death penalty news----TEXAS, PENN., S.DAK., USA
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Rick Halperin
2017-10-23 10:57:51 UTC
Oct. 23


Texas Journey of Hope Arrives in SA

The Texas Journey of Hope 2017 tour is in San Antonio this week spreading the
message of forgiveness and healing to discuss alternatives to the death

"My wife was murdered and then I was falsely accused, wrongly convicted and
ultimately exonerated so I can also present the perspective of an exoneree,"
Journey of Hope co-founder George White said. He is o1 of 12 people speaking at
churches, high schools and colleges.

Participants are nearly halfway through their 21-day tour. It has already gone
through Houston and Dallas. Austin is next on the list.

The remaining public events in San Antonio are:

Monday, Oct. 23; noon - Texas A&M University San Antonio - Vista Room, 4th
Floor of CAB

Wednesday, Oct. 25; 6-7:30 p.m. - St. John's Lutheran Church - Chapel

Wednesday, Oct. 25; 6:30-8 p.m. - Turkish Raindrop House

Thursday, Oct. 26; 4-6 p.m. - St. Mary's University, Law Library, Law Alumni

(source: KTSA news)


Study Finds Victim Race Factor in Imposing Death Sentences----A new study of
capital punishment in Pennsylvania says death sentences are more common when
the victim is white, and less frequent when the victim is black.

A new study of capital punishment in Pennsylvania found that death sentences
are more common when the victim is white and less frequent when the victim is

The report, which drew from court and prosecution records over an 11-year
period, concluded that a white victim increases the odds of a death sentence by
8 %. When the victim is black, the chances are 6 % lower.

"The race of a victim and the type of representation afforded to a defendant
play more important roles in shaping death penalty outcomes in Pennsylvania
than do the race or ethnicity of the defendant," according to the 197-page
report obtained by The Associated Press.

Penn State researchers produced the $250,000 study for the Interbranch
Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness, and its findings are
expected to be incorporated into a separate, ongoing review of the state's
death penalty that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has said could affect the death
penalty moratorium he imposed shortly after taking office in 2015.

The report also found the prosecution of death penalty cases varies widely
among counties, calling that variation the most prominent differences
researchers identified.

"A given defendant's chance of having the death penalty sought, retracted or
imposed depends a great deal on where that defendant is prosecuted and tried,"
they concluded. "In many counties of Pennsylvania, the death penalty is simply
not utilized at all. In others, it is sought frequently."

Lisette McCormick, the commission's executive director, said the variations
suggest an arbitrary element at play in the justice system.

"A system in which a death sentence can be imposed must be uniform across the
state," McCormick said. "The chances of having the death penalty imposed should
not vary depending on where you live in the state."

Pennsylvania has a death penalty on the books, but its death row has shrunk to
157 men and only 3 people have been executed since capital punishment was
reinstated in the 1970s. All 3 had voluntarily relinquished their appeals.

The study noted that blacks make up about 12 percent of the Pennsylvania
population, yet they make up more than half of those sentenced to death.

Wolf has said he was concerned about what he called a "flawed system that has
been proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective,
unjust, and expensive."

Researchers with Penn State's Justice Center for Research said there was no
"overall pattern of disparity" by prosecutors in seeking the death penalty
against black or Hispanic defendants, but did detect a "Hispanic victim effect"
in which prosecutors were 21 % more likely to seek death when the victim was

Black and Hispanic defendants who killed white victims were not more likely
than a typical defendant to get a death sentence.

In nearly a quarter of all cases, defense lawyers did not present a single
"mitigating factor" to push back against the aggravating factors that must be
proven in order to justify a death sentence.

"There are plenty of public defenders that don't have the time or the resources
to be able to conduct a proper investigation of the strength of the evidence,"
McCormick said.

With the exception of Philadelphia, which has a unique system for providing
lawyers to those who can't afford them, defendants represented by public
defenders were more likely to get a death sentence than those with privately
retained lawyers.

Unlike studies in some other states, the researchers said there was "no clear
indication" that defendants with private attorneys - as opposed to
court-appointed counsel - were more likely to get a plea deal with prosecutors
that avoided a death sentence.

The 18 counties in the study included many of the state's more populous areas,
and generated nearly 9 out of every 10 1st-degree murder convictions over the
study period.

(source: Associated Press)


South Dakota Sees Funding Increase Amid Death Penalty Cases----2 high-profile
death penalty cases in western South Dakota have led to large increases in
funding for a county courthouse and public defender's office.

Defending 2 men facing the possibility of the death penalty in a murder case
will cost a western South Dakota county's budget as much as $1 million more in

Pennington County commissioners granted the request made by the courthouse and
public defenders last month for more than $500,000 increases each to their 2018
budgets. A large portion of those will go toward defending two men facing the
death penalty on 1st-degree murder charges, the Rapid City Journal reported .

Jonathon Klinetobe, 28, and Richard Hirth, 36, have been charged with murder,
kidnapping and conspiracy in the disappearance and death of Jessica Rehfeld,
22, in 2015. Klinetobe is represented by 3 appointed lawyers, 2 from the county
public defender's office and 1 private attorney. Hirth has 2 court-appointed
private lawyers.

The law requires defendants who can't afford to hire a lawyer be appointed one
by the court. Death penalty cases require at least 2 lawyers, but defendants
are responsible for repaying the county the cost of their legal defense.

Death penalty cases are "exceedingly expensive" and taxpayers can reasonably
expect to shoulder up to $1 million for the prosecution and defense such a
case, said Eric Whitcher, director of the county public defender's office.

"The people who are available to handle those cases are highly specialized, and
they cost significant funds," he said, including criminal investigators, lab
analysts, psychiatrists, crime scene analysts and pathologists.

Klinetobe and Hirth have been detained at the county jail since May 2016. It's
unclear when they will go to trial, but their cases will likely again come
under the spotlight in budget hearings for 2019 if they aren't tried before

(source: Associated Press)


Supreme Court to take up bad lawyers, immigration, and death penalty in next

The Supreme Court will hear a case about ineffective lawyers when it next meets
for oral arguments at the end of the month, but the case also is wrapped up in
the hot-button issues of the death penalty and illegal immigration.

Ayestas v. Davis has not received much attention from court-watchers
anticipating a slew of blockbuster cases this term, but the justices' ruling on
the dispute could have a lasting impact on many criminal and death penalty
cases and the legal protections given to illegal immigrants.

A Texas court sentenced Carlos Manuel Ayestas, a Honduran man, to death in 1997
after his conviction for murdering Santiago Paneque during a burglary of her
Houston home.

Ayestas appealed his conviction on the grounds that his trial lawyer failed to
collect testimony from his family members who could have provided evidence to
support his case. The Texas courts rejected Ayestas' appeals.

Then in 2009, Ayestas again appealed his case, this time with a different
lawyer, and said his trial attorney failed to conduct a reasonable
investigation that would have yielded "available and abundant" evidence of
mitigating factors. Ayestas said that evidence would have revealed relevant
information about his upbringing and that he suffered from early-stage
schizophrenia, addiction, and other mental illnesses.

Ayestas's father was purportedly 20 years older than his mother when they met,
and his dad fathered 22 children with several women. After fathering 3 children
himself by the time he was 17, Ayestas traveled to the U.S. while telling his
mother that he was headed to Guatemala. Along the way, Ayestas' family has
said, he was abducted in Mexico and held for ransom.

A federal district court ruled against Ayestas' later appeal on a procedural
matter, saying that Ayestas had not raised the new claims in earlier
proceedings in the Texas state court. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

But a ruling from the Supreme Court may have helped breathe new life into
Ayestas' case. The Supreme Court issued a 7-2 opinion in Martinez v. Ryan,
written by Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2012, which said that an attorney's
blunders in court proceedings after a conviction do not give the courts a
reason to excuse procedural defaults.

Ayestas sought a rehearing in light of that decision and filed a motion for
investigative assistance that he deemed "reasonably necessary" to prove his
claims. The federal courts shot down his motion.

Now, the Supreme Court is looking to determine whether the investigative
services Ayestas wants are "reasonably necessary" only if petitioners have
prevailed in earlier proceedings of the sort that Ayestas lost.

At the time of Kennedy's opinion in Martinez v. Ryan, the late Justice Antonin
Scalia dissented because he thought Kennedy was creating a constitutional right
to effective counsel in collateral court proceedings, such as the later
hearings on Ayestas' appeals.

"Despite the court's protestations to the contrary, the decision is a radical
alteration of our habeas jurisprudence that will impose considerable economic
costs on the states and further impair their ability to provide justice in a
timely fashion," Scalia wrote in his 2012 dissent. "The balance it strikes
between the finality of criminal judgments and the need to provide for review
of defaulted claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel grossly
underestimates both the frequency of such claims in federal habeas, and the
incentives to argue (since it is a free pass to federal habeas) that appointed
counsel was ineffective in failing to raise such claims."

Justice Clarence Thomas joined Scalia's 2012 dissent.

Whether Scalia's successor, Justice Neil Gorsuch, shares the late justice's
view or that of his former boss - Kennedy - could prove critical in determining
the outcome and scope of the high court's decision in Ayestas. The court agreed
to hear Ayestas less than one week before Gorsuch joined the high court.

A ruling in favor of Ayestas could provide convicts fighting death sentences
with additional avenues to delay their executions. Whether that factor plays
into the thinking of justices on the high court's ideological left, remains to
be seen. But Justice Stephen Breyer has repeatedly called for the Supreme Court
to review the constitutionality of the death penalty, and other justices on the
high court's left-leaning bloc have routinely dissented from the high court's
decisions allowing executions to proceed.

The Supreme Court will hear Ayestas when it next gathers for oral arguments
Oct. 30.

(source: Washington Examiner)


Executions rise in 2017, but downward trend continues

The nation's rapidly declining rate of executions has leveled off, but
opponents of capital punishment say the death penalty remains on borrowed time.

The execution Thursday of Alabama cop killer Torrey McNabb was the 21st this
year, marking the first time that number has risen since 2009. The 2017 total
could approach 30 before the year is out, depending on last-minute legal

That ends a relatively steady drop in executions since 2009, when there were
52. Only 3 times has the annual number increased since executions peaked at 98
in 1999.

Several factors have contributed to this year's hiatus in the broader trend. 8
states carried out executions, a spike from recent years. Among them were
Arkansas, which executed 4 prisoners over 8 days in April before its supply of
lethal injection drugs expired, and Florida, which had halted executions for 18
months after the Supreme Court found its sentencing procedure unconstitutional.

Other executions this year have illustrated the problems opponents highlight in
their quest to end capital punishment. Claims of innocence and requests for
additional forensic testing went unheeded. Faced with complaints from
pharmaceutical companies, some states used secretive methods to obtain drugs
for lethal injections. And amid charges of racial disparities, nearly all the
murder victims were white.

Yet another issue will be on display during oral arguments at the Supreme Court
next week: whether indigent defendants in capital cases must prove they need
more experienced lawyers and resources before they will be provided.

Despite all those factors, death penalty opponents say they're not worried
about the slight uptick in executions. They note that 3-, 5- and 10-year trends
remain down.

"We're seeing the last grasps of trying to hold on to the death penalty in this
country," said Heather Beaudoin, national organizer for Equal Justice USA. "The
fact that we may be up in numbers this year does not discourage me.???

Until this year, the number of states carrying out executions had dropped from
9 in 2013 to s7, 6 and just 5 in 2016. Only about 16 of the nation's more than
3,000 counties dole out capital sentences regularly.

Supreme courts in Florida, Delaware and Connecticut recently struck down those
states' death penalty procedures, continuing a trend against capital
punishment. But voters staged a comeback of sorts last year, defeating an
abolition effort in California, restoring it to the books in Nebraska and
adding it to the state constitution in Oklahoma.

What remains of capital punishment these days is largely decades-old death
sentences being carried out.

"20 years ago was the height of the death sentencing era, and that's the
average time individuals are on death row before execution," said Ben Cohen, a
lawyer with the Capital Appeals Project in New Orleans. "The long-term trend
remains clearly aimed at replacing death sentences and executions with life
without parole."

A decline in new death sentences, from about 300 annually in the 1990s to fewer
than 50 per year, will continue to result in fewer executions in the future,
says Rob Smith, executive director of the Fair Punishment Project.

"We have people on death rows across the country who were put there 10 years
ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago by juries who would never return that death
sentence today and prosecutors who would never seek that death sentence today,"
Smith said.

Nevertheless, several legal challenges to lethal injection methods have failed
since the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that states could use midazolam, a
controversial sedative that had been implicated in several botched executions.
Alabama, Arkansas, Ohio and Virginia are among states still using midazolam.

Arkansas' supply was about to expire in April when it sought to execute 8
inmates over a 2-week period. Courts intervened in 1/2 those cases.

"What has happened is that states go on execution sprees," said Robert Dunham,
executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, citing Georgia in
2016 and Missouri in 2014-15.

Most last-minute appeals fail at the Supreme Court, which reinstated the death
penalty in 1976 after a four-year moratorium. But 2 years ago, Justice Stephen
Breyer argued that capital punishment is unreliable, arbitrary and results in
decades-long delays. For those reasons and others, he said, "most places within
the United States have abandoned its use."

Breyer's dissent has encouraged a rash of new cases contending that putting
prisoners to death violates the Constitution's prohibition on cruel and unusual

"A national consensus has emerged that the death penalty is an unacceptable
punishment in any circumstance," appellate lawyer Neal Katyal argues in seeking
Supreme Court review in one such case, Hidalgo v. Arizona. "This court???s
opinions, supported by reams of evidence, are trending unmistakably toward that

(source: USA Today)

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