Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Looks like I have a lot of updating to do. This includes my thoughts on the Supreme Court's decision on the non-retroactivity of Ring (which makes no sense to me by the way). I'll be updating soon. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Stephen LaValle and the State of New York

Yeeee haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw! The Court of Appeals for the State of New York (the highest court in the state) has overturned the death sentence of Stephen LaValle. In the process, it has invalidated the state's death penalty law. Until the legislature "fixes" a problem the Court saw with the jury instructions, the Court of Appeals has said that the death penalty cannot be imposed. Amazing.

New York Court of Appeals invalidates death law

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

It appears that the Alabama Attorney General has a bee in his bonnet as far as executing death row inmates. He's vowed to speed up the appeals process so that people don't sit on death row as long and the state can get on with their executions. I guess I just don't get it. For me, I think the appeals should take as long as they take. Someone's life is as stake, shouldn't we take as much time as is needed before killing them? Once they're dead, they're dead. You can't bring them back because of a rushed mistake in an appeals court. At the same time, I think it is cruel and unusual punishment to let someone sit on death row for 20 years and then execute them. At some point, I think the death sentence should be commuted. Its just too much mental anguish for one person to make them sit in a tiny cell alone for 23 hours a day for 20 or so years contemplating their own death.

Alabama to Speed up Appeals

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Looks like quite a few abolitionists are going to be staging a protest in front of the Supreme Court in Washington D.C. at the end of the month. The protest will recognize the 32nd anniversary of Furman v. Georgia and the 28th anniversary of the case which overturned Furman, Gregg v. Georgia. Best wishes to all of you participating in this protest.

Activists Plan 4-Day Anti-Death Penalty Protest

Monday, June 21, 2004

Believe it or not, the State of Florida has now made it MORE difficult for an indigent capital inmate to find a quality lawyer on appeal. The state is refusing to commit to paying lawyers more than $3500 for a death penalty appeal. This is, of course, going to make many lawyers unwilling to take death penalty appeals for poor clients, and is just another indication of how classism is rampant in the application of the death penalty. You have a right to a lawyer for at least your first appeal, but you don't have the right to any particular sort of quality. Trust me, $3500 doesn't go very far.

State limits funds for death penalty appeals

Saturday, June 19, 2004

The jury in the Virginia trial of Lee Boyd Malvo is speaking out. From the sounds of it, there were four jurors would held firm to their belief that Malvo should not receive a death sentence for his role in the sniper shootings around DC and that a life in prison was suficient punishment for a boy they thought would never have become a serial killer if not for the influence of his step-father. Interestingly enough, some of the jurors thought a life sentence was too harsh a punishment for the young boy.

Death Penalty Deliberations Tore Malvo Jury Apart

Friday, June 18, 2004

Ah the irony... One would think that it would be cheaper just to kill a convicted murderer than to house them in prison for the remainder of their lives. Of course, those of us that pay attention know that this is not even close to true. The attached article from the website of a Baltimore television station notes that it costs the State of Maryland an average of $2.3 million for each death penalty case. Compare that to the $768,000 it would cost to house the same inmate for 40 years and you have a big difference. For those of you not good at math, the cost of a death case in Maryland is apparently 3 times that of a life imprisonment. Now, the article also quotes a statistic from Florida which found that between 1976 and 2000 the State of Florida spent $24 million on each of its executions. I wonder if the Florida taxpayers realize that...oh wait, they don't have state income tax in Florida. Who pays for it then? Tourists? Huh, boycott anyone?

How Much Do Executions Cost In Maryland?
Apparently there is a new effort by some abolitionists to target the medical doctors who are present during executions and assist in the administration of the chemicals. Certainly, it would seem that participation in an execution presents an ethical quandary for physicians who have taken an oath to uphold and preserve life. Of course, some would say that I'm hypocritical in such a statement since I support the right of an individual to physician assisted suicide. Some would say there is no difference. To me, there is. Physician assisted suicide comes at the choice and urging of a terminally ill patient who has a trusted relationship with their physician (one would hope). Executions come at the hand of the State in an effort to pursue some form of "justice." Its nothing more than murder, and it has nothing to do with the practice of medicine or valuing life. There is a big difference.

Death Penalty Ethics Quandary for Doctors
There is a new documentary out on the travesty of the death penalty in the United States. The documentary specifically covers the time leading up to when Governor Ryan placed a moratorium on executions in the State of Illinois. The film "Deadline" was a 2004 entry at Sundance. Hopefully, it will be released to some independent theaters or become available on cable.

The article made some poignant statements. The first, reflects on remarks made by novelist Scott Turow who was a part of a special commission created by Governor Ryan. The article notes: "Turow points out that in the case of the death penalty, one mistake is too many, not only for the person executed, but for the whole edifice of justice." It is so true. The tragedy of a mistake with the death penalty extends well beyond the life and family of the person executed. It also flys in the face of justice herself.

The second statement relates to President Bush. It speaks for itself:

"Yet Illinois is surely not the only state with this problem. What of the 152 people who were executed in Texas when George Bush was governor? When running for election in 2000, Bush said he was 100 percent sure everybody he executed was guilty. He was also 100 percent sure about the 'weapons of mass destruction' in Iraq."

New documentary indicts death penalty

Steven Oken - Maryland

Maryland executed Steven Oken at 9:18pm last night. See my below posts for more on Oken's appeals. I just don't have much to say on this one.

Triple murderer in Maryland executed

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Steven Oken

The US Supreme Court lifted the stay granted to Steven Oken late last night. He is eligible to be executed before Friday night. In Maryland, the date and time of an execution is not published ahead of time.

Court reverses stay of execution in Md.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Steven Oken

A federal judge granted Steven Oken a stay of execution today based on a need to examine the lethal injection procedures that would be used to kill him. The court cited Maryland's failure to provide Oken with the details of the execution procedures until this past Friday (Oken was scheduled to be executed sometime this week at an unpublished time). Oken's lawyers have questioned the ability of the first chemical administered, a barbituate, to numb him to the pain inflicted when the second two drugs are administered.

CNN.com - Stay given to inmate questioning lethal injection procedures

Monday, June 14, 2004

A prosecuter in my former state of Nebraska is trying to get a judge who is morally opposed to the death penalty removed from a penalty panel in a high profile case involving a shooting at a bank in Norfolk. I remember this shooting, it was horrible, and the gunmen were on the loose as fugitives for awhile. Still, it doesn't change my opinion as to whether they deserve the death penalty, and I don't think it should change whether a judge has a right to his own moral opinion. His job is to apply the law. Hopefully, he can do that and still stay within his morality. Lord knows, I for one, in this instance, hope he goes beyond the law if necessary. I think a life is worth it.

Sentencing panel in Norfolk bank case may be shaken up

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Steven Oken

The attached link leads to a very interesting article in the Baltimore Sun about the "difficulties" that Steven Oken's upcoming execution creates. Oken is a white adult male who admitted to the grisley killing he is being executed for. The article opines that this makes Oken's execution more difficult for death penalty opponents to decry. There is also some discussion as to how executing Oken first (a white adult male with no question of guilt) may be a political move to help soften some of the uncomfortability with the death penalty before Maryland executes some of its more questionable cases (read: black men) after a two year moratorium.

There are lots of substantive legal problems with the death penalty and its processes (I've discussed them before). However, just because Oken doesn't meet any of those other easier arguments doesn't mean his death is any less wrong. For most abolitionists, the main point to be had is that government killing of a human being is wrong. Just because a man like Oken is clearly guilty of killing those he killed, and presumably he judged their right to live before taking their life, does not mean that we are in the position to take his. No matter how clear the guilt and how sane the inmate, the truth is that capital punishment is no more than government sanctioned murder...premeditated and put on show.

Oken's case a challenge in debate on death penalty

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Terry Nichols

Well, two juries now have declined to give Terry Nichols the death penalty for his involvement in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. I can say that I'm very surprised that a jury of Oklahomans would spare Nichols' life. Perhaps I have too little faith in the jury system. From what I understanding Terry Nichols is the poster boy for mitigating circumstances.

Nichols Again Spared Death Sentence

Friday, June 11, 2004

The Louisiana legislature has officially rejected a Bill before it that would have abolished the death penalty for 16- and -17-year-olds. Apparently, critics of the bill feel that certain crimes are deserving of punishment by the "harshest means possible." Personally, I think 18 is even too young to understand what it means to lose your life (or for the person you've killed to lose their life). The Supreme Court will comment on this issue shortly. It will be interesting to see what they have to say. I guess I'm biased, but I just have trouble seeing how a 16 year old could have the cognizence to understand their punishment even if they are capable of having culpability for their crime.

Bill to ban teen death penalty is rejected

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Steven Oken

The next scheduled execution is of Steven Oken of Maryland. If executed, Oken will be the first to be executed in Maryland since a statewide moratorium three years ago. The attached article describes some Roman Catholic Cardinals' attempts to spare Oken's life.

Cardinals ask governor to spare Oken from death penalty

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Robert Leroy Bryan - Oklahoma

The State of Oklahoma executed Leroy Bryan last night after the US Supreme Court denied his last minute appeal. There was little question that Bryan committed the crimes for which he was being executed. However, there were questions as to the appropriateness of his execution (shouldn't there always be those questions?). To his family, his execution was both troubling and a gift. Bryan suffered from diabetes and had lost one leg and control of his bodily functions. However, there was also evidence that Bryan did not understand the meaning of his execution and what it meant to die by lethal injection. His last minute appeal to the Supreme Court asserted his civil rights were being violated because he was not competent to be executed. The Supreme Court took all of 80 minutes to decide whether to accept Bryan's case. Perhaps I am a cynic, but I somehow doubt you can determine a person's competency to understand their own execution in an 80 minute review of a legal file. Then again, I'm not on the Supreme Court. If I were, things would be different...

Federal court turns down death row inmate's final appeal

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

William Zuern - Ohio

The State of Ohio executed William Zuern this morning after he decided not to appeal to the United States Supreme Court. Zuern refused a final comment and stuffed his ears with toilet paper so he couldn't hear the prison guards talking to him during his final hours. He was executed for the 1984 stabbing death of a guard in the jail where he was being held pending trial on another charge.

Ohio executes inmate for stabbing jail guard to death

Monday, June 07, 2004

Now here's an idea: a State which actually is setting qualifications for its death-penalty lawyers. What a novel thought as to make sure that those lawyers representing an accused in a capital case actually have some experience in criminal law. I mean, I'm an attorney, but God help whatever accused got me as his or her attorney at trial. That would just be unethical.

Court sets qualifications for death-penalty lawyers

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

I'm not sure who the author of this editorial is, but the attached link leads to a fairly interesting commentary on Laurence Adams and the current push in Massachusetts to bring back the death penalty (see postings below in May regarding the Massachusetts proposals and the release of Laurence Adams after 30 years).

Let death penalty die