2017-04-18 15:40:07 UTC
5 death penalty reform bills heard in Texas House committee----5 death penalty
bills were heard in a seven-hour-long meeting at the Capitol Monday night.
The death penalty was a hot topic at the Texas Capitol Monday night.
Testimony on 5 capital punishment bills was heard by the House Criminal
Jurisprudence Committee in a 7-hour-long meeting that lasted until close to
midnight. The bills included 2 that would stop the practice of sentencing
accomplices to death in certain cases and 2 which would abolish the death
House Bills 147 and 316, by Democrats Harold Dutton and Terry Canales,
respectively, would change how a person could be sentenced to death under
Texas' "law of parties," which holds that those involved in a crime resulting
in death are equally responsible even if they weren't the actual killer.
"At the end of the day, the logic should be, 'Did you intend to participate in
that murder? Were you a part of it?'" Canales exclaimed while laying out his
bill near the end of the long meeting. "Let's cut the nonsense out."
The most prominent case of a current Texas death row inmate sentenced under the
law of parties is Jeff Wood. Wood was convicted in the 1996 murder of Kriss
Keeran, who was fatally shot by Wood's friend in a Kerrville convenience store
while he sat outside in a truck. Last year, Wood's case garnered national
attention as his execution neared. Texas lawmakers from both parties spoke out
against the execution, which was halted days before the scheduled date.
Republican Rep. Jeff Leach has been one of the most adamant supporters of
reforming the law of parties. He has taken an interest in Wood's case, going so
far as to visiting him on death row in February.
"I promised Jeff that I and Chairman Dutton and Rep. Canales would do
everything that we can this session to ensure that another case like Jeff
Wood's case would never happen again in the state of Texas," Leach said at a
news conference earlier Monday on the bills.
There are 2 ways to find someone guilty under Texas' law of parties. The 1st
puts responsibility on those who help commit or solicit a crime, even if they
weren't directly involved. The second states that all parties are responsible
for 1 felony that stems from another if the 2nd "should have been anticipated."
For Wood, the state argued he was willfully participating in a robbery and knew
his accomplice would resort to killing if Keeran did not comply, so Wood should
have anticipated the robbery would lead to a murder. Wood has maintained he
didnt know his friend had a gun on him.
The reform bills focus mainly on the "anticipation" clause, removing the
possibility of a death sentence if someone is found guilty under the 2nd part
of the law of parties and automatically granting them a sentence of life
without parole. Currently, after being convicted, a jury still must agree the
convict intended to kill or anticipated death to issue a death sentence.
Travis County Assistant District Attorney Justin Wood was the lone testifier
against the bills, with eight others testifying in support of the bills that
were laid out close to 11 p.m. He said the law of parties has been a "useful
tool" for prosecutors, adding that "there are a lot of monsters who never get
their hands dirty."
But Dutton argued that those people would still be punished, just not to death.
Chairman Joe Moody, D-El Paso, said Wood's testimony resonated with him as he
has long struggled to "strike a balance" with the law of parties and the death
penalty. In 2009, a similar bill filed in the House made it to the Senate, but
died there. Terri Been, Jeff Wood's sister, said she has been lobbying against
the law of parties for 20 years and pleaded through tears for the Legislature
to move it forward this year.
"My cries have fallen on mostly deaf ears. I'm begging you to be leaders and to
lead your constituents in the right direction," she said before wiping her
It is not common for a jury to sentence someone to death under the law of
parties, but it happens. In 2007, prison inmates Jerry Martin and John Ray
Falk, Jr., attempted escape. In the escape, Martin hit and killed prison guard
Susan Canfield with a van. This March, Falk was sentenced to death as a party
to the murder.
And Texas has executed at least 5 people under the statute, according to the
Death Penalty Information Center. Only 5 other states have executed anyone
under similar laws.
Aside from the law of parties, two identical bills to get rid of the death
penalty in Texas completely were also heard Monday evening. Dutton and Rep.
Jessica Farrar filed House Bills 64 and 1537.
Both lawmakers have repeatedly filed abolition bills in past legislative
sessions, and they acknowledged their main goal was to keep up a discussion on
the death penalty. In a Republican-led legislature, it is almost certain that
the bills will not pass. Dutton clarified to committee members he was asking
for them not to vote against the death penalty but "to vote to let the House
have a debate on this."
"This bill might not pass this time, but if it doesn't pass this time, we'll be
right back here next time, fighting the same fight," Dutton said earlier Monday
at a press conference on his 2 death penalty bills.
14 people testified in support of abolishing the death penalty for reasons
ranging from arbitrary sentencing to the cost of appeals. 1 woman tearfully
spoke of her death-sentenced husband. No one spoke out against the bill.
The remaining bill focused on the death penalty was one by Rep. Barbara
Gervin-Hawkins, a democrat from San Antonio. House Bill 3411 aims to lessen
requirements to become the lead defense attorney in capital murder cases to
allow for more lawyers to handle the backlog of death penalty cases.
Texas Defender Services Executive Director Amanda Marzullo argued against the
lesser requirements, saying she believed it would cause more trouble in the
appeals process and that there were other ways to ease the backlog such as
creating a public defender office.
"We've got to build the bench, and we've got to move these cases,"
Gervin-Hawkins responded. "These people need their day in court."
All of the bills were left pending before the committee.
More on the death penalty and the Texas legislature:
As Paul Storey's execution neared, 1 juror asked the Texas Legislature to
clarify the jury instructions in death penalty cases, claiming he didn't know
he alone could have stopped the sentence.
State Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas, filed long-shot House Bill 3080, which would
prevent offenders proven to have had a severe mental illness at the time of
their crime from being sentenced to death in a capital murder case.
(source: Texas Tribune)
Fight Against Death Penalty Reignites in Texas Legislature
The uphill fight to abolish the death penalty in Texas is once again before
lawmakers, and while it's not likely to go anywhere in the
Republican-controlled legislature, another bill dealing with the death penalty
is getting bipartisan support.?
On Monday, Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, held a news conference touting HB-147
-- legislation that would end death penalties for those convicted as a
co-conspirator to a crime, known as the Law of Parties.
Dutton said it isn't fair that those who didn't commit a crime are guilty
because of their association -- a sentence that can have deadly consequences.
"I'm not willing to risk killing one person who is guilty, but at the same time
risking that we'll also execute people who are not guilty," Dutton said. "Our
voices are loud and clear. We believe Texas is headed down the wrong road."
One of those in support of the legislation is Lawrence Foster.
Foster's grandson, Kenneth Foster, has been behind bars for more than two
decades after he was involved in a shooting.
"Since you were there in the immediate area, you are just as guilty as the
individual that did the shooting," said the elder Foster.
Foster was convicted alongside the murderer under the law of parties. He was
set to be executed until then Gov. Rick Perry commuted Foster's sentence just
hours before he was to be killed.
"[Governor Perry] said because they were tried together, and the law of parties
and so forth, he feeled [sic] that we'll just give him a life sentence," Foster
Foster says he believes in his grandson's innocence, and applauded
Representative Dutton's efforts.
Dutton's bills and other legislation with a similar intent have gained some
bipartisan support this session, but some groups continue to push for
legislation that abolishes the death penalty altogether.
"I think certainly we're seeing a growing number of voices raising concerns
about the death penalty from across the political spectrum," said Kristin Houle
of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Houle says these changing attitudes combined with the high cost of putting
inmates to death, is leading to a sea-change.
"We've had a massive decline in the number of new death sentences in the state.
Just 3 people sentenced to death in Texas last year," Houle said.
But for the Foster family, a death sentence may no longer loom, but the fight
is still not yet over.
"It really has had an effect on me," Foster said. "I would like to see him
freed before I leave this Earth."
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Texas is 1 of 6 states that
has executed people who did not actually commit the murder in which they were
Dutton also has a bill that would completely abolish the death penalty, though
HB-64 is unlikely to land on the governor's desk.
If not, Dutton said he'll continue to push for it in years to come.
Death Penalty Critics Lining Up at the State Capitol
Death penalty critics are lining up for a push in the Texas House of
Among them - perhaps surprisingly - is North Texas Republican Jeff Leach - who
wants to see changes made to the State's "Law of Parties," which allows those
who are "parties to a crime resulting in a murder to be sentenced to death.
"I'm convinced that of we band together... Democrats, Republicans and Texans of
all political stripes.. from all across this State... we can pass a good,
sound, strong law of parties bill this session" Leach said at the State Capitol
Monday ahead of hearings on a pair of death penalty-related bills sponsored by
State Representative Harold Dutton.
"I do understand how a law like this (Law of Parties) can just tear our whole
criminal justice fabric apart" Dutton said, detailing his bill calling for
changes to the "Law of Parties."
Separately, Dutton also is pushing for the complete abolition of the use of the
death penalty in Texas.
As time has moved forward, one of the things we have all come to realize is our
criminal justice system is not perfect" Dutton said.
Both bills got hearings in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Monday
(source: KTSA news)
Texas House Committee hears bills to end death penalty
The House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence took up bills Monday to end the
death penalty and ban the Law of Parties.
The Law of Parties allows someone to be held criminally responsible for the
actions of another person in certain cases. Representative Harold Dutton
(D-Houston) filed HB147 to prohibit a person being sentenced to death if they
are found guilty under the Law of Parties.
The families of 2 men in that very situation spoke in favor of the bill. Terri
Been's brother, Jeff Wood, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to
A man Wood was with killed a convenience store clerk in 1996. Wood wasn't in
the store when the murder happened.
"Absolutely people should be punished for their crimes. However, my brother
committed no murder," said Been. "He never conspired to commit murder, he had
no knowledge that a murder would even occur. So how is that right or fair to be
punished for another man's crimes?"
Wood has faced execution twice. Last summer Representative Jeff Leach, a
conservative republican, joined the fight to prevent his execution. Leach is
teaming up with Dutton to back HB147, saying this is an issue that goes beyond
Scott Cobb, Executive Director of the Texas Moratorium Network, says 5 people
have been executed in Texas under the Law of Parties.
The Committee will also hear HB64 by Dutton to abolish the death penalty.
Dutton, an attorney, says if the state executes even 1 innocent person, it's 1
Yancy Escobar Balderas testified in support of HB 64 on Monday Night. Her
husband was convicted of capital murder and has spent the last 3 years on death
row. She believes the death penalty is based more on vengeance than justice.
She told KVUE "We can not continue this government program that's not working.
It's executed innocent people before, there's innocent people on death row
right now. It will continue to execute innocent people. Why take the chance?"
(source: KHOU news)
Special summonses possible for death penalty case jurors
More than 4 years after his arrest and incarceration, a local man may stand
trial in August for homicide and attempted homicide in a case in which
prosecutors have stated they intend to seek the death penalty.
Brandon Lee Wolowski, 22, of Washington, also is charged with aggravated
assault and robbery in connection with shootings at a home in the 900 block of
Fayette Street Jan. 8, 2013.
Matthew Mathias, 37, died of a gunshot wound to the chest that perforated his
left lung. Mathias' girlfriend, Michelle Powell, 38, was shot in the cheek,
chin, chest and arm but survived after undergoing surgery.
Before she was flown by helicopter to a Pittsburgh hospital, Powell gave a
statement to police that pointed to Wolowski as the perpetrator, and he was
taken into custody shortly thereafter. Guns were the objective of the robbery,
according to testimony at a preliminary hearing.
Wolowski was not in Washington County Courthouse Monday for a pretrial
conference, but there were some developments in the case, such as zeroing in on
the August court calendar for a possible trial.
"It won't be in our normal criminal trial weeks," said Assistant District
Attorney Leslie Ridge. An August jury trial in Washington County Courthouse
would be a rarity, but it might be the only time open for a death-penalty case.
Potential jurors who express opposition to the death penalty on moral grounds
are automatically excluded from serving, so the court administrator's office
sends out a larger-than-usual number of summonses in these types of cases to
obtain the required number of jurors and alternates to sit in judgment.
Then-First Assistant District Attorney Michael J. Lucas, now a Washington
County judge, filed a notice of aggravating circumstances required for
death-penalty cases in February 2013. Lucas noted the killing of Mathias took
place during a felony robbery and "knowingly created a grave risk of death" to
The defense seeks to counter the prosecution's case with mitigating
circumstances. Wolowski's court-appointed attorney, Noah Geary, is in the
process of compiling reasons that could keep Wolowski from receiving a death
sentence. Portraying Wolowski as a victim of fetal alcohol syndrome is a
"That would be mitigating," Geary said. "I need to explore that. ... His
upbringing was truly horrific."
Wolowski has a long history of spending time in foster and group homes.
Among those awaiting word on the case at the courthouse was Wolowski's sister,
Susan May McMasters, 27, of Washington. She said, "Brandon is really a good
kid. He had such a bad start in life. I'm 4 years older than him. I did what I
could. What he's accused of is so hard for me to believe."
McMasters can't visit her brother in jail because of her own criminal record,
but she said they communicate through frequent phone calls. Helen Kosek, who
described her relationship with Wolowski as grandmotherly, visits him in jail
and has, on his behalf, mailed documents dealing with a federal case he filed
in U.S. District Court, Pittsburgh, against jail guards.
Cynthia Reed Eddy, U.S. magistrate judge, wrote of the federal case last
November, "It is not yet clear to the Court whether (the case) has any merit,
either in factor or in law," and she declined to appoint counsel for Wolowski
in that legal arena.
Of the homicide charge to be handled in state court, Ridge, who would be
leading the prosecution of a death-penalty case for the 1st time, said,
"Unfortunately, in these kinds of cases, you have to take your time because
there are some pretty serious things involved. There are a lot of things both
sides have to do to prepare."
Geary said the appeals process can be a long one, so he prefers "to get
everything the 1st time through. Other lawyers, years from now, could be poring
over everything," pointing to defenses that should have been explored.
The attorneys expect to participate in another pretrial conference during the
Over the years, Wolowski, while being held in the county jail without bond,
requested he receive the services of a psychologist, which the court, according
to an online docket referencing Dr. Michael Crabtree, allowed with a $3,000
Wolowski first had a public defender as his legal representation. But last
fall, Wolowski, through Geary, who has the qualifications required for a
death-penalty case, asked Judge John DiSalle to suppress evidence. DiSalle
heard testimony but denied Wolowski's request.
Wolowski also granted permission to the juvenile probation office to release
his records and asked the county office of Children and Youth Services to
provide an opportunity to review his files in dependency cases.
In 2015, DiSalle also ordered Wolowski be transported to Torrance State
Hospital in Westmoreland County for as long as 90 days for a mental-health
evaluation, testing and treatment.
Gov. McAuliffe Considering Clemency for Death Row Inmate
Governor Terry McAuliffe will soon announce whether he will grant clemency to a
Virginia inmate on death row.
Ivan Teleguz is set to die next week. A jury convicted Teleguz of a
murder-for-hire plot to kill his ex-girlfriend, Stephanie Sipe, in Harrisonburg
There's been a growing push from Teleguz's lawyers, Christian leaders, and
other public officials in the commonwealth to halt the scheduled execution.
McAuliffe is reviewing a clemency petition filed by the inmate's legal team.
"Clearly issues have come up issues have arisen that I need to look at very
closely," said the Democratic governor.
Attorney Elizabeth Peiffer, with the Virginia Capital Representation Resource
Center, is fighting to stop the execution.
"No juror could look at the evidence and look at the record as it currently
stands and find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," she said.
Peiffer points out that 2 of the 3 key witnesses in the case have recanted
their testimony, admitting that they lied about Teleguz's involvement.
The 3rd witness, Michael Hetrick, was the man who was actually convicted of
stabbing Sipe to death.
Peiffer also believes Teleguz received the death penalty because of false
information given to jurors during the sentencing phase.
"The jurors based their sentencing decision on a fictitious murder. A witness
testified that Mr. Teleguz was involved in another murder in Ephrata,
Pennsylvania," said the attorney. "But now we know that this murder is a
fiction. It never happened."
McAuliffe says he's carefully examining all the information in the case.
"Nothing is more tough for a governor than to have to make this life death
decision, and I take it very very seriously," he said.
Lawyers for Teleguz are also working on filing a petition to the U.S. Supreme
The execution is scheduled to take place on April 25.
(source: WVIR news)
Virginia Is About To Execute A Man Based On One Unreliable Witness----2 other
witnesses have already admitted their original testimony was false.
Whether Ivan Teleguz is put to death in Virginia on April 25 should depend on
how much Governor Terry McAuliffe is willing to trust the testimony of
confessed murderer Michael Hetrick.
This is so because the Supreme Court of Virginia found that jurors needed to
believe the testimony of Hetrick and 2 other witnesses in order to find Teleguz
guilty. But the 2 other witnesses have since admitted that their testimony
against Teleguz was false - given in exchange for generous deals from the
government - and they have no reason to believe Teleguz was involved in the
That leaves only the word of Hetrick. But the manner in which Hetrick's
testimony was engineered by police is a serious flaw that should bring the
remaining piece of the case against Teleguz tumbling down. Hetrick was fed the
prosecution's theory of the case before his statement, and was told he would
face the death penalty himself unless he provided a matching account and stuck
to that account. Teleguz was sentenced to death for paying Hetrick to kill
Stephanie Sipe - according to Hetrick to avoid paying child support. Hetrick
avoided a death sentence by agreeing to testify against Teleguz.
As former law enforcement professionals, we have special expertise in, and
appreciation for, the fundamental need to maintain integrity in witness
interrogations. Improper interrogations can result in unreliable and false
statements and confessions that put innocent people behind bars - and sometimes
on death row.
The police interrogation of Hetrick violated foundational interrogation
principles and makes his resulting statement and testimony against Teleguz
unreliable. It certainly should not serve as the sole remaining basis for
putting Teleguz to death.
After reviewing the nearly three-hour recording of police questioning Hetrick,
we can identify numerous and significant improprieties. These include: tunnel
vision, or the investigator's fixation on a result causing him to disregard
other evidence; improperly combined maximization/minimization in which the
investigator threatens inevitable and dire consequences, then promises
assistance in avoiding the inevitable; and contamination, in which the
investigators provide details of their theory of the case and investigation to
Hetrick prior to getting Hetrick's own account.
Hetrick's interrogation is a case study in what is not supposed to occur in
Police set Hetrick up by informing him that they had blood evidence from the
crime scene, knew that he had a cut on his hand treated just after the murder,
and they planned to take his DNA for comparison. They told him explicitly that
he must accuse Teleguz of hiring Ms. Sipe's murderer - before the end of that
interview - or Hetrick would face the death penalty. (Hetrick: "This Ivan'd so
f*** bad a person, that you're willing to give a guy who should get the death
penalty a deal?" Investigator: "I'm telling you that, as sure as we're sitting
Investigators continued the interrogation despite several requests from Hetrick
to stop so he could talk to a lawyer. Hetrick was explicitly told the
prosecution's theory of the case, and he was even allowed to review the 9-page,
single-spaced written summary of the police investigation of the case
(Investigator: "I highly encourage you to read through all that and understand
the facts of this case that's going on right now.") Investigators also went so
far as to interrupt the interrogation in order to put Hetrick on the telephone
with the prosecutor so that she could directly assure him that she would seek
his execution if he did not cooperate then and there, and that his only way out
of an inevitable death sentence was to accuse Teleguz of arranging the murder.
This all happened before Hetrick began to give a statement.
Current standards for professional, properly trained law enforcement would not
accept this kind of interrogation. In fact, Hetrick's interrogation is a case
study in what is not supposed to occur in police interviews because all of
these factors increase the likelihood that the resulting evidence will be
false. The way in which the evidence was extracted or engineered runs
sufficiently afoul of accepted professional police practices to prevent us from
knowing what is true. Improper police work, combined with Hetrick's history of
drug abuse and criminal behavior, produced a very unreliable witness. Now, this
witness serves as the last remaining evidence against Teleguz, who will be
executed in just weeks without the intervention of Governor McAuliffe.
As a matter of professionalism, fairness, and justice, Virginia's Governor
McAuliffe should commute Teleguz's death sentence, stop his April 25 execution,
and prevent the Commonwealth of Virginia from carrying out an execution on so
tenuous a basis.
(source: Gregg McCrary is a former Supervisory Special Agent of the Federal
Bureau of Investigation and an internationally known expert in investigations,
police practices, and interview and interrogation techniques. With nearly 50
years' experience in criminal investigations he provides expert testimony in
these matters both nationally and internationally. He is also an adjunct
professor in the Forensic and Legal Psychology Program at Marymount University
in Arlington, Virginia.
Jim Trainum is a former D.C. Homicide Detective with 27 years on the force, and
nationally recognized expert in police interrogation practices, false
confessions, and the use of informants and cooperating witnesses. He is the
author of How the Police Generate False Confessions: An Inside Look at the
Interrogation Room----Washington Post)
Governor should grant clemency to Teleguz
Ivan Teleguz will be put to death April 25. You are literally his last chance.
The Commonwealth of Virginia found him guilty of "murder for hire" based on the
testimony of three witnesses. 2 of the prosecution's witnesses have now
admitted they lied under oath and have since submitted sworn written statements
that Ivan had nothing to do with the death of Stephanie Sipe. The third
witness, the gunman, struck a deal with the prosecution to save his own life
and is serving a life sentence. To change his testimony now could possibly put
him in danger of the death penalty.
Governor, I understand that you come out of the Christian tradition of those
who follow that nonviolent, merciful Jesus. Of course, not everyone agrees with
that and you have to represent all of the people. I also understand that your
specific religious tradition is Catholic. Despite the fact that the Catholic
Church has given clear statements in opposition to the death penalty, you
obviously can't favor your own specific tradition because of the diversity of
thought and beliefs throughout our state. But there is one thing that every
single religious tradition and every unbeliever and every atheist and all of us
agree on... Justice. Give Ivan Teleguz clemency. You will be able to sleep
better...we all will.
(source: Letter to the Editor, Roanoke Times)
Florida lawmaker says 'African-Americans are grossly overrepresented on
Florida's death row'
The decision by Orlando-area prosecutor Aramis D. Ayala to no longer seek the
death penalty in murder cases has injected a racial discussion about death row
into the Florida legislative session.
Ayala, a Democrat elected as state attorney in 2016, announced her decision
while handling the case of Markeith Loyd, who is accused of killing his
ex-girlfriend and an Orlando police officer. Scott removed Ayala from the Loyd
case as well as 21 additional 1st-degree murder cases and reassigned them to
Brad King, a Republican state attorney.
Sen. Randolph Bracy, an Orange County Democrat and chairman of the Florida
Senate Criminal Justice Committee, defended Ayala's right to make that call and
criticized Gov. Rick Scott's reaction in an op-ed in the New York Times.
"As a black man, I see the death penalty as a powerful symbol of injustice in
which race often determines who lives and who dies, especially in Florida,"
Bracy wrote. "The state has the second-largest number of death row inmates in
the country, after California, and African-Americans are grossly
overrepresented on Florida's death row."
We decided to look at the statistics and see if they back up Bracy's statement.
Florida's death row statistics
Sheer numbers don't say very much about racial discrepancies of death row
inmates. (There are more white inmates than black inmates among the 371 members
of Florida's death row.)
Bracy's point about overrepresentation compares African-American inmates on
death row compared to African-Americans' share of the general population.
African-Americans in Florida comprise about 17 % of the population, according
to the 2015 census.
But they make up about 39 % of the death row population.
Based on the data, African-Americans make up twice as large of a share of death
row inmates as a share of the state population.
Other ways to crunch it
There is a lot of research that shows racial disparities in sentencing for
death penalty cases, in Florida and around the country.
The leader of a pro-death penalty group quibbled with Bracy's point, saying it
disregards the race of people who commit homicides.
Michael Rushford, president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said more
African-Americans are convicted of homicide.
"There are far fewer women than men on Florida's death row; this does not
indicate a bias against men, it indicates a disproportionate % of men who
commit capital murder compared to women," he said.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that nationally between 1980-2008, 52.5
% of homicide convicts were African-American while 45.3 % were white. In 2015,
36.7 % of homicide convicts were African-American while 30.2 % were white.
"The difference between the makeup of death row and the makeup of the general
population is attributable to the difference in offending rates, not bias in
the system," said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice
Evidence for racial disparities
Studies show sentencing in death penalty cases often depends more heavily on
the race of the victim than the killer.
No white person has ever been executed for killing a black person, said Michael
Radelet, a University of Colorado professor who has studied death penalty
sentencing in Florida.
In a 1991 study, Radelet (then at the University of Florida) found the odds of
a death sentence for those who kill white people are about 3.4 times higher
than for those who kill African-Americans in Florida.
"All the research in Florida has found that the race of the victim is a more
powerful predictor of death sentencing than the race of the defendant...," he
told PolitiFact Florida. "It is true that every homicide cases is different,
but even after looking at roughly similar cases (multiple murders, murders that
have accompanying felony circumstances, etc.) we find the patterns of bias."
Brandon L. Garrett, a University of Virginia School of Law, reached a similar
conclusion in his research at the national level.
Garrett analyzed data on all death sentencing by county from 1990 to 2016,
seeking to answer the question of why a few counties, but not the bulk, still
impose death sentences.
He found that death sentences are strongly associated with urban, populous
counties as well as counties that have large black populations. Garrett also
found that counties with more white victims of homicide have more death
Frank Baumgartner, a University of North Carolina political science professor,
described a similar pattern in a 2016 Albany Law Review article after he
examined national data on race and homicide between 1976 through 2014.
In Florida, Baumgartner found "tremendous disparities" depending upon the race
and gender of the victim.
He found that 72 % of all executions in Florida were for crimes involving white
victims despite the fact that 56 % of all homicide victims are white. He argues
that bias can enter the system at many points -- starting with a prosecutor's
decision about how to charge the crime and ultimately decisions by juries.
It isn't just a Florida problem.
One of the key pieces of analysis cited in this area is by University of Iowa
law professor David Baldus, who examined a sampling of death penalty cases in
Philadelphia from 1983 to 1993. He found average death sentencing rates were 38
% higher for black defendants than for other defendants.
Baldus, who died in 2011, played a role in the U.S. Supreme Court's 1987
McCleskey vs. Kemp decision, in which the court determined Baldus' research
showing statistical evidence of racial discrimination in Georgia death penalty
cases did not make the death penalty unconstitutional.
In a report for the American Bar Association, Baldus found that
race-of-defendant disparities existed in several other states, too, including
California, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.
Bracy said, "African-Americans are grossly overrepresented on Florida's death
African-Americans are overrepresented in terms of their population; black
inmates make up twice as large of a share of death row inmates than their share
of the state population.
The "why" isn't as easy to answer. National data show that more blacks than
whites are convicted of homicides. However, research repeatedly shows that the
victim's race affects a defendant's sentence: no white person has been executed
for killing a black person in Florida.
We rate Bracy's statement Mostly True.
Jury selection begins in case of man killing 83-year-old woman
Lawyers spent Monday interviewing potential jurors in the case of an Orlando
man accused of killing an 83-year-old woman and burning down her home.
Juan Rosario is charged with 1st-degree murder. His will be the 1st murder case
to go to trial since State Attorney Aramis Ayala was inaugurated. Florida Gov.
Rick Scott removed Ayala from Rosario's case and about 2 dozen others after she
announced that she wouldn't pursue the death penalty during her tenure. Scott
instead appointed State Attorney Brad King to prosecute the case, but three of
Ayala's assistant state attorneys are overseeing jury selection. King said he
would pursue the death penalty in Rosario's case. Prosecutors working for
Ayala's predecessor, former State Attorney Jeff Ashton, had prepared the case
as a death penalty case.
Judge Leticia Marques, prosecutors and defense attorneys all seek to determine
whether the recent public debate over capital punishment has influenced how
potential jurors consider punishment in the case.
(source: WFTV news)
Should Louisiana scrap the death penalty?----Locals weigh in as state lawmakers
prepared to decide.
On the morning of Oct. 17, 1996, Chad Louviere embarked on one of the most
gruesome rampages in Terrebonne Parish history.
The Terrebonne sheriff's deputy drove to a bank at Grand Caillou and Moffet
roads, where his estranged wife was working. He walked in with a bag containing
an AR-15 assault rifle and ordered 2 male customers out. He took 6 women
employees hostage, locked the doors and shot and killed 27-year-old Pamela
Duplantis, the mother of a 9-year-old girl. Louviere forced 2 of the women to
perform sex acts on each other while he watched and then raped all 3 women who
He was sentenced to death in 2000 but was re-sentenced April 21, 2015, to two
consecutive life terms following appeals that lasted 15 years. After months of
consultation, the victims agreed unanimously to revoke the death penalty rather
than face the possibility of another trial, prosecutors said.
Louviere's case is indicative of how expensive and time-consuming Louisiana's
death penalty process has become, said state Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma.
"If you want any case to illustrate the problems with the death penalty, they
need to look no further than the Louviere case," Zeringue said. "If anyone
needed to die as a result of the death penalty, that's the guy. He should be
the poster child on why if you're going to have the death penalty you should
exercise it. But the reality is that it cost this parish millions of dollars to
get to the point of trying to execute this guy, and now he's going to serve
life in prison."
In Louisiana, 241 people have received death sentences since 1976, and 127 of
them ended in a reversal due to judicial error, prosecutor misconduct or
"ineffective assistance" by defense lawyers, a recent study by the University
of North Carolina found.
It costs taxpayers about $1.52 million a year to house death row inmates, and
roughly 28 % of the Public Defender Board's annual budget is spent on capital
cases, according to the state Department of Corrections.
Capital punishment's exorbitant costs and ethical dilemmas caught the attention
of 3 state lawmakers who have proposed bills to abolish the death penalty in
Louisiana. Reps. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia and Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro, and
Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, filed House Bill 101 and Senate Bill 142,
which, if approved, would apply to crimes committed on or after Aug. 1.
The bills await their 1st hearing during a session that started April 10 and
must end by June 8. But debate has already begun in the Capitol and across the
"I'm in favor of the death penalty," Terrebonne Sheriff Jerry Larpenter said.
He contends "the whole death sentence in Louisiana is a big joke" because it
takes too long for the state to execute people. As a longtime law enforcer,
Larpenter said, he has become frustrated with legal system red tape and
bureaucracy that he says work to delay justice.
"The problem is all these appeals," the sheriff said. "When you have DNA
evidence, it shouldn't take 20 years to execute somebody. I can see appealing a
death sentence if there was only 1 witness and no physical evidence, but if you
have DNA, 20 witnesses and fingerprints, it's kind of hard to say you didn't do
it. How can we as a society allow the criminal mind to overwhelm our
Legislature to convince them to start changing laws to make it easier for
criminals? What's going on in this world? It's really frustrating."
Of the 73 men and 1 woman on Louisiana's death row, only 1, David Brown, is
from Terrebonne and none are from Lafourche. A Lafourche judge sentenced Brown
to die last November for murdering 29-year-old Jacquelin Nieves and her
daughters, 7-year-old Gabriela and 1-year-old Izabela, in 2012.
"The reason I would support keeping the death penalty in some fashion is David
Brown," Lafourche Sheriff Craig Webre said. "He is a textbook example of an
individual who is such a predatory, horrific murderer who just caused so much
pain, harm, loss and tragedy. His is an extreme case where the death penalty
would be warranted."
However, Webre said his support for the death penalty has limits.
"I'm a supporter of finality in those rare, extreme cases that cry out for that
kind of a sentence, but in my opinion life in prison is a harsher punishment,"
Webre said. "A murderer will have to face the consequences of his or her
actions in an institutional setting where they'll never celebrate Easter with
family, never enjoy a cup of coffee at a cafe or see the christening of a child
or grandchild or see a graduation or a wedding."
A MATTER OF FAITH
One of capital punishment's longtime opponents is the Catholic Church, which
opposes it on moral grounds. The Rev. Mark Toups, chancellor of the Catholic
Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, said he is a firm believer in the preservation of
"I would support life from conception to natural death," Toups said. "I
certainly believe in the justice system and due process, but a natural death
should be the response rather than the death penalty."
Zeringue said the tenets of his Christian faith also prohibit him from
supporting capital punishment.
"There's somewhat of a contradiction to be pro-life and at the same time be
pro-death penalty," Zeringue said. "As a Legislature, I have to represent
everyone's interest and completely appreciate and understand the fact for those
who had to through the horrible experience of having a family member murdered.
But right now, I believe from my Christian perspective and faith that we could
probably do away with the death penalty."
State Rep. Jerome "Dee" Richard, a Thibodaux independent, acknowledged that the
legal system needs reform but said abolishing the death penalty should not be
considered a remedy.
"We have the highest murder rate in the country per capita," Richard said. "I
do not believe eliminating the death penalty is the answer. I also feel not
enforcing the death penalty is a problem. We can look at reducing penalties for
many nonviolent crimes as a way to bring relief to our jails, but eliminating
the death penalty should not be part of reducing costs to trim our budget."
'ONE BIG MONEY PIT'
State Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, said Louisiana's death penalty law is an
expensive symbolic gesture.
"As it's currently set up, it's just 1 big money pit," Magee said.
"Everybody needs to get realistic about what the death penalty really means in
the state of Louisiana," he said. "One of the common beliefs is that we should
run government like a business. What businessman would pay millions of dollars
a year on something that rarely gets used and once it does happen takes 10-20
years for it to really happen? We're spending millions and millions of dollars
prosecuting these death penalty cases to do them the way it's required of us by
the Supreme Court. All it's doing is giving the appearance that we're hard on
crime, but it's just an appearance."
31 states allow the death penalty. Magee and Zeringue noted that Louisiana and
some other states have had trouble acquiring the chemicals used for lethal
injections because pharmaceutical companies have become reluctant to
manufacture such stigmatized drugs.
Louisiana hasn't executed a death row inmate since 2010, and its next planned
execution has been delayed until at least 2018 pending a federal lawsuit
challenging the use of lethal injection.
Asked via Facebook, Courier and Daily Comet readers offered similar pros and
"The problem lies in the fact that they can draw out the appeals process over a
long period of time," Wayne Bunch said. "Too many people on death row sit there
for 20-plus years that we get to pay for. Meanwhile, we have homeless veterans
in our country that get mistreated, but these murderers and rapists get 3 hot
meals and a cot. Decrease the timeline for appeals, carry out the sentences and
Aaron Charles Cornwell said he objects to capital punishment.
"The death penalty should be eliminated," Cornwell said. "Our justice system is
imperfect and sometimes wrongfully convicts people for crimes. The death
penalty erases the possibility of discovering and fixing it. It is meant to
deter crime, but there's no evidence it does this more than life imprisonment.
Satisfying someone's thirst for vengeance should not be the point of our
(source: The Daily Comet)
Knoxville greenway slaying may test newest reason for death penalty
Knoxville's 1st greenway slaying may become the 1st statewide test case of the
newest reason a killer can be put to death - randomness.
Knox County Criminal Court Judge Scott Green on Monday took under advisement a
bid by the attorney for Timothy Dwayne Ison to strike down as unconstitutional
the state Legislature's latest addition to the list of reasons jurors can
choose to justify putting a killer to death or behind bars until death.
Ison, 26, is facing trial on a charge of 1st-degree murder in the May 2015
slaying of Stefany Fairbanks, a 42-year-old stranger he fatally stabbed on the
Third Creek Greenway, located off Sutherland Avenue. The slaying came 11 years
after a then-14-year-old Ison terrorized a Knoxville couple whom he did not
know, but he was never tried as an adult in that case.
Prosecutors Kyle Hixson and Leslie Nassios are seeking a punishment of life
without parole for Ison if he is convicted. In Tennessee, only a jury can
decide the sentence if the state is seeking life without parole or capital
punishment. Hixson and Nassios must convince the jury in Ison's case of what is
known as an "aggravating factor" - a reason to justify elevating a murder to a
special class rating the loss of Ison's liberty for life.
Among the 3 the pair are citing is the newest such factor on Tennessee's books
- that the killing was "committed at random, and the reasons for the killing
are not obviously or easily understood."
Whether that new factor passes legal muster has not yet been tested in the
appellate courts. Defense attorney Susan Shipley is aiming to change that.
She argued Monday in Ison's case the Legislature included no legal definitions
or guidance on what makes a killing "random."
"This is too wide open," she said.
Hixson argued the words mean exactly what they say.
"These are not words that require definition," he said.
But Green was troubled by the words "not obviously or easily understood" as too
vague to pass constitutional muster.
"I agree (with Hixson) the random part is OK, but what I'm struggling with is
the reasons of the killing not being obviously or easily understood."
The U.S. Constitution and its Tennessee equivalent require citizens be informed
specifically what behavior runs afoul of the law. For instance, driving while
intoxicated is a crime, but the constitution requires citizens be given a legal
definition of what rates as drunk under the law. No definition. No case.
Hixson likened the definition of a random killing to that of pornography.
"You know it when you see it," Hixson said, citing actual case law approving
that definition of pornography.
Green said he was leaning in favor of the state on the issue, but his mind was
not yet settled.
"I'm going to think about it some more," Green said.
Ison's trial is set to begin May 8 with jury selection. Hixson and Nassios have
cited 2 more factors - especial cruelty and a prior violent past - to justify
life without parole, so their case is safe no matter how Green rules. Shipley,
though, will be able to appeal once the case is wrapped up - if Ison is
convicted and sentenced to life without parole based on the new "random"
At 14, Ison was deemed by a respected forensic psychiatrist as mentally
disturbed with all the hallmarks of a sociopath.
He had forced his way into the Chilhowee Drive home of Ted and Judith Cope,
both strangers to him, in 2004. He terrorized and brutalized the couple and
tried to burn them alive after shooting Ted Cope.
The state wanted to try him as an adult in those attempted murders. But his
designation as seriously mentally ill barred such a move. He was supposed to
receive treatment while in the custody of the state Department of Children's
Ison never received treatment, other than a brief stint in a group home for
children with varying mental illnesses. The state doesn't fund juvenile
facilities for the seriously disturbed and has few that serve mentally-ill
juveniles and adults. Ison was freed at age 19.
Soon after, he assaulted a man in Kentucky and went to prison. He served 11
months, violated parole and served 2 more months. He had been free 2 years when
he attacked Fairbanks on the greenway near the parking lot at 3110 Sutherland
Ave. He allegedly stabbed her to death and walked away.
Knoxville Police Department Sgt. Colin McLeod testified Monday the scene at the
greenway slaying was chaotic. Greenway users were stopped in their tracks.
Police cruisers were parked haphazardly in the parking lot as officers fanned
out in search of a killer.
"We had officers actually on the greenway," he said. "We had officers
circulating around the area ... (on) trails off the greenway. At that point we
assumed the suspect was still in the area."
No one knew who the killer was, and witness descriptions varied, he said.
McLeod had been at the slaying scene for half an hour or so when Ison walked
from the greenway to the Sutherland Avenue parking lot.
"He was asking if he could leave and go to his car," McLeod said.
McLeod has yet to unearth any connection between Fairbanks and Ison - other
than he parked near her in the greenway parking lot.
(source: Knoxville News Sentinel)
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