Archive | death penalty

21 July 2010 ~ Comments Off

Retired NYC Police Investigator Voices Concerns about Death Penalty

Today’s Hartford (Connecticut) Courant features an excellent op-ed from Terrence P. Dwyer,  a retired investigator with the New York State Police, Bureau of Criminal Investigation.  In “More than Reasonable Doubt About Death Penalty” (July 21, 2010), Dwyer expresses his concerns about the risk of convicting and executing the innocent.  He also voices concern about the impact of the death penalty on murder victims’ family members.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Clearly, by keeping the death penalty in place, we run the unacceptable risk of executing the innocent. Those of us in law enforcement do our best to take the guilty off the streets, and more often than not we get it right. But in a world where mistakes are inevitable, the death penalty has no place.

With the death penalty as a statutory sentence, though, some prosecutors seek it and set in motion a never-ending legal process. This is sad to watch. Everyone in a capital trial — the prosecutors, defense attorneys, investigators and judge — knows that it will take decades before the case is resolved. But prosecutors still go for the death penalty, and victims’ families are left to endure endless trials and appeals.

Though some want to shorten the legal process in capital cases, that is not going to happen. Because of past wrongful convictions, the courts have mandated safeguards. Capital cases will always be a marathon.”

Read more from this important voice of opposition to the death penalty.

Continue Reading

02 July 2010 ~ Comments Off

The death penalty: Still arbitrary, capricious, and discriminatory

July 2 marked the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Gregg v. Georgia (1976), which upheld the newly crafted death penalty statutes of several states (including that of Texas) and paved the way for the resumption of executions. Just four years earlier, the Court had ruled in Furman v. Georgia (1972) that the death penalty system, as administered at that time, was arbitrary, capricious, and discriminatory – as random as being struck by lightning. With the Gregg decision, however, the justices reversed course and took the position that the death penalty did not offend “the evolving standards of decency which mark the progress of a maturing society.”

In reality, the death penalty is no less arbitrary or any fairer today than it was in 1972. To date, 138 individuals (including 11 in Texas) have been released from death rows nationwide due to evidence of their wrongful conviction. Although the State of Texas accounts for more than one-third of all U.S. executions since 1977, more than half of all Texas counties have not sent a single person to death row. And cases like those of Hank Skinner, Claude Jones, and Cameron Todd Willingham continue to raise doubts about the reliability of the criminal justice system – so much so that according to a national poll conducted earlier this month by Rasmussen Reports, 73% of Americans are at least “somewhat concerned” that some people may be executed for crimes they did not commit, including 40% who are “very concerned.”

These realities led the American Law Institute last fall to withdraw a section of its Model Penal Code concerned with capital punishment because of the “current intractable institutional and structural obstacles to ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment.”

Such concerns have impacted members of the Supreme Court, as well. Retiring Justice John Paul Stevens was part of the majority in the Gregg decision. His views on the death penalty evolved tremendously over his three decades as justice, however, and he became a consistent vote in favor of narrowing the application of the death penalty and, more recently, in questioning its very utility. In 2008, Justice Stevens wrote:

“… I have relied on my own experience in reaching the conclusion that the imposition of the death penalty represents the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes.” (Baze v. Rees, April 16, 2008)

A growing number of religious leaders, murder victim family members, criminal justice professionals, elected officials, and concerned citizens in Texas have reached the same conclusion and are calling for an end to this arbitrary, capricious, and error-prone form of punishment. Texas District Attorneys are seeking the death penalty – and Texas juries are returning it – far less often. In fact, the rate of death penalty sentences handed down annually has decreased 60% over the last 6 years.

Texas has other means to punish the truly guilty and protect society without resorting to state killing. The alternative of Life in Prison without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) enables our state to punish guilty offenders, protect society, and guard against the risk of convicting or executing the innocent. LWOP was not an available option in Texas in 1976. It is today.

Our “maturing” society does not need the death penalty, with its arbitrariness and its attendant possibilities for mistakes. It is time to do away with this fatally flawed and unnecessary punishment and repeal the death penalty.

Continue Reading

27 May 2010 ~ Comments Off

Update on Judge Fine in Houston

Here’s an update from the Houston Chronicle regarding Judge Kevin Fine. This spring, in the case of John Edward Green, Judge Fine ruled the administration of the death penalty unconstitutional due to the risk of wrongful conviction and wrongful execution. He later rescinded the ruling but scheduled a hearing on the motion. He will remain the judge on this case.

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7023883.html
Thursday, May 27, 2010 | Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle

DA’s effort to recuse judge in murder case rejected
By BRIAN ROGERS | Houston Chronicle

A Houston judge who declared the procedures surrounding the death
penalty unconstitutional in March, then rescinded his ruling to hear
more information, will stay on the case, a special judge has ruled.

State District Judge L.J. Gist denied the district attorney’s motion
to recuse Kevin Fine, who presides over the 177th state District
Court.

“It is the finding of this court that the totality of evidence does
not support the state’s motion to recuse Judge Fine nor that his
impartiality might be reasonably questioned,” Gist wrote.

Gist said he filed the denial Tuesday, but clerks said they had not
received it until Wednesday.

On April 1, Harris County’s District Attorney Pat Lykos asked that
Fine be recused after he ruled that the Texas capital murder statute
violates due process provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

“A reasonable person, knowing all the circumstances involved, would
harbor doubts as to the impartiality of Judge Fine,” according to
court documents filed by prosecutors.

If Fine rules the same way after hearing arguments on the issue and
his ruling survives appellate review, it will take the death penalty
off the table for John Edward Green. The 25-year-old Green is accused
in the robbery and fatal shooting of Huong Thien Nguyen, 34, on June
16, 2008.

Fine’s original ruling drew swift rebukes from Lykos, Texas Attorney
General Greg Abbott and Gov. Rick Perry.

Continue Reading

21 May 2010 ~ Comments Off

Urge Clemency for David Lee Powell

David Lee Powell, who was sentenced to death in 1978 for the murder of Austin Police Officer Ralph Ablanedo, is scheduled for execution on June 15, 2010. He has accepted responsibility for his crime and repeatedly expressed his remorse to Officer Ablanedo’s family and the law enforcement community in Austin.

In his 32 years on death row, David has been a model prisoner and has assisted his fellow inmates in numerous ways – diffusing conflicts, teaching others to read, and advocating for those with disabilities. His case starkly demonstrates the fallacy of the “future dangerousness” argument that prosecutors in Texas often use to convince jurors to sentence a defendant to death. At a resentencing hearing for David Powell in 1999, former Texas State Legislator Sissy Farenthold, Ronald Hampton, Executive Director of the National Black Police Association, and several prison guards from death row who had known David for years testified on his behalf. They all attested to his upstanding character and firmly stated that he was no longer a threat to society. David had no history of violence before or since the crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to death.

You can read more about David Lee Powell in an article that appeared this week in the Austin Chronicle (“The execution of David Powell will not serve justice”).

Please send a letter to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, urging clemency for David Lee Powell. Letters from Travis County residents are particularly valuable. You can take action through the website of Amnesty International USA or compose your own letter based on AIUSA’s Urgent Action. Here are some suggested talking points:

-Note that Mr. Powell does not pose a threat or future danger to society, according to several law enforcement officers who testified on his behalf.

-Note that the death penalty issue has changed dramatically in Texas in the last 30 years and that the number of new death sentences has declined more than 60% in recent years.

-Urge the Board to grant clemency as a way to restore the community, rather than move forward with an execution that will lead only to more pain and divisiveness.

For more information, visit www.letdavidlive.org.

Continue Reading

29 April 2010 ~ Comments Off

Texas Executes 7th Death Row Inmate this Year

Samuel Bustamante, convicted of the 1998 fatal stabbing of a man, was put to death in Huntsville, Texas on Tuesday April 27, 2010. This execution was Texas’s 7th this year, with at least 7 more scheduled through July. So far the executions that have taken place in Texas this year total 1 less than all the other states combined.

Continue Reading

29 April 2010 ~ Comments Off

Coverage of Texas Forensic Science Commission Meeting

On Friday, April 23, 2010 the Texas Forensic Science Commission met in Irving, Texas to discuss a number of cases that have been postponed since Governor Rick Perry replaced three of the commission’s members last year. One case under consideration was that of Cameron Todd Willingham. Willingham (additional coverage available here) was executed in 2004 for arson, although a number of forensic science reports have raised serious concerns regarding the evidence which led to Willingham’s death sentence and his possible wrongful execution.

Despite the commission’s meeting, substantial progress was not made on the case with newly appointed commission chairman John Bradley offering no timeline for deciding on Willingham’s case and commission member Sarah Kerrigan stating that a decision on Willingham’s case was “still in its infancy”. The sub-commission which is reviewing the file did add a fourth member on Friday- Lance Evans, a Fort-Worth criminal defense attorney.
A number of news publications have spoke out regarding the commission’s meeting:
“The Big Stall”- Texas Tribune, available here.
“More Time for Willingham”- Texas Tribune, available here.
“Forensic panel ‘just beginning’ Willingham arson inquiry”- Austin American Statesman, available here.
“Four member panel to discuss Willingham case in private”- Fort Worth Star Telegram, available here.

Continue Reading

22 April 2010 ~ 1 Comment

Coverage of Supreme Court denial to hear Hood’s Appeal

On Monday, April 19, 2010, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear arguments in the case of Charles Dean Hood and his 1990 death sentence which was prosecuted by a district attorney engaged in a sexual extra-martial affair with the presiding judge. Judge Verla Sue Holland presided over the trial while Tom O’Connell, then Collin County district attorney, prosecuted Hood; the couple had been involved in a secret affair for years, but did not admit to the accusations until 2008. The case has gained both national and international notoriety with extensive coverage of the Supreme Court’s decision, which was made without comment, coming forth over the course of the week.
Hood’s appeal to the Supreme Court was supported by 30 top legal ethicists and an array of high-profile judges and prosecutors, including former FBI director William Sessions and Texas’s former governor and attorney general Mark White. Although Hood was granted a re-sentencing trail in February by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, this was granted on a legal issue unrelated to the affair. Essentially, both the Texas and national Court’s refusal to acknowledge the conflict of interest in the case, has left many to question how constitutionally complying the judicial system is.
The following are links to various articles available since the Supreme Court’s decision:

Hood case not heard by U.S. Supreme Court“- Plano Courier Star

Continue Reading

19 April 2010 ~ Comments Off

U.S. Supreme Court Denies Cert for Charles Hood

Today the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear arguments in the case of Charles Hood, a Texas death row inmate. This case has garnered national attention from numerous attorneys and legal ethicists because of the troubling questions it raises as to whether Hood received a fair trial.


Andrea Keilen, Director of Texas Defender Service, which represents Mr. Hood, issued the following statement:

“We are disheartened that the United States Supreme Court ruled not to hear the case of Charles Hood in which the trial judge and district attorney who prosecuted Hood engaged in a secret, long-term, extra-marital affair. This is particularly disappointing given that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to date has ignored this obvious and outrageous constitutional violation. Dozens of former state and federal prosecutors and judges and the nation’s leading legal ethicists have criticized the handling of this case by the Texas death penalty system. No one should be prosecuted for a parking ticket let alone for capital murder by the district attorney who has had a sexual affair with the judge handling the case and despite the Court’s decision today, we will continue to zealously represent Mr. Hood as we believe his case was marred by a fundamental injustice.”

##
According to the Dallas Morning News:

“In February, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Hood was entitled to a new sentencing hearing — for reasons unrelated to the sexual relationship between the judge and the prosecutor. The court said the jury that sentenced him was not given proper instructions on how to consider his background when determining his punishment.”

Read more from the Dallas Morning News:
http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/041910dnmethoodcase.26259a024.html..

Continue Reading