death penalty news----OHIO, ARK., COLO., CALIF., USA
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Rick Halperin
2017-06-19 14:40:08 UTC
June 19


Rutledge apparently won't testify in his death-penalty case

Jurors in the trial of suspected cop killer Lincoln S. Rutledge have been told
not to return to court until Tuesday, apparently signaling that Rutledge will
not testify in the death-penalty case.

Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Mark Serrott had given defense attorneys a
deadline of 11 a.m. Sunday to decide whether they will put any witnesses,
including their client, on the stand. Jurors were told to call the judge's
bailiff in the afternoon to find out if they were to report on Monday.

Defense attorney Jefferson Liston did not immediately return a message seeking

The reason for the uncertain schedule wasn't explained to the jury, but was
discussed by the judge and attorneys when the jurors were out of the courtroom.
The attorneys were told that they will present closing arguments on Tuesday,
leaving Monday for defense witnesses.

Serrott did tell jurors on Friday to bring overnight bags on Tuesday in
anticipation of being sequestered at an undisclosed hotel during their

Assistant Prosecutors Daniel Hogan and Warren Edwards rested their case Friday
afternoon after calling 22 witnesses over parts of 5 days.

Rutledge, 45, is charged with 11 counts, including aggravated murder, in the
fatal shooting of Columbus police Officer Steven Smith on April 10, 2016. Smith
was in the turret of an armored SWAT vehicle providing cover for other officers
during a standoff at Rutledge's Clintonville apartment when he was struck in
the head by a shot fired from inside a rear bedroom.

If the jury decides that Rutledge purposely killed a police officer, tried to
kill 2 or more people or purposely killed someone to escape apprehension he
would be eligible for the death penalty. Such a verdict would require the
jurors to participate in a sentencing phase during which they would hear
mitigating factors from the defense before recommending a death sentence or
life in prison.

(source: The Columbus Dispatch)


Facing Death, Tyrone Noling Pushes Ohio Supreme Court for More Access to DNA

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear a new round of arguments Tuesday in a
Northeast Ohio death-penalty case that has stretched on for more than a quarter

Tyrone Noling has always maintained he didn't kill an elderly Portage County
couple in 1990. No fingerprints or physical evidence links him to the crime,
and his co-defendants in separate robbery cases long-ago recanted, saying
police coerced them into implicating Noling.

The latest appeal is focused on DNA testing. Noling wants the state high court
to order that he gets access to the full results of the DNA testing of a
cigarette butt and other evidence that the state has done - not just the
summary. Noling also wants shell casings found at the scene to be compared to a
federal database. And he wants the evidence to be retested using the latest DNA
technology, saying all that would be in keeping with state law and court

But in their written arguments, Portage County prosecutors say Noling already
got what he's entitled to under state law and that he has no further right to
'scrutinize, review, or analyze' the data. They also say there's no DNA
evidence left for more testing.

Noling is now 45. The victims, Cora and Bernhardt Hartig, were 81.

(source: WKSU news)


Religious objections law factors in Arkansas judge's case

Wendell Griffen spoke out against a religious objections measure critics called
discriminatory when it was debated by the Arkansas Legislature two years ago.
Facing an investigation and impeachment threats over his involvement in an
anti-death penalty demonstration, the Pulaski County circuit judge is now
relying on that same law as he fights for his job and an opportunity to again
hear capital punishment cases.

A group of religious leaders defended Griffen on the steps of the state Capitol
earlier this month against the criticism from lawmakers and the ethics
investigation he's faced since he lay on a cot outside of the governor's
mansion the same day he effectively blocked executions in the state. Griffen,
who is also a Baptist pastor, says he was portraying Jesus as part of a Good
Friday vigil with his church, but the scene evoked the image of an inmate
awaiting lethal injection. The judge wore an anti-death penalty button while
surrounded by people holding signs objecting to the state's execution plans.

Days later, the state Supreme Court lifted Griffen's order prohibiting Arkansas
from using a lethal injection drug a company said it didn't intend to be used
for executions and disqualified the judge from hearing any cases involving the
death penalty. The Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission is now
investigating Griffen, as well as the judge's complaint against the court.
Griffen argued the court's decision to disqualify him from death penalty cases
was a violation of the state's religious objections law.

"Unless I'm mistaken, it's not illegal to pray. And unless I'm mistaken, it's
not illegal to pray silently," Griffen told reporters. "If that is not
fundamentally true, then none of us is free."

Griffen invoking the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act adds a new
wrinkle to what is shaping up to be a politically charged fight over judges'
First Amendment rights and the relationship between the judicial and
legislative branches. It also puts a new spotlight on the law that dominated
the final days of the legislative session 2 years ago.

The measure, which prohibits state and local government from infringing on
someone's religious beliefs without proving a compelling interest, was revamped
at Gov. Asa Hutchinson's request after facing widespread criticism from LGBT
rights groups and Bentonville-based Walmart that it was discriminatory and
would hurt Arkansas' image. Griffen had appeared before a legislative panel to
testify against the measure.

The sponsor of the law says he doesn't think the judge's actions would be
protected by the measure. Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger said the 2-prong test
under the law is whether there's a compelling government interest and whether
the action was taken in the least restrictive way possible. Ballinger said he
believes there's a compelling government interest in this case and that the
action taken - removing Griffen from death penalty cases - was the least

"It would floor me if he was successful," Ballinger said.

Griffen is using the law to challenge Republican lawmakers who have floated the
possibility of his impeachment, saying his case represents the kind of
religious freedom that conservatives said they were trying to protect. With
Griffen raising the possibility of taking action under the religious objections
law, the measure could be tested in a way that legislators didn't envision when
it was enacted.

"I will fight this as long as there is fire in my body and breath in my
spirit," Griffen said.

(source: Associated Press)


What Happened To The Death Penalty In Colorado?

Colorado is 1 of 32 U.S. states where the death penalty is legal, but it has
executed only 1 person in the last half century. It's possible the state will
never use the death penalty again, according to Michael Radelet, a sociology
professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, in his new book, "The History
of the Death Penalty in Colorado."

Radelet recounts the 1st execution in 1859, as well as the most notorious cases
since then, like the 1939 execution of Joe Arridy, an intellectually disabled
man with an IQ of 46. Arridy was posthumously pardoned in 2011 by then-Governor
Bill Ritter, a Democrat, after a public campaign to exonerate him. M

Radelet also looks at Governor John Hickenlooper's 2013 decision to grant
Chuck-E-Cheese murderer Nathan Dunlap a temporary reprieve from the death
penalty. Dunlap killed 4 people and injured another at the Aurora restaurant in
1993 and was sentenced to death. Critics say the governor punted on his
decision, which will postpone any action until Hickenlooper leaves office.

Radelet spoke with Colorado Matters host Andrea Dukakis.

Read an excerpt:

At the time of this writing..., Colorado's death penalty had become such a
trivial component of the state's criminal justice system that it is now quite
possible that we will never see another execution in the state. After all,
[today] there [are] only 3 inmates on death row in Canon City, and the only one
who is anywhere close to being put to death is Nathan Dunlap, convicted of
killing 4 people in an Aurora restaurant in 1993. In 2013 his execution was
indefinitely halted by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a move that
effectively imposed a moratorium on all executions in the state. For murders
committed between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2015, prosecutors sought the
death penalty against 18 men and 1 woman (plus against one of those men a 2nd
time). In both 2009 and again in 2013, the Colorado General Assembly came close
to passing abolition bills. Its members may do so again in the near future, a
current or future governor may commute all the death sentences to prison terms
with a stroke of the pen, or the courts could easily tinker with these
sentences, rendering Colorado's executioner permanently unemployed. This book
[covers] the history of Colorado's struggles with the death penalty, but with
the death penalty still legally permissible, the final chapter of this history
has not yet been written. (pages 3-4).

(source: cpr.org)


On Death Row, but Is He Innocent?

One June day in 1983, a California professor drove over to a neighbor's house
to pick up his 11-year-old son from a sleepover. Nobody answered the door, so
the professor peered through a window - and saw a ghastly panorama of blood.

The professor found his son stabbed to death, along with the bodies of Peggy
and Doug Ryen, the homeowners. The Ryens' 10-year-old daughter was also dead,
with 46 wounds, but their 8-year-old son was still breathing.

This quadruple murder began a travesty that is still unfolding and underscores
just how broken the American justice system is. A man named Kevin Cooper is on
San Quentin's death row awaiting execution for the murders, even though a
federal judge says he probably is innocent.

"He is on death row because the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department framed
him," the judge, William A. Fletcher of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals,
declared in a searing 2013 critique delivered in a distinguished lecture

Fletcher was in the minority in 2009 when his court refused to rehear the case.
His dissent, over 100 pages long, points to Cooper's possible innocence and to
systematic police misconduct. It's a modern equivalent of Emile Zola's

At least 10 other federal judges have also expressed concerns about Cooper's
conviction. Many other eminent legal experts, including the then-president of
the American Bar Association, have also called on Gov. Jerry Brown to

The evidence of police tampering is overwhelming. When lawyers working on
Cooper's appeal asked for DNA testing on a T-shirt believed to belong to the
killer, the lab found Cooper's blood on the shirt - but also something
astonishing: The blood had test tube preservative in it! In other words, it
appeared to have come from the supply of Cooper's blood drawn by the police and
kept in a test tube.

Kevin Cooper was sent to death row at San Quentin State Prison after his
conviction for a quadruple murder. Judges and others question the reliability
of the evidence.

When the test tube was later examined, it had the DNA of at least 2 people in
it. It appeared that someone had removed some of Cooper's blood and then topped
off the test tube with the blood of one or more other people to hide the

What's extraordinary about the case is that not only is it likely that Cooper
is innocent, but that we also have a good idea who committed the murders.

The 10-year-old victim, Jessica Ryen, died with a clump of light hair in her
hands, and the 8-year-old survivor, her brother, Joshua, repeatedly told
investigators that the attackers had been three or four white men. Mr. Cooper
is black.

Meanwhile, a woman told the police (and her statements were later backed up by
her sister) that a housemate, a convicted murderer, had shown up with others
late on the night of the murders in blood-spattered overalls and driving a
station wagon resembling one stolen from the Ryens' home. The women said the
housemate was no longer wearing the T-shirt he had on earlier in the evening -
the same kind as found near the murders.

A hatchet like one of the murder weapons was missing from the man's tool chest,
and a friend of his confessed to a fellow prisoner that he had participated in
the killings. The women gave the bloody overalls to the police - who threw them
out, apparently because they didn't fit their narrative that Cooper was the

There was no reliable evidence against Cooper. But he had escaped from a
minimum-security prison (he walked away) where he was serving a burglary
sentence and had holed up in an empty house near the Ryens' home. A court
suggested that he had killed the Ryens to steal their station wagon - although
it is thought to have been parked in front of the house with the keys in it.
And when the car was found, it appeared that 3 people with bloody clothing had
sat in it.

One fundamental factor in this case is Cooper's race, and this case is a
microcosm of racial injustice in the United States. The police seemed
predisposed to believe the worst of a black man; Cooper was subjected to racist
taunts as his case unfolded; and Democratic and Republican politicians alike
have shown themselves inclined to avert their eyes, even if this leaves an
innocent man on death row.

As governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to act. Kamala Harris, who was state
attorney general and is now a U.S. senator, was unhelpful. Governor Brown is
reviewing the case, but previously as attorney general exhibited little

Cooper and his lawyers are not asking for a pardon right now, or even for a
commutation to life imprisonment. They're simply asking Governor Brown to order
a review of the case with new DNA testing (critical testing has never been
done) to indicate whether Cooper is likely guilty or innocent. They will even
pay for the testing, because they believe it will both exonerate Cooper and
implicate the real killers.

"We're not saying let Kevin out of jail now, we're not saying pardon him,"
noted one of his pro bono lawyers, Norman Hile. "We're saying, let's find out
if he's innocent."

This case is a national embarrassment. It appears that an innocent man was
railroaded, in part because he is black, and the government won't even allow
crucial DNA testing.

Governor Brown, will you act?

I invite you to sign up for my free, twice-weekly email newsletter. Please also
join me on Facebook and Google+, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on
Twitter (@NickKristof). (source: Opinion, Nicholas Kristof----New York Times)


Hearing in North Dakota death penalty case could last 7 days

Linda Walker and Allan Sjodin have attended a handful of mostly procedural
court hearings in the more than 5 years since the man who kidnapped and killed
their daughter filed an appeal to spare his life. The next one will delve into
painful details.

Attorneys for Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., who has been on death row at a federal
prison in Indiana since 2003, are disputing whether Rodriguez raped University
of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin and whether she died from having her throat
cut. The defense says both points were used to unduly influence the jury in the
death penalty phase. Prosecutors say the arguments have no merit.

Walker, who has grappled with seeing her daughter linked to Rodriguez over the
years, particularly when newspapers run photos of the two side by side, said
her daughter "fought like a Marine" after she was abducted from a Grand Forks
shopping mall. Walker, of Pequot Lakes, Minnesota, said she plans to "fight for
her now as much as possible."

That means attending hearings that are difficult, as well as speaking out for
other victims.

She dismisses Rodriguez's new arguments.

"At the end of the day Dru didn't walk away from the grips of him," Walker
said. "To get down to the nitty gritty of it all ... did she die from a knife
to her throat or did she die from the cold? She didn't go there willingly."

Rodriguez, of Crookston, Minnesota, is the only person in North Dakota who has
been sentenced to death under federal law. Until this point, most of the
hearings in the case have been wrapped up in one day. This hearing, scheduled
to start Tuesday, could last up to 7 days.

It will focus on the testimony of Dr. Michael McGee, the Ramsey County,
Minnesota, medical examiner who performed the autopsy. Defense attorneys say
the centerpiece of the government's case was "the horrific testimony" by McGee
that Sjodin was raped and died from 2 slash wounds to her neck.

Rodriguez's lawyers say McGee failed to properly test whether Sjodin was raped,
and whether the neck wounds might have been from animals and decomposition
after she died. The appeal says the government used that information to
convince the jury that a death sentence was justified.

Prosecutors say the evidence of a sexual assault was overwhelming, including
not only McGee's testimony but the fact that Sjodin was found naked from the
waist down; her remaining clothing was ripped; she had been beaten; and her
hands were bound behind her back. Beyond that, the government says it was
unnecessary to prove sexual assault in order for the jury to find for the death

As for cause of death, prosecutors say that McGee never pinpointed the neck
wounds as the definitive reason.

"From the United States' position, it mattered not whether a neck slash,
asphyxiation, or brutal cold weather caused the death: all indicated that
Rodriguez killed her in a heinous, cruel, or depraved manner," the response

Walker said that while the pace of the appeal has been disheartening, she said
it's important to "keep Dru's name out there" in her quest to help victims of
sexual abuse. She has lobbied the Minnesota Legislature and other governing
bodies to close loopholes on laws regarding sexual violence.

"There are other victims out there who are voiceless and nameless," she said.
"From that aspect, if it just compels legislators and people who can make a
difference for our citizens, I think it's truly important."

(source: Associated Press)

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