Monday, May 31, 2004

Consistent with its policy on the Saddam Hussein trial, Britain has indicated it will not extradite "Radical Muslim cleric" Abu Hamza to face the death penalty.

Hamza 'Can't Be Extradited to Face Death Penalty'

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Gordon Randall Steidl

The State of Illinois released Gordon Randall Steidl yesteday after 17 years in prison. Steidl's conviction was commuted from a death sentence to life without parole in 1999, but he spent 12 years on death row. After months of investigations sparked by a Federal Court's ruling that it was "reasonably probable" that Steidl would have been acquitted if his defense attorney had done more to challenge the case, the State requested Steidel's release. Steidel has continually maintained his innocence. He may be retried; however, the prosecution witness who in 1987 said she saw Steidl commit the killings he was convicted for has recanted.

Man convicted in Illinois killings goes free after 17 years in prison

James Neil Tucker - South Carolina

James Neil Tucker was executed by the State of South Carolina at 6:00 last night. Tucker was the first person to die in th electric chair in over a year. Inmates in South Carolina have until 14 days before their scheduled execution to choose lethal injection over the electric chair. If an inmate does not choose, he or she automatically receives the electric chair. Tucker was remorseful in his final statement, stating that he was ashamed and offering his "deepest apologies." When asked why he did not choose lethal injection, he stated that he felt making a choice in his manner of execution would condone his own death.

South Carolina man executed

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

John Blackwelder - Florida

As expected, the State of Florida executed John Blackwelder at 6:13pm EDT tonight. This quote from the article linked below kind of sums up what I think about Blackwelder's execution:

"The message goes out to every lifer in the state," said Abe Bonowitz, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. "If you don't like your life in prison, kill a prison worker or kill a fellow inmate and the state will assist in your suicide."

Florida executes man who wanted death sentence

Phillip Stroud

The Indiana Supreme Court has set aside the death sentence of Phillips Stroud and sent his case back to the Superior Court for a new penalty phase and sentencing. Apparently, the court found that the jury received contradictory instructions on its role in the sentencing process which violated Stroud's constitutional rights.

Court sets aside Phillip Stroud death penalty

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

John Blackwelder

The State of Florida was scheduled to execute John Blackwelder today. Blackwelder volunteered for execution by waiving all of his appeals. A convicted child molester, Blackwelder confessed to killing fellow prisoner Raymond Wigley in order to receive the death penalty. He then thanked Florida Governor Jeb Bush for signing his death warrant. However, Governor Bush delayed his execution by 24 hours today when he received a letter from another prisoner who claimed someone else had confessed to killing Wigley. Either way, Blackwelder's scheduled execution was, in my opinion, a tragedy (you're surprised right?). Executing Blackwelder essentially sets the precedent that if you don't like your life in prison, you should kill someone in your prison environment and the state will then assist you in your suicide. After all, if you WANT to kill yourself, the state will not allow you to do so (in fact, most death row inmates are on "suicide watch"). It would rather spend thousands of dollars for the chance to kill you itself. In Blackwelder's case, this assisted suicide would also include the intentional murder of another human being. I don't see how anyone, no matter how you feel about capital punishment, could feel good about executing such an inmate. Its a slippery slope, and all it does is encourage struggling inmates to commit murder.

Execution delayed of man who wanted to die

Monday, May 24, 2004

Here is a very interesting look at Florida death row from the inside. It includes a sketch of an typical inmate cell (tiny tiny tiny) and statistics on a "day in the life." Its worth a read no matter how you feel about the death penalty.

Death Row from the inside

Laurence Adams

Now, this is exactly why there is no need for Massachusetts to bring back the death penalty. On May 20, 2004, Superior Court Judge Robert A. Mulligan vacated Laurence Adams' conviction "to avoid a miscarriage of justice." Adams was convicted in 1974 of killing a transit worker in 1972. He was sentenced to death, but the state's capital punishment law was abolished shortly after his conviction. Adams has sought a new trial since 1980 when police documents casting doubt on his guilt surfaced. These documents included a statement from a witness who said two other people committed the murder. Additionally, the state's star witness changed his story several times and another witness recanted her testimony altogether before her death.

Adams served over 30 years in a Massachusetts prison. He was released from that prison alive. You can vacate the conviction of a man who was put to death, but you cannot give him his life back. Adams very likely would have been put to death had the laws in Massachusetts not changed in 1974. This man alone should be reason to prevent capital punishment in Massachusetts or any other state.

Man sentenced to death penalty released
Apparently, the UK is prepared to back out of the trial against Saddam because of opposition to the death penalty. According to reports, Britain is prepared to refuse to hand over evidence of Hussein's atrocities to the Iraqi prosecutors because of insistence on the death penalty. Hmmm, I guess this is one time where Britain may not try to match the US on efforts with Iraq.

Death penalty may force UK out of Saddam trial
Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Maryland withdrew an honorary degree promised to commencement speaker, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales this weekend. Apparently, the withdrawal was prompted by a faculty-led protest over Gonzales's support of the death penalty.

Honorary degree rescinded over death penalty stance
25 years ago on May 25, 1979, the State of Florida carried forth the first involuntary execution since the US Supreme Court lifted the ban on capital punishment. On May 25, 2004 Florida will execute convicted child molester John Blackwelder. Blackwelder has asked to be executed and has waived any appeals. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty 25 years ago, Florida has executed 58. It also leads the nation in the number of individuals freed from death row with 25. For you numbers people, 25 is almost 50% of 58.

Florida marks anniversary of death penalty
Here is an interesting commentary in the University of Oregon Daily Emerald written by a junior physics major.

Death penalty remains wrong, primitive way to punish crimes
The United States Supreme Court ruled today that Alabama inmate David Larry Nelson should be allowed to pursue appeals that lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the US Constitution. Nelson was three hours from execution before the Supreme Court granted him a stay this past fall. The Justices used Nelson's case to look at the procedure of last minute appeals. According to reports, this does not open the doors for more "method of execution" appeals. The vote was unanimous at 9-0.

Supreme Court OKs 'cruel and unusual' death penalty appeal
The Connecticut Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of convicted serial killer Michael Ross by a vote of 6-1. Ross is sentenced to death for the murders of 8 different women, of which 6 took place in Connecticut. Ross is another example of a death row inmate with serious mental illness. There was also apparent flaws in his jury selection. The Connecticut Supreme Court ostensibly found that Ross was no less culpable for his crimes under his mental illness. One dissenting Justice wrote that the death penalty should be abolished.

State Supreme Court upholds death penalty for serial killer

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Kelsey Patterson - Texas

The State of Texas executed Kelsey Patterson today after Governor Rick Perry rejected the parole board's recommendation for a stay. Patterson was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic with a history of mental illness. From the reports of his execution, it was obvious he did not understand what was happening to him and why. Even the AP headline on Yahoo! News stated "Texas Puts Mentally Ill Killer to Death." Patterson was condemned for the 1992 shootings of Dorothy Harris and Louis Oates. There is no doubt that Patterson committed the murders for which he was put to death. However, there is also little doubt that his mental illness lay behind his crimes. Patterson was arrested shortly after the shootings while walking down the middle of the street wearing nothing but his socks and shouting incomprehensibly. Patterson was pronounced dead at 6:20 this evening. He was 50 years old.

Texas Puts Mentally Ill Killer to Death

Monday, May 17, 2004

The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has recommended 5-1 to the Governor of Texas that he either commute Kelsey Patterson's death sentence to a sentence of life without parole or offer a 128 day stay. The Governor is considering the recommendation. Patterson is scheduled to be executed tomorrow.

Texas Governor Weighs Reprieve for Inmate
A man in Tennessee who's father was executed in 1959 could face the death penalty if convicted of the murder he is accused of.

Like father, son could face death penalty

John Lotter

It looks like the lawyer for John Lotter, one of the men responsible for killing Brandon Teena, has filed requests to have Lotter's IQ tested. If her motion is granted and testers find Lotter's IQ to be "diminished" executing him will not be constitutional. Brandon Teena was a FTM transsexual who was killed after Lotter and his accomplice found out that he was biological female. His murder and the events leading up to it were the subject of the motion picture "Boys Don't Cry."
Lotter Challenges Death Penalty

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Osvaldo Torres (Take II)

The Governor of Oklahoma has commuted Osvaldo Torres's death sentence to a sentence of life without praole. Althought Torres's execution had already been stayed by an appeals court, Governor Henry decided to commute his sentence entirely. The Governor had received pleas for Torres's life from several different angles, including pleas from the EU and Mexican President Vicente Fox. Torres was scheduled to be executed on May 18th. The commuting of his sentence leaves only Kelsey Patterson scheduled for execution on the 18th.

Mexican spared US death penalty
Here's more on the application of the death penalty in the Dru Sjodin case.

Death penalty possibility complicates case

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Apparently, Judge Robert Ensz in my former resident state of Nebraska has never see "The Green Mile." He still thinks that use of the electric chair is constitutional. There's pretty much no way you could think that if you'd seen that movie (accurate or not). Then again, I'm already biased. Somehow, though, I just don't see how a procedure, which if done improperly can start a victim on fire before death, can be constitutional. Call me crazy, but how is that not cruel and unusual?

Judge finds use of electric chair constitutional
You have no idea how irritated I am about this. Charging Rodriguez in Federal Court is entirely the prosecutors' way to end around the fact that neither Minnesota nor North Dakota have the death penalty. Sure, kidnapping with a murder across state lines is a federal crime. However, did you see the Commonwealths of Maryland and Virginia dropping their first shots at the DC snipers just because the Feds were prosecuting too? Then how come it looks like North Dakota and Minnesota are giving Rodriguez over to their respective US Attorney?

Rodriguez to face federal charges in Sjodin case
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens made some strong statements against the death penalty recently while in Chicago at a Bar function for the Seventh Circuit. During his remarks, Justice Stevens indicated that he feels the death penalty is constitutional but that the country would be much better off without it. Justice Stevens is one justice who has made particular comments on the execution of juveniles in the past. He will be a crucial vote in the execution of minors case which is currently before the Court.

Justice Stevens Says Country Can Do Without Death Penalty

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The Governor of New Hampshire, Craig Benson, vetoed a bill on Monday that would have raised the minimum execution age in New Hampshire from 17 to 18. It is a sad day for the State of New Hampshire. Apparently, Governor Benson wanted to make certain that anyone who killed a police officer would be eligible for the death penalty even if that person was 17. The New Hampshire Senate does not have enough votes to override the veto.

N.H. Governor Vetoes Death Penalty Bill

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Osvaldo Torres

Attorneys are utilizing their last resorts in the fight to save the life of Mexican national Osvaldo Torres. Torres was one of over 50 foreign nationals cited by the International Court of Justice in its March ruling that the rights of several foreign nationals had been violated when no one informed them that they could seek help from their home nations under the 1963 Vienna convention. Torres was convicted for killing a couple during a burglary in 1993 and is scheduled to be executed on May 18th. Attorneys are now seeking clemency for Torres from the Governor of Oklahoma.

Board urges clemency for Mexican national
The European Union has an official policy statement on the United States' use of the death penalty. In general, Tthe he EU "considers that abolition of the death penalty contributes to the enhancement of human dignity and the progressive development of human rights." Yesterday's policy update on the death penalty in the US criticized the states of Texas and Oklahoma in particular for the upcoming executions of Kelsey Patterson and Osvaldo Torres (both scheduled for May 18). Mr. Patterson has a history of documented mental illness, and Mr. Torres is a Mexican national. I have also provided a link to the EU's general policy statements on the death penalty in the sidebar.

European Union Statement on Death Penalty in the US
The debate in Massachusetts continues. This morning, a commentary on the "scientific certainty" of Governor Romney's capital punishment plan. The article criticizes the idea that any plan for applying the death penalty could ever be foolproof or "no doubt." The author provides a couple of good examples of how DNA evidence could be used to convict (and kill) the wrong individual and proposes that Massachusetts leave the death penalty off the table and, instead, work to determine how wrongful convictions come about and attempt to prevent more from happening.

"then [the council] has failed to achieve the Romney administration's stated goal--a system where there is 'no doubt' as to the defendant's guilt and where (here the weasel words creep in) the result is 'as accurate as humanly possible' (emphasis added). Rather than pursue this unattainable objective, we should continue to ban capital punishment, while improving the criminal-justice system generally by establishing an Innocence Commission to examine how each wrongful conviction has come about and seek to prevent recurrences."

Scientific uncertainty

Friday, May 07, 2004

This is a VERY interesting article on the science of brain development and the application of the death penalty to teenagers. According to this article (and a brief filed with the US Supreme Court), teenage brains are not as well developed or organized as adult brains, which often causes teenagers to act more impulsively and make poor decisions. The brief argues that this physiological difference alone makes teenagers less culpable for their crimes. In fact, some scientists feel the adult brain is not fully developed until age 25 or 26 (and not at the arbitrarily set "adult" age of 18).

Teen Brains on Trial
Here's more information on the graduation talks given by MiKe Farrell and Sister Helen Prejean at Notre Dame de Namur University last week.

Notre Dame grads hear plea to end death penalty

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Looks like several Californians disagree with their Senators regarding the appropriate punishment for the alleged killer of Police Officer Isaac Espinoza. Several dozen showed up in support of District Attorney Kamala Harris who is pushing for a sentence of life without parole. One of the attenders' parents were both murdered in 1993. Her quoted statement is one I wholeheartedly agree with: "Vengeance does not equal justice."

Foes of death penalty rally at City Hall
This blurb from today's New York Times:

"TEXAS: DEATH PENALTY UPHELD FOR INMATE The State Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the death sentence of an inmate whose case was returned to the lower court by the United States Supreme Court based on his claims of mental retardation. Lawyers argued that the inmate, Michael W. Hall, convicted of murdering a grocery clerk in 1998 in Fort Worth, had an I.Q. below 70, a widely accepted standard in determining retardation. The state court said testimony regarding Mr. Hall's mental capacity was outweighed by evidence to the contrary. Steve Barnes (NYT)"

I think the death penalty is one of the only arenas in which individuals of lower IQ are forced to prove that they really have a lower IQ (besides the Social Security Administration, which could take up another whole Blog). Its a balancing test apparently: "Well, we have this evidence on the one hand that you may not completely understand what's happening to you and why you are being executed. However, we have all this other evidence that you are a murdering bastard, so we're going to find some way to have our evidence override your constitutional right to understand your punishment and crime."

Ok, I'm done now. I'm going to go take a look at what the "evidence" outweighing evidence of Hall's mental capacity actually is before I prematurely judge the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. I'll judge them more AFTER I've read their reasoning. Forgive my premature erruption. You can go back to your regularly scheduled program.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Two former inmates, who have now been exonerated, spoke to a gathering of people in the Sandhills area of North Carolina about the urgent need for a moratorium on executions in North Carolina (one man was on death row, the other escaped a death sentence by one juror vote). The two men discussed the many inconsistencies in the application of the death penalty in North Carolina and the serious issues raised by the exoneration of innocent victims who were previously on death row awaiting execution for crimes they did not commit.

Two quoted statistics stuck out to me in particular:

1) One of the men cited a statistic (the article does not say from where) that for every seven prisoners executed there is one on death row who is innocent. That's a pretty high percentage.

2) The former death row inmate's appellate counsel noted that "More than 17 percent of the prisoners on death row [in North Carolina] were represented by attorneys that have been disciplined by the state bar." (again, the source was not cited)

North Carolina Community Debates Need for Moratorium
A bit of irony for this morning: Massachusetts has ordered its police forces to track all traffic stops for racial profiling. Apparently, there is a concern that certain police officers are using a driver's race as enough for "reasonable suspicion" (they call that "driving while black" or "DWB" around here). In the article, Bishop Filipe Teixeira, a Catholic bishop in the Commonwealth noted that he's heard complaints of minorities being targeted. He is quoted as stating "We do have bad apples in the police departments." Now, I know this quote didn't come from the government, but am I the only one who finds it ironic that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is launching a data collection probe to study racial profiling in its police departments at the same time that it has supposedly come up with a fool proof plan to reinstate the death penalty with no room for error?

Massachusetts launches racial profiling probe

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Senator Barbara Boxer (D. Cal.) gets accused of being ultra-liberal from time to time. She especially takes this criticism during election time. She recently sought out the US Attorney who is in charge of prosecuting the case of a 21-year old known gang member in San Francisco who is accused of shooting a police officer and has asked the US Attorney to seek the death penalty. Maybe I'm just cynical (ok that's not a maybe), but I have to wonder if Senator Boxer really thinks this particular crime and its accused are deserving of a punishment of death, or if she is playing the political machine in an attempt to ward off her foes who believe her to be too liberal (even for the State of California).

Sen. Boxer calls for death penalty in SF cop killer case

Medicating the Mentally Ill to Allow Execution

Medicating the mentally ill to make them "sane enough" to execute is a very disturbing concept to me. Apparently, the Louisiana legislature is considering a bill that if enacted would make it easier to execute the mentally ill by allowing forms of medication to make an inmate competent enough to be executed (in certain cases). The Louisiana Supreme Court has outlawed the practice in general, but the proposed law finds a way to get through a loop hole in the State Supreme Court's opinion on the issue by allowing medication in cases where the inmate poses a risk to himself or others.

Personally, I find this question not only disturbing, but also intellectually interesting. It creates quite a quandary really. The United States Supreme Court has found it unconstitutional to execute the mentally ill. Arguably, a person with a mental illness can be medicated to a point of sanity that makes him or her competent enough to be executed (I don't understand the difference personally, but who I am?). What is a prison warden to do if an inmate refuses to be medicated in order that he or she can stay sick enough to be legally incompetent to be executed (and thereby stay alive)? Is it our place to force medication on a person simple so that we might take their life?

Louisiana prosecutors push bill on execution of mentally ill
Three executions scheduled for May all bring up troubling issues about the application of the death penalty. One of the inmates is a Mexican foreign national, another is a paranoid schizophrenic, and the third has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Executions in May Raise Troubling Issues
The quote I find most interesting in this article about Gov. Romney's plans is the one at the bottom: "What's so curious about this proposal is [Romney] is trying to bring back capital punishment in Massachusetts when the trend across the country now is in the opposite direction." The statement was made by a Democrat in the Mass legislature who opposes Romney's plan.

Romney Announces His Plans
It looks like the DAs in Massachusetts may not be as keen on Governor Romney's capital punishment plan as he might have hoped.

District Attorneys React to Mass Governor's Plan

Monday, May 03, 2004

Since the "focus" for today has centered on the class distinctions obvious within the unequal application of the death penalty, I thought I would pass on this quotation from Furman:

"Not only does capital punishment fail in its justification, but no punishment could be invented with so many inherent defects. It is an unequal punishment in the way it is applied to the rich and to the poor. The defendant of wealth and position never goes to the electric chair or to the gallows.”

– Justice Douglas, concurring in Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 251-52 (1972)

(P.S. For you non-lawyer types, Furman is the seminal case from the United States Supreme Court on the modern imposition of the death penalty.)
This article lists out the supposed safe guards that the commission in Mass has proposed in its attempts to help bring capital punishment back to Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Safegaurd Proposals


I have been asked to post some of my personal opinions on the issues surrounding the death penalty and my reasons for coming to those opinions. I will start today with something from the Farrell speech, infra. Capital punishment in the United States is inherently classist. Take the case of OJ Simpson for you think that if OJ was an unknown indigent black man from East LA who was accused of killing his wife and her friend with the same evidence that he would have been found not guilty? With the exact same evidence, innocent or not, if OJ had been the East LAite I describe, chances are he would have been convicted. He would not have been able to afford his own attorney, not to mention his own herd of attorneys. He would have been saddled with a public defender who likely had a case load of over 300 cases for the year (as opposed to the 1 or 2 cases Simpson's team handled that year). His case would not have been on television, and he more than likely would have been chained to the table in an orange jump suit. The double murder would have landed OJ on death row if he had been convicted. How many people think he would have been found not guilty if he had not been able to hire the counsel he did? How many people think he would have been found not guilty if he had been forced to rely on a (highly competent!) worn out/over worked public defender? It would have been a very different story for Orenthal James Simpson if he hadn't had the money and fame he had. I'm not saying he committed those murders...what I'm saying is that he would have been more likely to have been found guilty of them if he hadn't been who he was. Its an extreme classism example, I know.

Its been 7 years or so since OJ was acquitted. His execution would be fast approaching if he was sitting on death row. I have to many more are there out there who might have been found not guilty if they'd had the money to pay counsel as OJ did? Whether you think OJ is innocent or guilty, it is still food for thought. It is especially food for thought if OJ (and his East LA alter ego) did not commit the crime.
Mike Farrell and Sister Helen Prejean (of "Dead Man Walking" fame) were the featured speakers at Notre Dame de Namur University's recent graduation ceremonies. Both Farrell and Prejean are known death penalty activists. This statement by Farrell as noted in the below article caught my attention in particular: "Calling the death penalty 'the manifestation of classism,' Farrell likened the practice to a garbage can -- once you open the lid and examine what it really is, you'll find the 'most putrid, disgusting aspects of society,' like classism and racism." He is so very right.

Farrell is one of the leader's of Death Penalty Focus, an anti-death group in California.

Graduation speakers speak out
The Alabama legislature is debating anti-death penalty legislation in the waning hours of its legislative session. There is little-to-no chance that the legislation will pass, but at least there is ongoing debate and conversation.

Anti-death penalty bills keep Death Row debate alive
A panel in Massachusetts has put together a plan for a capital punishment system it calls "as infallible as humanly possible." The Governor of Massachusetts established the commission to explore bringing capital punishment back to Massachusetts. From the spin in the articles on this commission, it sounds like there is a good chance that Massachusetts could see the return of the death penalty. If so, that would reduce the number of death-free jurisdictions in the United States to 11.

Panel crafts Massachusetts death-penalty law

Sunday, May 02, 2004

I'm not sure exactly what I envision for this blog. However, I do know that I have looked for a central place with all the resources a fired up abolitionist could want, and I didn't find one. Perhaps this will serve that purpose...if only for the author. More to come...