually battered, and murdered a child victim.... Accordingly, Cozzie's death
sentence is proportionate. For the foregoing reasons, we affirm Cozzie's
conviction for 1st-degree premeditated or felony murder with a weapon and his
sentence of death."
(source: WJHG news)
Death Sentence Upheld for Walton Murderer
The conviction and death sentence of a Walton County murderer was upheld
Thursday by Florida's Supreme Court.
The court ruled the trial judge was not responsible for any errors that merited
an appeal and the capital sentence he received was constitutional.
In addition to the death penalty for felony 1st-degree murder, Cozzie received
the maximum sentences possible for separate counts of sexual battery,
aggravated child abuse, and kidnapping with a weapon with the intent to commit
Cozzie will serve all these sentences consecutively as punishment for the
murder of 15-year-old Georgia resident Courtney Wilkes.
Wilkes was on vacation with her family in Seagrove Beach in June 2011 when
Cozzie raped and killed her.
State to seek death penalty in Renee Eldridge murder case
After a hearing in a Chambers County courtroom, the family of Renee Eldridge
feels that a weight has been lifted off their chest after the state decided
they are seeking the death penalty against Stacey Gray.
Gray is charged with the murder of Eldridge back in July 2015. Eldridge was
reported missing 4th of July weekend, and found murdered in a Chambers County
Gray was arrested a few days later in Notasulga.
Back in March, the state was given until May 11 to decide whether they would
seek the death penalty against Gray.
The state decided that they are seeking the death penalty against Gray.
Members of Eldridge's family were in court on Thursday. They said that hearings
like Thursday's take a great toll on them.
"Every time you have to lay eyes on him," Eldridge's brother James said. "Even
to come to this town knowing you have to look at him is very tough."
For now, the family is hoping and praying that when it comes time for the trial
that the truth comes out and justice is served.
"I don't know what could satisfy me honestly," James Eldridge said. "The death
penalty is as close as we're going to get to anything. It's a good feeling, but
it still doesn't take your pain away."
(source: WRBL news)
Death penalty doesn't work, should be scrapped
Louisiana's death penalty is an incredibly expensive, entirely arbitrary, and
an error-prone monument to the failures of big government. The Louisiana
Legislature is considering 2 bills to replace the death penalty with life
without parole, saving Louisiana - under conservative estimates - at least 10
million dollars annually. Not only is Louisiana's death penalty expensive, it
is particularly error-prone. As Frank Baumgartner and others have noted, some
82 % of Louisiana death sentences imposed since 1976 have been reversed. And
with last month's exoneration of Rodricus Crawford, 11 individuals sentenced to
death in Louisiana have been released from prison without any charges
whatsoever. By any measure, Louisiana taxpayers are getting scammed.
Jeff Sadow's columnl of May 6 - suggesting Louisiana's death penalty might save
lives by deterring capital murder - is both empirically and logically moribund,
and is counter to the views of virtually all the top criminologists in the
United States In 2012, the renowned National Research Council, a division of
the National Academy of Sciences and composed of the foremost scholars in the
United States, reviewed all the research done on the deterrence question, and
concluded that there is not a shred of evidence that the death penalty has any
effect on the homicide rate. Their report also discredited the small number of
studies that had claimed to find a deterrent effect. And, as one of us found in
a 2009 study, 95 % of the nation's top criminologists - a group to which it
seems unlikely Sadow belongs - rejected the idea that the death penalty is a
better deterrent than life without parole to the commission of homicide.
Over the last 25 years, the murder rate in states without the death penalty has
been consistently lower than in states with the death penalty. Research in
Arizona and Oklahoma suggests that having the death penalty increases rather
than reduces the number of murders - indicating that it might actually have a
brutalizing effect, increasing homicides and detracting from the valuing of
life. There is reason to suspect that this brutalizing effect exists in
Louisiana - where the state has the highest murder rate in the country. If the
death penalty deterred, Louisiana would have a lower murder rate than states
like New Jersey, New York and Michigan, states that have already sent their
death penalty statutes to the junkyard.
But one doesn't need a Ph.D. to question the deterrent value of the death
penalty. America's police chiefs identify the death penalty as the last-ranked
priority in reducing crime, and the most inefficient use of taxpayer dollars.
And more specifically, using the death penalty to deter murders suggests both a
rational mindset and a valuing of life regularly missing from those who commit
murder. The last 2 defendants on Louisiana's death row who have died did so
voluntarily - one with the assistance of the state (Gerald Bordelon) and one
alone in his cell (Terrance Carter). For many, life imprisonment is an even
worse punishment than death on the gurney.
In the end, even Sadow must acknowledge that the death penalty that currently
exists in Louisiana - with 1 (voluntary) execution in the last 15 years, and
numerous errors - performs no deterrent function. Sadow suggests that the
problems with capital punishment in Louisiana might be fixed, cases expedited,
assurances made - and that with a few constitutional short-cuts and frequent
executions it might be able to deter crime. The country that Sadow is
describing, however, is not America - it's maybe Saudi Arabia. And when Sadow
proposes a death penalty system that has reduced the risk of wrongful execution
to zero, he is imagining a regime of perfection that does not exist.
Criminologists agree, the best way to "deter" crime is to prevent the
conditions that lead to it: better education, more support from positive role
models, better mental health treatment. Louisiana has to decide whether it
wants to continue spending millions of dollars on a system that does not deter,
that does not provide justice, and that that has a demonstrable record that it
gets it wrong far more often than it gets it right. We suggest that those in
favor of such system be sent the bill for it. And we also suggest that
academics think twice before disseminating unsubstantiated pseudo-science,
especially when millions of dollars - along with the conscience of the
community - are at stake.
(source: Guest Column; Michael L. Radelet, a sociologist at the University of
Colorado, has published research and testified as an expert on death penalty
issues. Ben Ben Cohen is of counsel at the Promise of Justice Initiative----
Accused murderer Brice Rhodes could face death penalty if convicted
He's accused of 3 murders, and threatening a judge -- and when the suspected
killer goes to trial, conviction could mean the death penalty.
Death penalty paperwork has been filed in the case against Brice Rhodes.
Rhodes still doesn't have an attorney.
Police say the 25-year-old killed 3 people, including 2 teen brothers in
Louisville. Since his arrest, Rhodes has also been accused of threatening a
judge and a corrections officer -- and even trying to escape from jail.
Rhodes will next be in court in July.
(source: WDRB news)
Defense files motion to exclude death penalty in Lewandowski murder case
The defense attorney for a Roslyn man charged with murder has filed a motion
claiming the prospect of the death penalty is improper in the case.
Jason P. Lewandowski, 45, is charged with premeditated murder, burglary and
committing a felony while in possession of a firearm. He has pleaded not guilty
by reason of insanity.
Tom Sannes, Lewandowski's attorney, filed the motion last week at the Day
County Courthouse in Webster.
Lewandowski is accused of entering a Roslyn residence on Nov. 15, 2015, and
shooting Jeremy J. Hendrickson, 33, in the head. Hendrickson died from his
injuries on Dec. 9, 2015.
The motion states by excluding the death penalty, the case can move forward
"without the extraordinary measures required in capital cases."
Sannes notes a host of reasons the death penalty shouldn't be used, including
-- Lewandowski does not fit into the narrow class of defendants the death
penalty applies to as mandated by the Constitution.
-- The offense was not committed by a person with a prior felony.
-- There is no allegation that the defendant created a great risk of death to
more than 1 person in a public place or that Lewandowski acted for financial
-- Hendrickson was not a public official.
-- There is no allegation of murder for hire.
-- The victim was not younger than 13, there is no allegation of torture and
the alleged facts to not meet the legal definition of depravity of mind or
-- The facts do not allege the killing of a law enforcement officer or that
the offense was committed during the course of an escape.
-- There is no allegation that the offense was committed to avoid, interfere
with or prevent arrest, or that the offense occurred in the course of the
manufacture or sale of drugs.
-- Proceeding with the case as a death penalty case is against the best
interests of society and the judicial economy.
-- Heightened constitutional standards apply to death penalty cases.
-- Capital trials cost taxpayers significantly more money.
-- Experts have more expansive roles in capital cases in that they are more
costly and their work is more time-consuming.
-- If it were to continue as a death penalty case, the Constitutional rights
of Lewandowski would be violated and he will be prejudiced.
A motions hearing is set for May 31. The trial is set to begin Oct. 2 and run
through Oct. 27.
(source: The Public Opinion)
Judge grants Dylann Roof's request to replace lawyers he called the 'sneakiest'
people he ever met to appeal death sentence
White supremacist Dylann Roof will have a new legal team representing him as he
moves to appeal his death sentence for killing nine worshippers at Charleston's
Emanuel AME Church in June 2015.
At Roof's request, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel issued an order Thursday
relieving the convicted killer's top-flight legal team of further
responsibilities once they file his notice of appeal with the 4th Circuit Court
They will be replaced by federal public defenders from California and Maryland,
the order states.
Roof was convicted of all 33 charges he faced and sentenced to death in
January. At the close of his trial, he expressed a desire for new
representation, saying he didn't trust his current lawyers, led by noted
capital defense specialist David Bruck.
Documents unsealed at the close of the case revealed a long-running feud
between Roof and his legal team over trial tactics, particularly his lawyers'
desire to mount a mental illness defense on his behalf.
Roof had turned irate after realizing his attorneys planned to introduce
evidence showing he had a crippling anxiety disorder, depression and autism.
Documents quoted him as saying he wanted to kill Bruck if he ever got out of
In November, Roof penned a letter to prosecutors calling his defense attorneys
"the sneakiest group of people I have ever met" and their efforts to portray
him as mentally ill "a lie." That letter prompted the first of two psychiatric
exams that both concluded he was competent to stand trial. He went on to
sideline his lawyers during the trial's penalty phase, and the jury handed him
the ultimate punishment for his crimes.
Authorities recently transferred him to an Indiana prison for federal death row
Gergel's decision to switch out the defense team came 1 day after the judge
denied Roof's motion for a new trial.
Roof and his legal team had argued that his actions didn't constitute
interstate commerce - a necessary component for the federal prosecution -
because the attack was planned and executed completely within South Carolina.
They also argued the charges for which Roof was convicted don't meet the
definition of "crimes of violence" necessary under federal law to support death
In a 31-page ruling, Gergel torpedoed both arguments and refused to throw out
Roof???s convictions in favor of a new trial.
(source: The Post and Courier)
Despite High-Profile Executions, Death Penalty on Decline----'The message of
the Church is resonating,' according to Florida Bishop Frank Dewane.
Despite 4 high-profile executions in Arkansas in April, the death penalty is on
the decline in the United States - and that is thanks in large measure to a
major shift in public opinion that has been driven in part by Catholics.
"The message of the Church is resonating," said Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice,
Florida, who chairs the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human
Annual executions peaked at 98 in 1999 and have been on the decline ever since.
In 2016 there were 20 executions, the lowest in a quarter of a century.
The drop in annual death sentences has been even more precipitous: from 295 in
1998 to 30 last year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a
nonprofit which tracks data on capital punishment in the United States.
"We're undergoing a national climate change on the death penalty," said Robert
Dunham, executive director of the center.
Recent developments on the state level reinforce the downward trend. Over the
last year in Florida, a series of court rulings and new legislation have made
it harder to pass death sentences by barring judges from overriding juries and
requiring jury recommendations to be unanimous. In 2016, the absence of such
protections in the Delaware's death-penalty statute led the state Supreme Court
to strike it down.
A key factor in the decline of the death penalty is public opinion. "We have
seen changes in public attitudes toward the death penalty across all
demographics. That includes religious groups," Dunham said.
Polls show that the number of Americans who still support capital punishment is
falling. In the mid-1990s an estimated 80% of the public approved. By 2016,
that had diminished to 60%, according to Gallup. Another poll, from the Pew
Research Center, puts it even lower, with 49% still in favor and 42% against.
Catholics are divided but slightly in favor of abolition: 46% to 43%, according
For Catholics, an instrumental point in challenging acceptance of the practice
was Pope St. John Paul II???s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Value and
Inviolability of Life), which called for the use of the death penalty as a
means of societal self-defense and only when there was no other option, such as
"He said we shouldn't ever need to do this," Bishop Dewane said.
Among theologians, however, there is a debate as to whether John Paul II was
issuing a prudential judgment or developing Church doctrine on the matter.
"Conservative Catholics tend to have a much higher regard than progressives for
the voice of tradition in moral debates. They see that the death penalty was
strongly defended for over a thousand years by the Catholic Church - although
never defended by any infallible teaching - and feel an understandable
hesitation to conclude that there's something inherently problematic with it,
as John Paul II taught that there was," said Christian Brugger, a theologian at
the University of Notre Dame in Sydney, Australia, and the author of Capital
Punishment and Roman Catholic Moral Tradition.
While Brugger said he sympathizes with conservatives who hold to the Church's
small-t tradition on morality, he faults those who "continue to defend a
normative role" for the death penalty for failing to fully engage with the
teaching of John Paul II.
"The Pope taught more than that the death penalty should be limited to cases of
necessity. He deliberately re-conceptualized the justification of capital
punishment from a model of retributive justice to one of societal self-defense.
This is not a minor move. No longer can the state justifiably kill someone for
what he's done - because he 'deserves' it. It can only kill a man if he poses a
grave and present aggressor's threat to the community's welfare," Brugger said.
However, others say this is going too far.
Edward Feser, a philosopher at Pasadena City College and the author of the
forthcoming book By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital
Punishment, contends Brugger's position is undermined by the fact that
then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said soon after the release of the encyclical
that John Paul II had not, in Feser's words, "modified any doctrinal
principles." In 2004 Ratzinger then said that faithful Catholics could disagree
with the Pope, according to Feser.
"Another problem is that if the Pope had really made this alleged doctrinal
modification, he would have been contradicting the clear and consistent
teaching of Scripture, the Fathers of the Church and previous popes, all of
whom teach that capital punishment can, in principle, be legitimate for
purposes other than countering an immediate physical threat - for example, for
purposes of retributive justice or for deterrence purposes," Feser said.
"There is simply nothing else for John Paul II's statements to be other than a
prudential judgment, given the Church's indefectibility," Feser added.
Whether a prudential judgment or a doctrinal statement, it appears that John
Paul II's opposition to the death penalty has influenced many Catholics to
change their stance.
Heather Beaudoin, the co-coordinator of Conservatives Concerned About the Death
Penalty, said that many of those involved in the movement hail from a Catholic
background. She noted that one of the founders of the group is longtime
conservative fundraiser and publisher Richard Viguerie, who is Catholic. A
number of Republican lawmakers who have led the charge to end capital
punishment also are Catholic, according to Beaudoin.
Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, which was founded on a
national level in 2013, represents a growing discomfort over state executions
among the political right.
Beaudoin once worked at a crisis-pregnancy center in her home state of Montana
and said being against the death penalty is part of being pro-life. Some may
contend that there's a difference, because those sentenced to death are not
innocent. But Beaudoin says the risk of executing someone who later turns out
to be innocent is too high: Since the 1970s, more than 150 death-row inmates
have been exonerated, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The death penalty should also give fiscally minded conservatives pause, too,
Beaudoin says, given its exorbitant cost.
In Kansas, for example, death-penalty cases cost on average $400,000, four
times as much as those where it is not a factor, according to a 2014 state
report. California has spent more than $4 billion on death penalty-related
expenses, according to a report cited by the Death Penalty Information Center.
Some counties have been nearly bankrupted by such high costs, Beaudoin said.
(One county in Nebraska, for example, had to mortgage its ambulances after
attempting to execute 2 offenders, according to Beaudoin.)
There's also an important philosophical argument to consider for those who want
limited government. "There is no greater power that we can give to the state
than the ability to decide who lives and who dies," Beaudoin said.
Still Room for Debate
For Catholics, it's not only John Paul II who has reinforced the Vatican's
stance against the death penalty, according to Bishop Dewane. So have his
Pope Francis' message of mercy in particular is having an effect by creating a
climate that nurtures abolitionist efforts, according to Dunham.
"Mercy and the death penalty are not compatible," Dunham said.
But Brugger believes Francis is unlikely to address the underlying "theoretical
issue" behind the Church's firm stance against the death penalty - leaving room
for theologians to debate whether that stance is a development in doctrine or
merely a change in how doctrine is applied. The question is an important one
because it affects the level of assent to this teaching that is required from
Given the ongoing debate among theologians, what is the average lay Catholic to
"Given the confusions about the state of the question, it's not easy to give a
succinct answer," Brugger said. "They should do their best to think with the
Church on the issue. This means, on the one hand, they should be under no
illusion about the fact that Catholic theological tradition defended for
centuries the right of the state to kill malefactors through lethal punishment.
On the other, they should see that under the influence of St. John Paul II the
Church's theological tradition of justifiable homicide underwent a significant
Brugger pointed to the Church's teaching on just-war principles as another
recent development in doctrine.
Said Brugger, "Intellectual docility towards these developments and a readiness
to fairly characterize what's been happening under John Paul II seem to me
required of all Catholics."
The Catechism and Capital Punishment
"The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people's
rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of
safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and
duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense.
Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the
offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the
value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and
protecting people's safety, has a medicinal purpose: As far as possible, it
must contribute to the correction of the guilty party" (2266).
"Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully
determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to
the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending
human lives against the unjust aggressor.
"If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's
safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these
are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in
conformity to the dignity of the human person.
"Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for
effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense
incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the
possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the
offender is an absolute necessity 'are very rare, if not practically
(source: National Catholic Register)
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