Monday, December 12, 2005

A bigger list...

I've been thinking about The Lonely Abolitionist tonight. I looked back to see what kind of posts I've made in the last few months. I've done very few, and only 2 obits since Michael Ross. That means that my blog has missed one of its main stays, the obit, for several individuals. I went and looked at the list of executions for 2005 and the list is longer than I ever imagined. I still mark them on my calendar, and I still pay attention, but I just never realized how long the list is. So, here is one giant obit for the time from Michael Ross to Tookie Williams:

Vernon Brown - Missouri - May 17, 2005 - 51 years old
Bryan Wolfe - Texas - May 18, 2005 - 44 years old
Richard Cartwright - Texas - May 19, 2005 - 31 years old
Gregory Scott Johnson - Indiana - May 25, 2005 - 40 years old
Jerry Paul Henderson - Alabama - June 2, 2005 - 58 years old
Alexander Martinez - Texas - June 7, 2005 - 28 years old*
Robert Dale Conklin - Georgia - July 12, 2005 - 44 years old
Michael L. Pennington - Oklahoma - July 19, 2005 - 37 years old
Kevin Connor - Indiana - July 27, 2005 - 38 years old
David Martinez - Texas - July 28, 2005 - 29 years old
George Sibly - Alabama - August 4, 2005 - 62 years old
Gary Sterling - Texas - August 10, 2005 - 38 years old
Kenneth Eugene Turrentine - Oklahoma - August 11, 2005 - 52 years old
Robert Alan Shields - Texas - August 23, 2005 - 30 years old
Timothy Johnston - Missouri - August 31, 2005 - 44 years old
John W. Peoples Jr. - Alabama - September 22, 2005 - 48 years old
Herman Dale Ashworth - Ohio - September 27, 2005 - 32 years old
Alan Matheney - Indiana - September 28, 2005 - 54 years old
Luis Ramirez - Texas - October 20, 2005 - 42 years old
William Williams, Jr. - Ohio - October 25, 2005 - 48 years old
Marlin Gray - Missouri - October 26, 2005 - 38 years old
Melvin White - Texas - November 3, 2005 - 55 years old
Brian Steckel - Deleware - November 4, 2005 - 36 years old
Arthur Hastings Wise - South Carolina - November 4, 2005 - 51 years old
Charles Thacker - Texas - November 9, 2005 - 38 years old
Steven Van McHone - North Carolina - November 11, 2005 - 35 years old
Robert Rowell - Texas - November 15, 2005 - 50 years old
Shannon Thomas - Texas - November 16, 2005 - 34 years old
Elias Hanna Syriani - North Carolina - November 18, 2005 - 67 years old
Eric Randall Nance - Arkansas - November 28, 2005 - 45 years old
John R. Hicks - Ohio - November 29, 2005 - 49 years old
Kenneth Lee Boyd - North Carolina - December 2, 2005 - 57 years old
Shawn Humphries - South Carolina - December 2, 2005 - 33 years old
Wesley E. Baker - Maryland - December 5, 2005 - 47 years old

*28 years old. He was only 28!! (Martinez "volunteered" for death...suicide by lethal injection).

Tookie Williams and More

I haven't been able to blog consistently for months. I don't know why that is. I don't know if I use work as an excuse, or if I really am too busy to keep up with this in a dedicated fashion. The thing is, keeping up this blog wears me out and yet it impassions me at the same time. It keep me aware and it allows me to feel connected to my cause and to my passion. Regular posting also attracted regular readers and those readers brought in other readers and together, through the grass roots of Internet blogging, we spread the word. Somehow though, I just haven't had the energy to write these last few months.

Tonight, I want to write. I want to write about a man I've never met but to whom I feel connected. California will shortly kill Tookie Williams. There is very little left that could spare him. The Gubernator was almost his last chance, and as politics goes, he was not about the spare Tookie because its not in his best interests politically (arguably!).

As you know, I am against the execution of any individual; however, I am APPALLED at the execution of Tookie Williams. I don't get it. What purpose does it serve? Tookie Williams could do more good for the morally bankrupt kids that end up getting sucked into Los Angeles gangs like the Crips than any other person alive. Tookie Williams changed his life from behind bars and he could serve so much good in showing others how to as well. What good can he do dead? Does his death REALLY show that California is serious about crime and will execute you if you do something it deems deserving of death? Does it really show that? How long was Tookie on death row? Do you even know? 25 years! Tookie Williams served on California's death row for 25 years. Now, after all that time, California thinks its time to kill him.

I don't know if there were errors in Tookie's trial. Even if there weren't critical legal errors, it was almost certainly racist and classist. Despite all that, sparing Tookie should have nothing to do with whether his trial was proper. It has nothing to do with whether he's innocent or guilty (and admitting guilt could be a double edged sword). Tookie Williams writes books to children and counsels teenagers about getting out of gang life. He reportedly spends his time in San Quentin trying to figure out how to save teenagers from entering a life (likely shortened life) of violent crime. There is some evidence that contradicts this and there are skeptics out there that believe that Tookie's books are all a scam and a way to try to get attention and prevent his death. I suppose they could be. That said, there are doubters of everything in this world (even obvious monstrosities). You will ALWAYS find someone with the opposite viewpoint on things. I don't know what the truth is, but I do know that Tookie's been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times by reputable sources.

Is Tookie Williams a "good man"? I don't know (and how does one define a "good man"?). I do know that he should be given a chance. I do know that the chance that he could help even one person stay out of a gang is worth a shot. I would bet my everything I own that he would save more lives alive than dead. Pro-death penalty folks argue that his death will show gang members and other violent criminals that there is a penalty for murder. They say it will deter future murders. (Perhaps, but the evidence on deterrence is nominal to slim at best.) I tend to think that if Tookie Williams is as legitimately changed as he appears to be that he can do a lot more good and prevent a lot more murders if California just lets him live and continue his work.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


I apologize. I just spent over an hour deleting all the SPAM comments posted on various posts. I received notification of these in email, but I thought they were just SPAM emails. I realized after going through all of my posts that these SPAM emails were really actual blog comments. From now on, if you wish to comment on a post, you will have to enter a coded word as a SPAM safety feature. I apologize for the extra step, but its necessary.

By the way, I promise I will be back soon. Our work year ends at the end of November and I'll be better able to get my bearings about me after that.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Ronald Ray Howard - Texas

Texas executed Ronald Ray Howard last night. Thirty-two year old Howard was executed for the killing of Texas Department of Public safety Officer Bill Davidson when he was 18. Howard's case is fairly well-known. His attorneys argued that Howard killed Davidson as the result of the influence of "gangsta rap" music and its anti-police messages.

Before his death, Howard turned to Davidson's widow, daughter and brother and told them he hoped "this helps a little. I don't know how, but I hope it helps."

I guess that's all there is to say. I agree with Howard.

"Gangsta rap" killer executed for trooper's death

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Johnny Paul Penry

Great news! The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has overturned Johnny Paul Penry's death sentence and remanded it to the trial court for a new punishment trial. The Court held that the jury in Penry's most recent retrial may not have considered his claims of mental impairment.

Penry was convicted of the 1979 murder of Pamela Carpenter to which he confessed. His IQ is reportedly below 70, although prosecutors have long argued that Penry's other social issues have prevented him from properly taking the IQ test (I wonder, did his lower IQ play a part in that confession? hmm). The United States Supreme Court already reversed Penry's sentence on two separate occasions (in 1989 and 2001) and the reasoning in those opinions has changed the way courts instruct juries in capital cases.

One has to wonder if the State of Texas will ever just give up and let Penry live his life out in a maximum security prison somewhere.

Texas court overturns death sentence

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Frances Newton - Texas

I'm not sure I can do it. I'm not sure I can write about the end of Frances' life. She was just one woman. Yet, she was one of the individuals who has affected me the most in this endeavor. There have been three so far that have affected me like this. Two of them are now dead - killed by their own government (both in Texas). The first was James Allridge. James was completely rehabilitated. He admitted his crimes, but he was a changed man, and according to all accounts was a good hearted, kind man who had become a productive member of his society. The second was and is Paul House. Paul is on death row in Tennessee. His case will be argued before the United States Supreme Court this fall (Paul has a fairly strong innocence case with a DNA component). Paul also has active M.S. and his body is degenerating. Unfortunately, it seems likely Paul could die in prison (if he is innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted, as far as I'm concerned, locking him up on death row for the remainder of his days is murder whether he dies strapped to a gurney or if he dies of complications of his M.S.). The third was Frances Newton.

I don't mean to be a drama queen about any of this, but I really have been in a morose mood since last night. Any of the limited faith I had that the "system" cared about actual innocence or negligent prosecution was shattered last night. Frances Newton spent the last 18 years of her life behind bars waiting to die . She was convicted of killing her own family. With the additional evidence waiting to be tested and the evidence of her negligent prosecution, its possible Frances Newton was innocent of those crimes. At the very least, its HIGHLY possible that a more appropriately run prosecution of those crimes may have resulted in Frances being given a life sentence. If Frances was indeed innocent (as she fought to prove for 18 years), that means the State of Texas convicted an innocent woman of killing her own husband and her own two children and then placed her in an isolated death row prison cell to await her own murder. I don't think that's what the drafters of our Constitution envisioned when they imagined the results of due process. The government is supposed to protect its citizens, not kill them because their time has run out and no more appeals are "available." How can appeals "run out" when there is still more evidence to review?

Normally, I might mention the family of the victims in an obituary posting like this. Obviously, an execution is a painful time not just for family of the condemned but also for the families of those who were murdered to begin with. It is important to remember the lives of those that were taken at the hands of another. I have posted on this before. I will not repeat myself. However, in this obituary, the family of the victims WAS Frances Newton herself. The irony of all of this is that if Frances did not kill her husband and two children, today might have been the day that Frances would have been asked to witness the execution of whomever did kill them. She would have been the family member seeking closure through the murder of her daughter's killer. I don't know whether Frances would have agreed with capital punishment had she never been on death row. I do know, however, that Frances' trial and conviction were not exemplary. I do know that there was evidence that might very well have cleared Frances if it had been tested properly. If Frances was innocent, her time to grieve was taken by the state and she was forced to endure a trial for the very murders she may have needed to grieve. That also means that instead of serving as the family of the victim on execution day, Frances Newton died and the individual who might have been strapped to the gurney in her stead is walking free.

We may never know whether Frances was innocent or not. Ultimately, however, that should not be the point. Frances' death (or the death of the person who's execution Frances might have been asked to watch were she the victim instead of the condemned) served no purpose, guilty or not. Frances' death was not necessary even if she was guilty. Frances' death, like every other killing on death row, was a statement society did not need. Who did Frances Newton's death bring closure for? As Amnesty International asks "Why do we kill to show others that killing is wrong?" Its bad public policy to kill anyone. Its especially bad public policy to kill a possibly innocent individual.

This obituary has not even touched on the fact that Frances Newton was a black woman. I wonder how hard it was for a black woman accused of killing her black husband to get a "fair" trial with an "impartial" jury in Harris County, Texas in 1987. How hard is it in 2005? How hard is it anywhere in the United States?

Frances Newton died at shortly after 6:00 p.m. on September 14th. She was 40 years old at the time of her death.

Texas Executes Woman for Killing Family

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Frances Newton

Well, I guess it takes scaring the bejeebers out of me to get back in the saddle. We'll see if I can keep up, but for today, I'm starting with Frances Newton.

Frances Newton is scheduled to be executed tonight by the State of Texas. There is untested evidence in this case that could show that Frances Newton may well be actually innocent. The Texas courts and Governor Perry are aware of this possibility. The courts have denied Frances another stay of execution. Her appeals are supposedly "up."

I don't get it. I just don't get it. If you have evidence that might show someone is innocent (or at least provide cause for a new trial), why wouldn't you test it? If you believe in the death penalty, why wouldn't you do EVERYTHING you could to assure someone was truly guilty before killing them? Isn't a death penalty proponents biggest fear the execution of a person who is actually innocent? Wouldn't the execution of an innocent woman in Texas totally undermine the Texas death penalty system?

Save Governor Perry's office and urge him to commute her sentence (at the very least).

Last-ditch efforts made to save Frances Newton

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Larry Griffin

If you care about abolition, you need to read this article. Heck, if you care about society and the human condition you need to read this article.

The State of Missouri may very well have executed an innocent man. Larry Griffin, who was convicted of killing Quintin Moss in 1981, was killed by the State of Missouri in 1995. As is not uncommon, Larry maintained his innocence until his death. Now, even member's of the Moss' family believe the Griffin was not Quintin's killer.

Ok, so this is not the first time that someone has claimed innocence. Its also not the first time that the victim's family has believed someone else committed the murder. The difference this time? The prosecution has REOPENED the case. Larry Griffin is DEAD, but now the State has reopened the case based on alarming evidence that Larry may not have killed Quintin Moss. HELLO.

I'm assuming there are very few people out there who are not concerned that we might execute the innocent (those that are not figure the innocent are collateral damage I guess? There are also those that think that even if the convicted person is innocent of that particular murder, they probably did something else horrible so their execution is ok? that's good public policy. I hope they are not on my jury if I'm accused of something horrid.). Thing is, despite the number who are shocked and horrified by the idea of killing an innocent person, many of those still think capital punishment should be part of public policy. To many, the problem is not capital punishment, its conviction of the innocent. Huh...I guess I just don't see how those two don't go hand in hand. Perhaps proof that an innocent was murdered by our government will help convince the dissenters.

Of course, for me, whether Larry Griffin killed Quintin Moss or not, did not justify his death. However, if he did NOT kill Quintin Moss, then he was a sacrificial lamb in a horrifying display of power. If Griffin didn't kill Moss, then the State took away 14 years of his life in a prison cell and then cancelled his life for good in 1995. Larry Griffin was 40 at the time of his death. 40!

Executed man's case reopened

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Paul Gregory House

I know there is other DP news that I've missed this week and I'm sorry. I will try to get to it. However, I just have to share this news!

The Supreme Court has accepted Paul House's petition for certiorari! Paul is trying to get a new trial after DNA evidence (and other evidence) has pointed the finger at the victim's husband. I've written about Paul before. He's been on death row for years, has always claimed his innocence, and is currently suffering from MS. The Sixth Circuit decision in his appeal split the judges 8-7 in favor of the state. It was one of the worst opinions I've read in awhile. In fact, some of the dissenting judges opined that they believed Paul is innocent! Yet, the court refused him a new trial. This is where the system gets quirky.

Paul House is suffering greatly from his MS. If he gets his new trial and the jury finds him not guilty, I just pray that it is in time for him to get back out into the world and enjoy some of his life. If this doesn't happen soon, Paul may die in the infirmary on death row. Whether he is executed or dies of his MS behind bars, the result is the same if he is an innocent man: an innocent man spent his last days on earth (and his last YEARS) behind the bars of Tennessee's death row.

I don't know if Paul is innocent, and I haven't reviewed all the evidence, but the DNA evidence alone is compelling. I have to leave that decision to a jury. However, for now, I'm pleased that Paul will get the chance to fight for his life a little bit longer.

DNA evidence on Supreme Court agenda

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Texas - Life without Parole

Wow. First the Supreme Court and now the State of Texas does something extraordinary (for it anyway). Governor Rick Perry signed a law this week that will allow juries to choose a sentence of life without possibility of parole instead of the death penalty. Prior to this law, Texas only had two options in "capital" crimes: death or life with the possibility of parole after 40 years. Jurors who are afraid that a violent criminal will be released and offend again and choose the death penalty because to them it is the lesser of two bad options (even if they think the defendant does not deserve death), will now be less stuck between a rock and a hard place. (see Kelsey Patterson for a good example of this)

As you all know, I'm a big advocate of the life without parole option. I'm the first one to say that I think most convicted capital murderers (provided there were no other constitutional issues with the conviction and no evidence of actual innocence) should be locked away for the remainder of their natural lives. There are some crimes that capital punishment jurisdictions find worthy of death that I do not think fall into the category of necessitating life without parole (in certain circumstances), but overall, I think life without possibility of parole is the most appropriate option.

Huh...I wonder if I am still on hiatus...

Texas withdraws parole option in murder cases

Monday, June 13, 2005

Thomas Miller-El

The Supreme Court did something extraordinary today. They listened to a man convicted in Texas of a capital crime who claimed his jury was unfairly stacked with white jurors. It not only listened, it agreed. As David Elliot would say, the Supreme Court gave the Fifth Circuit a big ole slap down. Six of the nine Supreme Court Justices found that the Texas prosecutors who prosecuted Thomas Miller-El for the 1985 murder of a Dallas motel clerk had unfairly kept black jurors off the jury by shuffling the jury pool and using illegitimate pretext for excusing potential black jurors. Miller-El was convicted and given a death sentence by a jury of 12 that included 1 black member. Prosecutors dismissed 9 of the 10 potential black jurors they interviewed. Miller-El also presented evidence that from the 1960s into the early 80s, prosecutors in Dallas County were given training manuals that advised them on excluding blacks and Jews from capital juries.

I've not returned from my hiatus yet, gang. I just needed to share this good news with you. Rulings like these help immensely with assuring that the death penalty is applied in a less racist fashion. I'd like to see it go away completely, but until then, its important that EVERY defendant has the same chances of getting a death sentence and that black and Hispanic individuals are not handicapped before even coming out of the shoot.

Supreme Court reverses death penalty conviction

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


Hey gang. As you can probably tell, I'm on hiatus. At first it was just delay in posting because I was busy. Now, I'm choosing to take a little break. I will come back, I promise. I just need some time because my for-pay job is absorbing all of me for the time being. Don't go away ok? Keep coming back. If you want, you can email me at Hotmail and I'll email you when I start posting again. Hopefully, I'll be back to normal speed within the month. See you then!

Friday, May 13, 2005

George James Miller Jr. - Oklahoma

The State of Oklahoma executed George James Miller Jr. yesterday evening for the murder of Kent Dodd. Miller was convicted of killing Miller based on circumstantial evidence. He has continually claimed innocence of the crime. Nonetheless, his appeals were denied and Miller was executed for a crime with only circumstantial evidence to prove his guilt.

Seems to me that its one thing to convict a man based on circumstantial evidence (it happens all the time), and entirely another to condemn him to his own murder. Miller may very well have been guilty, but circumstantial evidence shows only that, circumstances. Even a small chance that the only thing the evidence truly shows is that Miller was in the wrong place at the wrong time, should be enough to allow him to live.

Man Executed for Killing in Okla. City

Michael Ross - Connecticut

The Ross circus is over. In the dead of night, the State of Connecticut executed Michael Ross by lethal injection. The execution was the first in New England in over forty-five years.

Michael Ross had admitted to killing eight women in both Connecticut and New York. Ross had served 21 years on death row and had waived all of his appeals. Several of his family members had filed numerous appeals on Ross' behalf (against his wishes), and the last of those appeals was denied by the United States Supreme Court late last night. Ross's relatives argued that Ross suffered from "death row syndrome" and that his mental state had degraded to the point where he felt it would be better to die.

Michael Ross got his wish. The State of Connecticut performed his suicide for him. Michael Ross waived his appeals for himself and not for his victims, but I hope that his death can now bring some sense of peace to the families of his victims. At least now, the media circus should end and the extended legal fight is over.

I admit, its hard for me to have sympathy for Michael Ross. His crimes were indeed some of the worst of the worst. That doesn't change the fact that I do not think he should have been killed. It also doesn't change the fact that I think the death penalty is flawed public policy.

For more information on Michael Ross and the fight to save his life, see the NCADP blog where David has posted a couple of commentaries, including a dissent from the CT Supreme Court.

Connecticut serial killer put to death

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Michael Ross

The Michael Ross circus has begun again. Connecticut is scheduled to execute Michael Ross early Friday morning. If it proceeds, it will be the first execution in New England in 45 years.

So far, the Connecticut Supreme Court has denied a request to stay Ross' execution. The battle is undoubtedly not over yet though. Ross has stated he wants to drop all appeals and be put to death. However, his family is fighting his competency to waive his appeals and I expect its likely his family will appeal this ruling to the Federal Courts or to the U.S. Supreme Court directly and will also file a clemency request with the governor.

Stay tuned...

Connecticut Supreme Court won't block Ross execution

Friday, May 06, 2005

Earl Richmond Jr. - North Carolina

Earl Richmond Jr. died at 2:19 a.m. this morning after the State of North Carolina administered a lethal injection. The article below states correctly that Richmond arrived in the execution chamber strapped to a gurney with "bags of poison hanging at his side." That's exactly what it is - poison.

Richmond killed a number of people, including the ex-wife and two children of Wayne Hayes. After his death, Richmond's attorneys read a statement of apology. According to his attorneys, Richmond did not want anyone to think that his statements of remorse were a ploy to seek clemency.

Earl Richmond expressed his hope that the families of his victims could find peace through his death. I hope for the same.

N.C. executes man convicted in deaths of four people

Thursday, May 05, 2005

An Anniversary

Well gang. I missed the official date, but as of this week, the Lonely Abolitionist has been on the e-waves for one full year. My first post was on May 2, 2004. In that time, I've posted obits on almost all of those executed (54 in total). The first execution after the blog started was of Kelsey Patterson, a mentally ill man in Texas who's lawyers unsuccessfully attempted to save his life with last minute clemency requests and appeals. We've also seen several changes in the law through state legislation and Court intervention (including the U.S. Supreme Court's decision regarding execution of juveniles).

During this year, there have been over 5000 visits to the blog. People find it through links to other anti-death penalty websites or via searches or particular topics or individuals (John Lotter is a common search, and a lot of people found the blog during the first round of Michael Ross appeals). In the meantime, several other anti-death penalty blogs have sprung up. At the time I started this venture, I couldn't find any blogs dedicated to death penalty work.

Thanks for helping this be a terrific year. Its been a great ride so far.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Lonnie Wayne Pursley - Texas

The State of Texas executed its sixth man of 2005 tonight. Lonnie Wayne Pursley, 43, died from a lethal injection shortly after 6:00 p.m. According to reports, Pursley seemed at peace about his death because he had found Christianity and believed he was "going home." He also received word that the family of his victim, Robert Earl Cook, had offered their forgiveness.

Three-Time Parolee Executed in Texas

Thursday, April 28, 2005

I was on a roll tonight, so I updated the side bar quote.

The last quote was a statement of Robert F. Kennedy, who - ironically - would later have his life taken unnecessarily in an attack of violence.

"Whenever any American life is taken by another unnecessarily - whether it is done in the name of the law or in defiance of the law ... in an attack of violence or in response to violence - the whole nation is degraded."
Well gang, maybe something is working. Apparently, there were "only" 125 people sent to death row in 2004. That is the lowest number since the death penalty's reinstatement in 1976. It is also the continuation of six years of consecutive annual decline. In 1998 there were 300. We are down 175 since then. At that rate, we only have 5-6 years to go before there are none.

Ok OK...don't bust my bubble just yet...It's a nice dream...I'd like to hang on to it for awhile.

Fewest Added To Death Row Since 1976

Mario Centobie - Alabama

Mario Centobie died at 6:22 this evening as the result of a lethal injection. The State of Alabama executed him only 12 years after he was considered a hero for saving lives during an Amtrak accident. The 39 year old Centobie had denied any remaining appeals and had prepared himself for his death. He was, for all intents and purposes, a "volunteer," and this was a state sponsored suicide. This situation is one of the only situations where one can commit suicide by murder. I can't think of another. So much for the "culture of life."

Centobie Executed

Bill Benefiel, Jr. - Indiana

The State of Indiana executed Bill Benefiel, Jr. during the early morning of April 21, 2005 (another one of those, we're-so-ashamed-of-it-we-do-it-in-the-middle-of-the-night killings). Benefiel had been on death row for almost eighteen years. According to his attorney, he was mentally ill and had refused to participate in the activities meant to prevent his death.

The mother of one of Benefiel's victims told the Associated Press how relieved she was that Benefiel's execution had finally come. She told the AP that she was going to try to put Benefiel as far behind her as possible. She was very much for Benefiel's murder. Its taken eighteen years for Indiana to kill Bill Benefiel. Again, I have to wonder, wouldn't it have been easier to just put him "as far behind you as possible" eighteen years ago by knowing that he was locked in a small box of a room for the rest of his days on earth? Does the fact that he's dead mean that she'll think of him less? I guess I hope so. At least that way, some small positive thing will come out of the execution.

Benefiel executed by chemical injection

Douglas Roberts - Texas

The Dominion of Texas executed Douglas Roberts on April 20th. Roberts 42, died shortly after 6:00 p.m. According to newspaper reports, he was upbeat and animated in the few minutes before the drugs were pumped in. Roberts had admitted to his crime, a murder that took place through a haze of drugs. At Roberts' instruction, his trial counsel called no defense witnesses and Roberts requested that his attorney pick a pro-death penalty jury. Those facts make this even more upsetting. Roberts' crime was horrible, but it was not the worst of the worst (isn't that what the theory of the death penalty claims it should be used for?). In fact, Roberts had apparent mitigating circumstances, but I doubt the jury heard them.

Texas Inmate Executed for 1996 Murder

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Richard Longworth - South Carolina

Thirty-six year old Richard Longworth died of a lethal injection at 6:14 p.m. on Friday April 15. The State of South Carolina killed him for his role in the shooting deaths of two men in 1991. Longworth apologized to the victims' families and his own family for his role in the shootings. Though he claimed that he did not pull the trigger (a concept echoed by prosecutors), he noted his shame and stated that he had tried to live the best life he could for the fourteen years he has served on death row. Longworth was only 22 years old at the time of the killings. He was the second man killed for these crimes. The first, David Rocheville, was executed in 1999. The families of the victims noted that, though the execution does not remove their pain, it helps to know that the process is finally over.

Spartanburg man executed for movie theater killings in 1991

Friday, April 15, 2005

Lethal Injection: Humane?

A recent study about the effects of lethal injection on the recipient showed that it is highly likely that individuals being executed by lethal injection are aware and feel themselves dying, despite the appearance of paralysis which prevents them from both moving and speaking up. NCADP issued a press release on this study, and David has blogged the press release on the NCADP blog. I will not duplicate the information therein. However, suffice it to say that this is a big deal. If, in fact, individuals feel themselves dying during the lethal injection process (which essentially pumps them full of poison until their hearts stop and they suffocate), lethal injection is officially as inhumane as hanging, the gas chamber, firing squads and even electrocution. For all but one of the 38 states which allow execution, lethal injection is the default method of execution (in some states the condemned can choose electrocution, hanging or a firing squad). Oh...and that's because, other than electrocution, the remaining options are all considered violative of the 8th Amendment provision against cruel and unusual punishment.

Here's a choice quote from the article below:

"An examination of 49 autopsies found that in 43 cases, the concentration of anesthetic in the bloodstream was less than what is required to numb a surgical patient before making an incision. In 21 cases, the concentration wasn't sufficient to prevent a patient from responding to a verbal command."

Lethal Injection

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

New York State

Good news, gang. A committee of the New York State Assembly has voted not to send the proposed bill reinstating the New York State death penalty to the full House for consideration. For now, this has "killed" the bill. It is very unlikely that the full New York Assembly will consider the issue again this session.

New York State Assembly Kills Death Penalty Bill

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Vernon Lee Evans

If you haven't already checked it out, I encourage you to stop by the blog of Vernon Evans. Evans is serving on death row in Maryland and recently received a stay of execution from an April 18 death warrant. This is the first blog I am aware of for an individual on death row. The blog is ghost written by Virginia Simmons who sends Vernon questions through the mail and then posts his responses.

Meet Vernon

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Glen Ocha - Florida

I had a small hope that Florida wouldn't execute Glen Ocha. That hope was extinguished along with Glen Ocha early yesterday evening. Apparently, Governor Bush thought of postponing the execution out of respect for Pope John Paul II (who would have opposed the execution both because he opposed capital punishment and because he opposed suicide), but he did not state whether he ever considered a commutation. To clarify, Bush THOUGHT of postponing the execution out of respect for the Pope. I guess his respect for the pope wasn't all that strong after all...

Glen Ocha died shortly after 6:00 yesterday. He made an apology before receiving the lethal chemicals. Ocha was 47 at the time of his death. He had dropped all appeals and fired his lawyers. Ocha believed his punishment was just and asked to die. The State gave him his wish. Florida never seems to deny an inmate the right to suicide by governor.

Glen Ocha Executed For 1999 Murder
Well, I'm not sure whether to say "mea culpa" now, or wait for the legal process to play out. Apparently, a judge in California has found that former Alameda County deputy district attorney Jack Quatman lied when he testified that an Alameda County Superior Court judge instructed him to keep Jews off a capital jury. The court also found that Quatman was generally dishonest and unethical and that he had a motive to embarrass the Alameda County DA's office.

My post below on the question kind of tears into the justice system regarding this question. Some of my statements still apply even if Quatman lied about the Alameda County practice. However, if Quatman really did lie about Golde and the County's alleged practice of excluding Jews and black women from capital case juries, then I owe a huge mea culpa to my readers and to Alameda County.

Stay tuned...I'll update when I know more. I'm sure there will be more court hearings.

Ex-prosecutor lied about barring Jews from jury

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Robert Harlan

The Colorado Supreme Court has vacated the death sentence of Robert Harlan and commuted his sentence to life without parole. The Court held that it was improper for several of Harlan's jurors to look up Bible passages regarding an "eye for an eye" and copying them for discussion in deliberations. Colorado law prevents jurors from bringing in any outside material for deliberation.

This ruling has put many "people of faith" up in arms. They claim that jurors should not be required to leave their faith at the door of the jury room, that they should be allowed to consider their moral stand on these questions and should not have to erase from their memory moral teachings. I'm not sure I agree with the principal of that statement. However, regardless of the main concept expressed by challengers to this ruling, the situation here is different. In this case, the jurors did not simply rely on teachings and moral concepts they had developed throughout life. Rather, they copied down Biblical passages and brought them in to share with other jurors. It is possible that some juror who did not share the same moral convictions was influenced by these materials. It is a wholly different situation than a juror who simply quotes the Bible from memory. It has a different strength when its seen in writing...whether the reader would be inclined to believe it as "God's word" or not.

The funny thing about "eye for an eye" is that there are plenty of other passages regarding punishment in the Old Testament portion of the Christian Bible that no one bothers to bring up in today's society. For example, Biblical society stoned adulterers. I wonder how many of the jurors (or lawyers involved) would vote for that punishment. Be consistent; if you are going to advocate death for murderers based on Biblical principals that are seriously outdated (certainly for Christians since Jesus reportedly created a "new covenant" and a "new law"), then you should advocate the other punishments "required" by God in the Old Testament. Of course, as I recall, Jesus also advised a group of angry citizens to think carefully before throwing the first stone on a woman accused of adultery. He advised "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Perhaps consistency is appropriate here as well. I wonder how many of the jurors would have felt comfortable pulling the switch or pushing the buttons. I wonder how many could cast that stone.

I also wonder what the outcry would have been if it had not been the Christian Bible used in deliberations, but instead had been the Koran or perhaps even Buddhist teachings on peace and nonviolence. Would religious and moral teaching have had a place in the jury room then? Or is such teaching only valuable when it comes from the Christian perspective? Of course, portions of the Koran advocate removal of the hands for the crime of theft. Why is that different than "eye for an eye"?

Death sentence by jury that discussed Bible thrown out

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

William Payton: Brown v. Payton

The United States Supreme Court issued its ruling in Brown v. Payton today. William Payton was before the Court asking for a new trial based on a botching of the jury instructions during the penalty phase. In a 5-3 holding, the Supreme Court vacated the holding of the Ninth Circuit (en banc) that Payton deserved a new trial.

In an opinion drafted by Justice Anthony Kennedy (who this time joined the Scalia/Thomas contingent along with Justice Breyer who arguably switched from his Simmons vote with a concurrence related to the state court's rights under AEDPA), the Court held that it was inconsequential that the prosecutor incorrectly argued that evidence of Payton's religious conversion was irrelevant to evidence of mitigating factors. Irrelevant? Such evidence is highly relevant both to evidence of mitigating factors and to future dangerousness. The justices held that the prosecutor's statements were not enough to warrant a new trial since the jury had heard evidence of the religious conversion and could consider it if they chose. Wait a minute? Doesn't the judge have a duty to ensure that the jurors know exactly what mitigation means? By allowing those statements to go to the jury without (at least) further extrapolation and retraction, the judge essentially allowed the prosecutor's comments to become part of the jury's instructions and part of the definition of mitigation. The jury was told by the State of California that Payton's religious conversion was of no consequence when it came to mitigation. Essentially they were told that it was not a consideration in whether Payton deserved to die for his crimes or whether his life should be spared. Without correction in the jury instructions, there was no reason for the jury to think it SHOULD consider the evidence. Just because evidence is presented does not mean it is relevant to the consideration before the jury. They jury's charge is defined by the jury instructions. Those are under the purview of the judge. By not, at the very least, correcting the mitigation instruction to assure the jury knew of its ability to consider this evidence, the judge essentially nullified the Eighth Amendment's protections against unfair sentencing and its allowance for consideration of mitigating factors (as defined by the United States Supreme Court and the courts of many states). Even more infuriating, the United States Supreme Court today approved that judge's omission and essentially told the bench that it would not be held accountable for its duty to explain mitigation.

The Court also used AEDPA to avoid having to truly rule in this case. That fact actually makes me even more angry, especially in light of Bush v. Gore, the Schiavo case, and the constant flutter about same sex marriage at the federal level (I'm sorry, but when did marriage become a federal concern?). AEDPA, for those of you who don't know, is a federal law that defines what kinds of habeas cases can be decided by the federal courts. It is federalism at its "best." Under its provisions, the federal courts are only supposed to overturn state decisions in cases where the actions of the state fly in the face of the U.S. Constitution and clear federal law protections as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court. One of my main problems with it (besides the fact that President Clinton broke my heart by signing it), is that it does not allow for "new" constitutional questions on habeas review. If the United States Supreme Court has not ruled on the issue before, that does not necessarily mean that the defendant's constitutional rights were not violated just because the state courts upheld the conviction and the actions of the state (the state in which it sits without lifetime tenure). On more than one occasion while I was a clerk at the United States Court of Appeals, I saw a panel turn away a case that clearly had constitutional implications simply because there was no United States Supreme Court precedent upon which to base a decision. So, why have the habeas post conviction relief opportunity anyway? If the federal courts cannot review the constitutionality of a state court's decisions without restraint, what role does habeas review serve in protecting an individual's rights? I suppose there is still some, but AEDPA is just subjective enough that a court can use it as an excuse to not have to rule on a difficult question. That, in and of itself, is annoying. (For the record, I OF COURSE find value in habeas review...I'm just expressing my irritation through sarcasm).

William Payton is probably out of stops. Its possible California will see a second execution this year. Payton has been on California's death row for 25 years while this question was fought. The federal courts awarded him a new trial. They gave him hope. Today, that hope was taken away.

Justices:Death row inmate's religious conversion properly considered

Monday, March 21, 2005

Fred Freeman (and others)

I am so angry I could explode! Apparently, a former prosecutor from Alameda County, California has filed a sworn statement averring that he and other assistant prosecutors "routinely" used their peremptory challenges to keep Jews and black women off juries in capital cases and that keeping Jews off death cases was "standard practice." In addition, in Fred Freeman's case (the individual for whom the prosecutor filed his statement) this former prosecutor claims to have colluded with the judge (Superior Court Judge Stanley Golde, himself Jewish) to keep Jews off the jury. Apparently, the judge told this prosecutor that "No Jew would vote to send a defendant to the gas chamber."

I'm furious that this kind of deliberate racism, antisemitism and xenophobia continues within our "justice" system (and elsewhere!). Of course, I knew that it did, but having a sworn acknowledgement of it from a capital case prosecutor just boils me. Perhaps its better that it is now out in the open. Perhaps now, something will be done about it. Perhaps now, juries in California will be more fairly empaneled and the defendant will have just as fair a shot at NOT getting a death sentence as getting one. God forbid we would put people who object to executing human beings on a jury. Of course, that's just the legal (and moral!) implication of purposefully leaving particular ethnic or religious groups off juries. The much broader statement is the statement made by the assumptions and stereotypes implied in the idea that Jews or black women would not be proper jurors in a death case because they would never send someone to death row.

Of course, on the bright side, for either side to purposefully exclude a juror from serving on a panel simply because of race, ethnicity, gender, or religion is grounds for a mistrial. As such, if the California Supreme Court determines through its hearings (it ordered hearings on this issue after seeing the statement in Freeman's case) that such exclusionary racist, anti-semitic behavior has indeed occurred, it will open the door for many individuals currently on death row to receive new trials and new sentencing. When it comes to someone on death row, a shot at a new trial and new sentencing is an excellent thing (at least for the accused and for the justice system...however, it can be a horrible ordeal for the victim's family...which is exactly why the state should get it right the first time and not trample all over peoples' rights just because they think they can get away with it! No one wants a retrial to result in the person responsible being released because the evidence is too old and the new jury has reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, such a result is possible with a retrial. If that happens, then the state is essentially responsible for putting a murderer back on the street because its overzealousness to get a death sentence somehow required a need to trample the Constitution).

Ex-prosecutor says he kept Jews off juries

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Sorry gang. I know I'm really behind in my posting. I've missed at least two executions, maybe three (isn't it sad that I don't even know? That's how crazy I've been!). There are also some legal developments I've been meaning to blog on. I'll get back up to date soon, I promise. Until then, keep up the good fight!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Blast it all! The U.S. has pulled out or part of the Vienna Convention. For 35 years, the Vienna Convention has assured that citizens of its signatories are allowed consult with their home-country diplomat when jailed abroad. The United States has now withdrawn itself from that portion of the Convention (referred to as an "Optional Protocol").

The United States has used this portion of the Convention on more than one occasion to protect its own citizens abroad. However, death penalty opponents and foreign governments have used it as argument in death penalty cases of foreign nationals in the U.S. (OFTEN foreign nationals are given death sentences without the opportunity to consult with their diplomat). As noted in a post below, the Bush administration granted hearings to 51 Mexican death penalty inmates to review whether they were given ample opportunity to speak to their diplomat. The United States Supreme Court is also about to hear a case regarding this very issue.

I am ashamed that "my" government would pull itself out of one portion of such an important Convention simply because it does not want to have to provide foreign nationals with the opportunity to consult their governments before they are given the ultimate punishment. Of course, this whole thing has created quite a rift between Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox. I imagine withdrawal from this portion of the treaty is not going to help that relationship. After all, now Mexican nationals who are arrested and charged with capital crimes will not even have the right to consult. At least before today, that right was just being wasn't removed. Huh...which is worse?

U.S. Quits Pact Used in Capital Cases

Donald Ray Wallace Jr. - Indiana

The State of Indiana executed its first man of 2005 early this morning (its 12th since the death penalty's reinstatement in 1977). Donald Ray Wallace Jr. died at 1:23 this morning after spending 25 years on Indiana's death row. By all reports, Wallace was a changed man. However, he did not seek clemency from the Governor and instructed his attorney not to file a petition on his behalf. David Elliot posted a column about Wallace's change on the NCADP blog site. Its worth reading.

The family of Wallace's victims attended a vigil on Wednesday evening to remember their family members. The vigil was held at the same church where the Gilligans were married. Wallace visited with friends during the hours before his death and expressed his hope that everyone can now find peace.

Man put to death for killing 4 in 1980

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

William H. Smith - Ohio

The State of Ohio executed William H. Smith yesterday morning. Smith died at 10:19 a.m. after asking the grandson of his victim, Mary Bradford, for forgiveness.

Smith was diagnosed with a brain lesion after being sent to death row. His attorneys argued unsuccessfully that Smith may have been spared the death penalty had they known of the brain lesion before his sentencing.

Once again, this is the case of a murder that happened under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Smith and Bradford spent some time drinking and then used cocaine together shortly before Smith killed her. One has to wonder what affect the drugs and alcohol had on Smith's state of mind.

In Smith's last statement he very poignantly said "I cannot control anything from this day on. Find the right way. Be a better person than I am. Don't wait until its too late to try to save somebody else."

William H. Smith Executed
The Bush administration has ordered review of the death penalty cases of 51 Mexican nationals. Earlier this year (as you may recall me commenting), the International Court of Justice ruled that the rights of these 51 individuals were violated when the prosecution failed to notify the Mexican government of their arrests and prosecutions. The Bush administration made its announcement through a brief it filed with the United States Supreme Court related to upcoming arguments in Medellin v. Dretke, a case involving this very issue.

To me, this feels like a peremptory challenge. It feels as though the Bush administration is trying to make the issue "moot" so that the United States Supreme Court will not rule on the question and will, therefore, not expand death penalty jurisprudence. I suppose I could be stretching things. Perhaps the administration is just trying to do the right thing. I somehow doubt that thought. If I'm skeptical, it's because this particular administration is not known for being sensitive to those on death row or to immigrants. Bush's Texas administration also had a reputation of avoiding death penalty questions and a lack of sensitivity to immigrants. SO...I'm skeptical that there are not alternative motives behind this call for action. Of course, many of the 51 cases affected involve individuals in Texas. I wonder how many of those were convicted and sentenced under Bush's watch...

New hearings sought for Mexicans on death row

George Anderson Hopper - Texas

The State of Texas executed its fourth man in 2005 last night. George Anderson Hopper was executed for a murder he committed for hire in the 1980s. Hopper, 49, died shortly after 6:00 p.m. He made a final statement in which he apologized to the four family members who were there to observe his killing. He called his actions "an atrocity," and begged for forgiveness.

Convicted hit man executed in Texas

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The link below is to a very interesting commentary on Roper v. Simmons written by FindLaw Columnist Edward Lazarus. Lazarus is an attorney and law professor living in Los Angeles. He is also a former prosecutor. For those of you interested in the legal implications of the Simmons decision (i.e. what it means for the Supreme Court now and going forward), this is a particularly interesting column.

The Supreme Court and the juvenile death penalty

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Napolean Beazley

David Elliot has posted the final statement of Napolean Beazley on the NCADP blog. The State of Texas executed Beazley on May 28, 2002. Had the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Simmons come before May 28, 2002, Beazley would be alive. Napolean Beazley was a wild teenager when he killed John Luttig. A prime example of the changes that come between adolescence and adulthood, Napolean matured into an upright young man. The murder of his victim was tragic and unjustifiable, something Napolean Beazley admitted. That, however, makes the murder of Napolean Beazley no less shameful...

Please, take a moment to read Napolean's statement. I think you'll find it worth your time.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Stephen Mobley - Georgia

As wonderful as the Simmons decision is, it unfortunately did not outlaw all executions.

Thirty-nine year old Stephen Mobley died at shortly after 8 p.m. this evening. The Georgia Parole Board had denied his request for clemency on February 26th, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to prevent the execution. Shortly before his death, Mobley stated that he was grateful for the opportunity to atone for his sins. He was only 24 when he robbed a pizza store and fatally shot John Collins, the store clerk.

According to reports, had life without possibility of parole been an available sentence in 1991, the victim's family, the prosecutor and 6 of the 10 jurors on Mobley's jury would have preferred that option over the penalty of death. Two years after his conviction, Georgia allowed the possibility of life without parole as an alternative to death in capital murder cases. Yet, the state killed Stephen Mobley tonight. I guess timing is often a source of irony isn't it?

Man executed for pizza store murder

Roper v. Simmons: Unconstitutional!

I'm amazed. In fact, I'm so happy, I started to cry sitting here at my desk.

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute someone for a crime he or she committed while under the age of 18. The Court held that executing juveniles violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Justice Anthony Kennedy drafted the opinion. He was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Stevens, Souter and Breyer. In the opinion, Kennedy wrote: "It is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty, resting in large part on the understanding that the instability and emotional imbalance of young people may often be a factor in the crime." (emphasis added)Nineteen states still allowed the execution of those who committed their crimes under the age of eighteen. The decision affects 72 individuals on death row. Those 72 individuals will now be allowed to live.

It's a good day.

High court: Juvenile death penalty unconstitutional

Monday, February 21, 2005

March "Mad"ness

According to the Death Penalty Information Center's list of scheduled executions for 2005, there are currently 18 executions scheduled for March. Four of those executions have been stayed due to the studies of the death penalty going on in Pennsylvania. Two others are likely to receive stays for the stay reason. However, this leaves an even dozen executions (in eight different states) likely to occur in one month. Those of us who are letter writers have our work cut out for us. Let's get on it!

John David Duty

The State of Oklahoma was originally scheduled to execute John David Duty on February 24. Duty was convicted of killing his cellmate while serving time in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. He had requested an execution date for January. However, Duty has now sought a stay and intends to appeal his conviction and sentence. Duty's stay was granted and the February 24th execution date put on hold.

Duty Execution Put On Hold

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Michael Ross Update

Connecticut has rescheduled the execution of Michael Ross for May 11, 2005.

Dennis Bagwell - Texas

The State of Texas executed Dennis Bagwell tonight. Bagwell was on death row for the brutal killings of four people, including his mother. His was the third Texas execution this year, with ten more Texas executions scheduled already. Bagwell served just over nine years on death row (fairly short tenure these days). He was 41 at the time of his death.

Dennis Bagwell Executed

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Good news in California! The California Supreme Court has unanimously held that you cannot strictly define "mental retardation" through a specific IQ standard. Instead, the Court found that an inmate can get a hearing to challenge his or her death sentence if a qualified expert supports the inmate's claim of retardation (or a "friend" of the inmate if the inmate is not competent).

30 of California's 640 death row inmates have previously claimed to be mentally retarded and ineligible for a death sentence/execution. Today's ruling opens the door for "dozens" more to make similar claims throughout their appeals process.

This is grand news.

Court Clears Way for Death Row Challenges for Retarded

Monday, February 07, 2005

Death Row Syndrome: Guest Blogger

Hello everyone. Of course, to date, I'm the only person who has written anything on The Lonely Abolitionist. However, commentary from David Seth Michaels, author of an online abolition email commentary I receive, really struck a core with me and I asked David for permission to reprint his words here (I guess I'm not so "lonely" anymore eh?). I hope you'll take the time to read David's essay. Its quite poignant.

Is Anybody Paying Attention?

As Circus Ross twists and turns and careens through the courts with Ross attempting again to kill himself and the courts trying to decide if he's competent to do so and if his lawyer's license should be punched (see this article, if you haven't already), one of the important parts of the case is the focus on "death penalty syndrome."

In Ross's case the question is whether being confined in horrible conditions on death row for 20 years contributes to subverting his already fragile competence and leads him to demand a state assisted suicide to escape barbarous conditions.

Can you imagine waiting for 20 years on death row? Can you imagine the uncertainty and unremitting anxiety of this? Can you imagine waking each day to the question of whether as the result of someone else's decision you will live or be killed?

By any terms 20 years' actual imprisonment-- leave aside the question of whether an execution will occur-- is a long, long sentence. In Ross's case 20 years is 44% of his life. Compare, if you can, everything that's happened in your life since 1985 with being confined in virtually solitary confinement 23 hours a day on death row. Think, if you were alive then, of 1980, what you were doing then, where you lived. Take a look at photos from then, if you have any. Notice how the color seems weird, especially the reds, and how distant the images are. Look at yourself in these photos: how were you then? Compare yourself to now.

Is there anything wrong with waiting 20 years in uncertainty and fear before a death sentence is carried out?

And what about the conditions in which death sentenced prisoners wait to be killed? There was a story Thursday that all of Connecticut's death row inmates are now on a hunger strike (except the 2 with diabetes). According to Reuters (edited by me):

HARTFORD, Conn. (Reuters) - Five prisoners sentenced to be executed in Connecticut began a hunger strike on Thursday to protest their solitary living conditions which they called "inhumane and tantamount to psychological torture."

The inmates said their action was unrelated to the case of serial killer Michael Ross, whose execution was postponed after his lawyer said prison conditions may have made him give up his appeals.
"What we are doing is simply refusing to eat for the duration, however long," the prisoners wrote. "We are NOT doing this in protest of Michael Ross' execution.

"What we request is not unreasonable: communal recreation," they wrote in a statement released by The Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Instead of spending almost their entire day in solitary confinement, the inmates want time out of their cells and a chance to interact with each other.

"The appeals process takes decades and to endure these conditions of enforced segregation is inhumane and tantamount to psychological torture," the inmates wrote.

Notice what the prisoners are demanding. Does their virtually solitary confinement 23 hours a day have a "penological justification?" Why is it that guards at the Connecticut death row are required to be transferred after 2 years because of the stress of their working conditions?? Think, if you can, of a period in which you had no human contact of any kind. Was it a couple of hours, a day, a week, a month? How many people have been through this kind of isolation and confinement for 20 years?

Connecticut is not unique. The average prisoner executed in the US spends between 11 and 12 years under a death sentence. That's a long time to wait. In 2000 there were 8 prisoners on death row for 24 years or more.

The delay by itself is an important question. Death row in California has 630 people on it and their time waiting is daily mounting. How long can we hold execution over their heads before we say it's enough, it's too cruel, too much time has elapsed? Or put another way, at the margin, what benefit to anyone does an execution have if life without parole is available.

There are two parts of the issue. The first is the elapsing of time itself; the second, the conditions of confinement.

At least two justices of the United States Supreme Court, Justices Breyer and Stevens, believe that long delay violates the Constitution's prohibition of cruel and inhuman punishment. Their dissenting opinions in Knight v. Florida, 532 US 1011 (2001) and Foster v. Florida, 123 S.Ct 420 (2002), in which the Court declined to consider death row delays of 27 years (Foster), 25 years (Knight) and 19 years 4 months (Knight) list decisions from other civilized countries (including the UK's Privy Council) holding that delay beyond 15 years is unacceptable, degrading, shocking and cruel.

But it takes 4 votes to grant certiorari and to have a review in the Supreme Court. One of those four votes is not coming from Justice Clarence Thomas who wrote vicious opinions concurring in the denial of certiorari in Foster and Knight which included this gem:

"Petitioner [Foster] could long ago have ended his "anxieties and uncertainties," ..., by submitting to what the people of Florida have deemed him to deserve: execution." 123 S.Ct at 471.

So much for compassion. So much for refraining from killing and preventing others from killing. The Supreme Court as presently constituted clearly isn't the answer. If Bush makes more appointments, it will continue not to be the answer.

The answer is abolition. As long as there is a death penalty, we're going to have people like Michael Ross who seek a state assisted suicide and render us powerless to stop them. As long as there is a death penalty, we're going to have decades long incarceration of prisoners pursuing appeals that are their right and awaiting execution.

What is wrong with us that we permit these shameful spectacles to continue to be carried out in our names?

Copyright David Seth Michaels 2005

David Seth Michaels is an attorney living and working in Spencertown, New York. For more information on David, please see his website.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Max Soffar

Max Soffar has been on death row for over 23 years. His conviction was overturned late last year and he is being re-arraigned today in a Houston district court. Max has a very strong claim of innocence. There is no physical evidence to put him at the scene of the crime or any eye witness, and his "confessions" to the crimes all contradict one another and do not match up with the facts of the murders themselves. Why would Max confess? Well, read the article, the author does a better job of explaining the reasons than I could at this juncture.

A Jew on death row

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

New York Death Penalty Petition

Network for Justice is working to get folks networked together against the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York State. If you are in New York, please select the link below to go to my partner networking site with Network for Justice and sign the petition.

Network for Justice

Monday, January 31, 2005

Michael Ross: Legal Update VI

Well, I never thought there would be a legal update VI, but there is. Michael Ross has now requested a psychiatric exam (or he will later today). His execution is scheduled for 9:00 tonight, but a request for a psychiatric exam should stay that date with death. If so, the state's death warrant will expire at the end of the night. The state will then have to go back to the courts for another warrant.

Serial Killer Seeks Examination Instead of Execution Today

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Michael Ross: Legal Update V

This time, the delay in the execution of Michael Ross is at the request of the attorney Ross hired to fight FOR his execution. The lawyer requested the delay after federal District Judge Robert Chatigny addressed him and threatened to have his license if evidence emerged that Ross is indeed incompetent and counsel fought for his execution despite knowing of such evidence. Ross is now scheduled to die at 9:00 p.m. on Monday.

Lawyer Request Delays Connecticut Execution

Friday, January 28, 2005

Michael Ross: Legal Update IV

The Supreme Court has lifted the 22 hour stay put in place by the Second Circuit. Connecticut will execute Michael Ross at 2:01 am Saturday morning.

Serial killer to die Saturday

Michael Ross: Legal Update III

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has overturned the temporary restraining order issued by District Judge Robert N. Chatigny on Wednesday. However, the Second Circuit stayed its ruling until 12:01 Sunday morning in order to give Dan Ross, Michael's father, time to appeal its decision to the United States Supreme Court.

If the Supreme Court rules before 2:00 a.m. Saturday morning then Ross will be executed on schedule. If it does not rule until sometime during the day on Saturday, then the state will not get its execution until after 12:01 Sunday morning. Based on its earlier rulings in this case, it is doubtful that the Supreme Court will reinvoke the restraining order. However, stranger things have happened.

Court Overturns Ross Restraining Order

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Exonerated

Court TV is showing the TV movie version of the off-Broadway play The Exonerated several times this week. I strongly encourage you to tune in. Record it and show it to all of your friends. The play is powerful and I'm sure the TV movie version will be exceptionally well done. The six real-life individuals portrayed in the play are being read on screen by Susan Sarandon, Brian Dennehy, Aidan Quinn, Danny Glover, Delroy Lindo and David Brown Jr. These are amazing actors telling heart wrenching stories. If you care about this movement (or even if you don't and you just want to view amazing true life drama), you cannot miss The Exonerated. These portrayals are real people with real histories and real experience on death row. Their stories are important.

Sarandon is a noted death penalty activist (I imagine she would be alright with that term, but to be honest I'm not sure I've seen her use it). In the article I've linked below, she is quoted as saying: "What an individual will feel or want to do is different from the rules you want your government to apply, and how you treat your prisoners and how you apply your justice is one of the main tenets of society. It's a very mixed message to teach your kids to use words to work things out and then have a government that so blithely and capriciously doles out the death penalty. It's a completely corrupt system." I've never thought to explain myself in this way. People ask me all the time what I would do if one of my beloved were the victim of a horrible murder. It's possibly the hardest question to answer. I am against the application of the death penalty in all cases, but I imagine that if someone I loved dearly were murdered my anger and grief would rock me to the core. Sarandon's statement clarifies what I want my answer to be: what I may feel or want to do is different from the rules I want the government to apply; how we treat our prisoners and how we apply justice is one of the main tenets of our society. Indeed, it speaks to the very value we place on humanity.

TV movie tells stories of death row's exonerated

(As an aside, how amazing does Ms. Sarandon look in those Revlon ads she's been doing? There are so many people UNDER fifty who wish they could look like that. GOOD FOR YOU...and many props to Revlon for recognizing true quality and attraction! You go girl!)

Michael Ross: Legal Update II

In another 5-4 vote, the United States Supreme Court overturned the stay of execution granted to Michael Ross (well actually to those acting in Ross' interests) by District Court Judge Robert Chatigny earlier this week. There is one more appeal pending before the Second Circuit. Chances are, no matter how the Second Circuit rules on that appeal, the case will again go to the United States Supreme Court. Nevertheless, the State of Connecticut has scheduled Ross' execution for 2:00am Saturday morning. Barring any emergency stays to grant the Court more time for review (unlikely), Connecticut will go through with its first lethal injection and its first execution in over forty years.

Curiously, the USSC vote was 5-4. The Chief Justice has been working from home and has not been hearing oral argument or voting on many of the other non-emergency cases on the Court's 2004-2005 calendar. Yet, he took part in this vote (and has in other death penalty stay cases). As such, there was no possibility of a tie.

Supreme Court lifts stay on Ross execution

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Kenneth Richey

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has granted Kenny Richey a new trial. The Sixth Circuit called Richey's original defense "incompetent" and indicated that his numerous failed appeals were "injustices." Richey was convicted in 1987 for setting a fire that killed a two year old girl. He has been on death row in Ohio ever since.

There is a possibility that Richey is innocent. He will now get a new trial and the prosecution will be held to its burden a second time (this time presumably, Richey will have a sufficient and even zealous defense). If Richey is found not-guilty, it will mean that the State of Ohio has held a foreign national on death row for almost twenty years in connection with a crime for which he could not be proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. The state has 90 days to decide whether to retry Richey. If it chooses not to retry him, it will have to release him.

Richey is a native of Scotland and a British citizen (he holds dual citizenship with the United States). Members of the British Parliament have been up in arms about Richey's death sentence and have pleaded with the governor of Ohio to save Richey's life. Of course, the UK does not have a death penalty. Imagine that...

UK Man Granted New Trial in Ohio Arson Murder (Reuters)

Death Row Briton's Conviction Overturned (The Independent)

As a side note, the differences in the two articles linked above are quite telling.

For more information on media coverage of this case, see the NCADP blog.

Michael Ross: Legal Update

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the decision of the United States District Court to stay the execution of Michael Ross to allow more time to evaluate his competency. The state is now appealing to the United States Supreme Court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg can lift the stay herself or refer the case to the entire Court for review. Considering who Ginsburg is now and who she was before she joined the Court, all bets are on her referring the case to the full Court. Ross vehemently objects to assertions that he is incompetent and continues to insist that he be executed as soon as possible. Stay tuned!

Appeals court halts Ross execution

Additionally, for those of you interested in receiving up to date information on the Ross case, please check out Kirby's Reports. Kirby's Reports blogs Connecticut legal news and has been tracking the press and case decisions on the Ross execution in detail.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Timothy Don Carr - Georgia

The State of Georgia performed its first execution of the year tonight. Timothy Carr was pronounced dead at 8:37 this evening. Both the United States Supreme Court and the Georgia Supreme Court refused to block his execution, despite strong arguments that Carr committed the murder under the explicitly direction (and some say control) of his girlfriend (who received a life sentence and could receive parole). Carr's other two accomplices were 16 at the time of the crime. One served no prison time and the other served 18 months in a juvenile detention center.

Timothy Carr was 34 at the time of his death. Before entering the death chamber, Carr expressed regret and apologized for his crime.

Tim Carr Executed

Troy Kunkle - Texas

This time, the title is in italics. There was no last minute stay for Troy Kunkle tonight. The State of Texas executed him around 8:00. Kunkle's execution was originally scheduled for 6:00 but was delayed two hours while the United States Supreme Court considered arguments of his counsel in a last minute appeal. Obviously, the Court denied that appeal.

Before his death, Kunkle asked for forgiveness. He stated: "I would like to ask you to forgive me. I made a mistake and I am sorry for what I did. All I can do is ask you to forgive me. I love you and I will see all of you in Heaven. I love you very much. Praise Jesus. I love you."

On the day of his death, Troy Kunkle was 38 years old. He was 18 at the time of the murder for which he was killed. All totaled, Kunkle spent more than half of his life on death row.

Troy Kunkle Executed

Troy Kunkle: Legal Update

The United States Supreme Court is considering tonight whether to block Troy Kunkle's execution. I'll update as I know more. Kunkle was scheduled to be executed at 6:00 pm this evening.

Kunkle Case Before US Supreme Court

George Jones

Miracle of miracles! (does my sarcasm ever get old? Huh, didn't think so...)

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has granted George Jones a stay. Jones was scheduled to be executed on Thursday, but the Court granted a stay in order to provide time to study Jones' mental capacity and to determine if he is eligible for execution under the United States Supreme Court's decisions involving mental illness and mental retardation.

Timothy Don Carr

The Georgia Parole Board has denied Tim Carr's request for clemency. The Board deliberated for four hours before making its decision. The State is scheduled to execute Carr at 7:05 EST this evening.

Carr's arguments for clemency were legitimate. Four individuals were involved in the crime for while Carr is being executed. Carr is the only one who received the death penalty. Two of the individuals were teenagers at the time of the crime and they received time in a juvenile facility and submission to social services. The fourth individual was Carr's girlfriend, Melissa Burgeson. Burgeson received a life sentence with the possibility of parole. According to Carr's counsel and his family, Carr was really "the puppet" of Burgeson and the murder would not have taken place without her involvement and urging. Burgeson--the adult female--has a possibility of future release. Carr--the adult male--is set to be executed. Both were convicted of the same crimes (murder and theft). What does that say?

Parole board denies stay, appeal for Carr

Monday, January 24, 2005

Michael Ross

And then there were three...only three I mean. A federal judge in Connecticut has stayed the execution of Michael Ross. This leaves "only" three executions this week (Timothy Carr, Troy Kunkle and George Jones).

Ross has volunteered for his execution; he's waived all appeals and asked to be put to death. The federal court, however, wants time to review Ross' mental competency. One expert testified that Ross wants to be executed because he finds life unbearable on death row. For that expert, such a thought pattern demonstrates that Ross is not capable of making rational decisions about his death. If Ross is executed, his will be the first execution in Connecticut in over forty years.

Connecticut execution postponed
OK. I know I'm violating my "no off-topic posts" rule, but I'm so irritated I could just scream. GRRRRRR. The United States Supreme Court ruled 6-2 today that drug sniffing dogs can be used at routine traffic stops without probable cause. %&$#(*

Ok. I'm done now.

Drug sniffing dogs okay at traffic stops

For more on this, see Scott Henson's great post at Grits for Breakfast.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Donald Beardslee - California

This is the first time I've had the state of California in italics in one of my post titles. This is true, of course, because for the first time in three years, California executed one of its over 600 death row inmates. Donald Beardslee was executed by lethal injection at 12:20am PST this morning. He died just nine minutes later.

Beardslee had filed several appeals and moved the governor for clemency. His last two appeals were denied by the United States Supreme Court earlier on January 18th. Governor Schwarzenegger also denied his request for clemency. Like many of those executed by our governments, Beardslee was no choir boy. There is no question that he committed two hideous murders. No one argued that he was innocent...or even "not guilty." However, there were serious legal questions about the application of the death penalty (under the laws of California) to Beardslee. Even if he knew right from wrong (as stated by the governor), doesn't his severe brain damage and the related ability of others to control and manipulate him decrease his culpability at least a small amount? Why was he the only one of the three involved in the murders to be given death? There is also the question of the chemicals used to paralyze. That is an overarching question. The chemicals certainly do paralyze the viewers from having to witness the body's true reaction to euthenization; however, what if they don't paralyze the man being killed? What if he can't move or speak but can feel? How is this different than the difficulties with hanging, the gas chamber, a firing squad or the electric chair?

California executes double murderer

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Ronald Rompilla

The United States Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Ronald Rompilla today. The case will define how a state must approach the penalty phase of a trial and what a jury is entitled to know before sentencing a defendant to death. In Rompilla's case, the jury was not informed that, under Pennsylvania law, it could impose a sentence of life without parole. In Pennsylvania, the jury is apparently not entitled to know about the option of life without parole even if it asks. As such, Rompilla's jury could not be clear regarding the chances of Rompilla's release if it refused to impose death. If a jury is not aware of a life without parole option, it may assume that it must give him or her death in order to prevent future harm. In a way, it takes the choice away from the jury because it plays on their fear. This is especially key in Rompilla's case since the prosecution apparently implied that Rompilla would be a danger to society if he were ever released. Though it supposedly never directly stated that Rompilla would be a future danger, it implied it by concentrating on his past criminal history.

High Court Hears Pa. Death Row Appeal

Donald Beardslee: Legal Update

The United States Supreme Court and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger have both refused to stay the execution of Donald Beardslee. Barring any last minute reprieve, California will execute Beardslee at one minute after midnight tonight. Beardslee's lawyers have asked the Governor for a 120 day reprieve to allow the federal courts time to review evidence regarding the constitutionality of the chemicals used in lethal injection. This reprieve is doubtful considering the Governor's refusal of clemency earlier today.

If Beardslee is executed, it will be the first execution in California in over three years.

Last reprieve for Beardslee? Clemency and appeals are denied

Monday, January 17, 2005

Donald Beardslee

Here is an interesting LA Times editorial on the death penalty in California. It focuses on Donald Beardslee's upcoming execution and the problems with the application of death in his case, but it also discusses the inherent problems with California's death penalty (and any other state's!). In particular, it addresses the question of unequal application of death. Its the same issue I hound on about once a month: who decides who lives and who dies? What makes one person fit for a death sentence but not another?

At least California takes the appeals process seriously. Of course, in Beardslee's case, it means he's spent over 20 years on death row waiting for his own murder. It also means that the victim's family has dealt with Beardslee and his appeals process for over 20 years. Now, do I want Beardslee to be executed earlier? HECK NO. The system needs to go the course to at least assure some sense of constitutionality. Thing is, after all these years, what purpose does killing him serve? He's 61 years old with some serious brain damage from childhood that likely influenced the progression of his crimes. Does it bring some sort of closure after 20 years? Wouldn't life without possibility of parole have served some closure? At least then he'd be put in a cell for the remainder of his natural life, an anonymous number deep in the fortress of a California prison. He'd have limited appeals and would likely never be heard from again.

California's Death Penalty Lie

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Troy Kunkle Update

Troy Kunkle's execution has been rescheduled for January 25th. Mea culpa on the January 19 date listed below. Apparently, I had old information.

Editorial by Donald Connery

I encourage you all to read this essay. Mr. Connery is writing a book on miscarriages of justice. He has followed case after case of wrongful conviction and has studied the application of the death penalty throughout the United States. A Connecticut resident, he has an interesting perspective on resuming executions in Connecticut. Mr. Connery has been a journalist most of his life, a career he began after serving in the Philippines during World War II.

If you have questions about Connecticut's execution of Michael Ross (or the death penalty in general), please do read this essay.

"We are all, of course, on God's death row, saints and sinners alike. Losing a life is personal, especially if it is our own. Taking a life is personal, especially if we freely choose to do so."

You Me and the Death Penalty

Michael Ross

In reaction to the upcoming execution of Michael Ross, the Roman Catholic bishops in Connecticut are circulating a letter to be read in each of the parishes in their dioceses this weekend. The letter relates the Church's teachings on the death penalty and emphasizes that the Church teaches that Catholics must respect all human life, even that of murderers. The letter is also meant to encourage parishioners to sign an upcoming petition that calls on the state legislature to abolish the death penalty.

The attached article discusses the bishops' letters as well as religious reactions to the death penalty in general. There was one quote that stuck out to me in particular. It came from a Rev. Allie Perry regarding Michael Ross: "'These are horrific crimes. It's human to feel angry and to call for revenge and retaliation,' she said. 'But if retaliation and retribution is the basis of law, then we become that which we abhor.'" (emphasis added). I encourage you to read the article. As always I tried to provide a link to a page that does not require a login.

Catholics will be urged to oppose death penalty for Ross

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Paul Gregory House

If you are interested in the case of Paul House of Tennessee, the Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing has an excellent website with information and press about Paul's case. For those of you unfamiliar with his story, Paul House is an inmate in Tennessee who was convicted of raping and killing his neighbor. Paul has denied committing these crimes. Recently, DNA analysis of the semen on the victim's clothes showed that the semen belonged to the victim's husband. Several witnesses have also testified that the victim's husband confessed to the killing. This provides STRONG evidence that Paul House did not commit this crime. I believe Paul will be exonerated and released. For now, his case is on hold. In October, the United States Court of Appeals denied to vacate his sentence (even though 6 of the 15 judges hearing the case wrote that they believe House is innocent). The United States Supreme Court is Paul's next option.

Paul House has spent almost 20 years on Tennessee's death row for a crime it appears he did not commit. He should certainly not be executed for it. Paul is also running out of time. Suffering from a serious case of Multiple Sclerosis, he may not live to see himself taken off of death row. If that happens, an innocent man will have died on death row having spent almost half his life there for a crime for which he was not responsible. That tragedy would almost equal the tragedy of Paul being murdered by his own government for absolutely no reason.

Paul Gregory House: Tennessee Coalition to Abolish State Killing

James Porter - Texas

Texas executed the first man of the year tonight. Shortly after 6:00 CST tonight, James Porter was pronounced dead. Porter had dropped all of his appeals and asked to be executed. It was a state sponsored suicide. A former white supremacist, the 33 year old Porter killed a fellow prisoner who was serving a sentence for molesting a child. At the time, Porter thought of it as a service to society. Recently, however, Porter acknowledged he should not have taken Delgado's life and talked openly about his religious conversion.

Texas Executes Killer for Prison Slaying

Edward Bell

A federal judge in Virginia has granted Virginia death row inmate Edward Bell a stay of execution to allow Bell to proceed with his federal habeas appeals. Bell has exhausted his state appeals and was scheduled to be executed on January 7th.

Bell Granted Stay