"That the death penalty, for murder in the commission of armed robbery, each year saves the lives of scores, if not hundreds of victims of such crimes cannot reasonably be doubted by any judge who has had substantial experience at the trial court level with the handling of such persons." — The Honorable B. Rey Shauer, Justice of the Supreme Court of California
4/03 – Sanders tries again for death penalty moratorium
State Sen. Hank Sanders is trying for the 4th year to place a moratorium on executions in Alabama, even though he knows his legislation doesn’t stand much chance of passing. "We hope to keep dropping it in until people see that there’s a problem," Sanders, D-Selma, said. Each year since 2000 Sanders has introduced a bill to place a three-year moratorium on executions so officials can make sure the death sentence is being administered fairly and impartially and so they can can eliminate the death penalty for the mentally retarded and people under 18. The bill has never passed the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on Sanders’ newest version of the legislation Wednesday, but did not take a vote on it. Committee Chairman Rodger Smitherman, D-Tuscaloosa, said he would leave it up to Sanders to decide when to do that. Most members of the Judiciary Committee left before the public hearing ended. Sanders, an attorney, says the chances of a person getting a death sentence increase dramatically if he is black, if the victim is white, and if he is so poor that he can’t hire his own lawyer. Clay Crenshaw, who handles capital murder cases for the attorney general’s office, opposed the legislation. Crenshaw said Alabama has not had the mistakes in death penalty cases that some states have had. He also said Alabama has improved the representation that poor defendants get in capital murder cases. The state now pays the attorneys more and requires that they have 5 years of experience. Sanders’ legislation drew support Wednesday from several people, including Wilson Myers, the Libertarian candidate for attorney general last year, and Roy Johnson, chancellor of the state’s 2-year college system. Johnson, a former legislator, said state officials need to take time to study the entire criminal justice system. "Corrections is broken," Johnson said.
2/04 – Lawmakers bury bill to ban executions of young murderers
The sponsor of a bill to ban executions of murderers who commit their crimes while under age 18 says she hopes testimony about teenagers’ brain development changes minds of colleagues who now oppose the ban. However, Sen. Linda Aguirre acknowledged Wednesday that her bill (SB1139) is dead, at least for now, because it would have been defeated by the Senate Judiciary Committee if brought to a vote. Aguirre, D-Phoenix, said she wanted the bill to remain technically alive in hopes it can be revived later in the legislative session. Though the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule later this year on whether to allow executions for young killers, the burial of Aguirre’s bill means that the six men now on death row for murders they committed while under age 18 could be joined by others. The Judiciary Committee heard testimony from supporters and opponents of Aguirre’s bill. Aguirre said she found persuasive the testimony by Mark Wellek, a Phoenix psychiatrist who said decision-making portions of brains of people age 16 and 17 are not fully developed. "Therefore they’re not as culpable," Wellek said. "This is not a political or a moral judgment." If people that age kill, Wellek said, "they should be incarcerated." Paul McMurdie, a Maricopa County prosecutor who formerly served as the state attorney general’s death penalty lawyer, testified against Aguirre’s proposed ban. Sentencing juries should be allowed to consider circumstances of crimes and criminals on a case-by-case basis, McMurdie said. "It is not arbitrary to weigh it on an individual case." The veteran prosecutor cited the case of Tonatihu "Tony" Aguilar, a death row inmate who was 16 years old in 1996 when he committed three murders in Phoenix – a young man shot after a road-rage chase and a couple killed over a debt while their 5-year-old boy watched. Since being arrested after fleeing to Mexico for a year, Aguilar severely beat a guard, McMurdie said. "He is going to be a danger to all whom he comes in contact with the rest of his life." Aguilar got a sentence of natural life in prison in the double-slaying, but prosecutor Maria Armijo successfully argued to jurors that Aguilar should be sentenced to death for the road-rage killing of Jonathan Bria. "He was basically living as an adult so we were able to overcome the age because of his lifestyle," she said. Defense attorney Robert Storrs said the trial judge permitted only some of planned defense testimony on applying the death penalty to minors. Storrs said he wanted the jury to hear that the last execution of a person under 18 when the crime was committed occurred in 1881. "But we didn’t get that into the jury." Nor did the judge allow testimony that the United States is one of only a few countries that permit such executions, Storrs said. The U.S. Supreme Court last week announced it will decide whether the U.S. Constitution forbids the execution of under-18 killers. The court ruled in 1986 that it would be cruel and unusual punishment to execute murderers who were younger than 16 when they killed. Urging lawmakers to pass the current bill, attorney Marty Lieberman noted that the Supreme Court cited states’ views on executions of mentally retarded murderers when it banned such executions. "You can’t wait for the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is waiting for you," Lieberman said.
6/05 – A group of Assembly Democrats has announced a plan to seek a moratorium on capitol punishment in California, citing the possibility of executing innocent people. Assemblyman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood, said Tuesday he would introduce a bill next year to halt executions until January 2009. That’s about a year after a report is due from an expert panel established by the state Senate to examine how capital punishment is applied in the state. Koretz said California stands "at grave risk of executing an innocent person" unless it first examines a range of issues associated with the death penalty. The debate over capital punishment has in recent years been infused with accusations of uneven implementation and has been stoked by DNA evidence testing, which has exonerated several convicts in various cases across the country. "We can’t take the risk that we’re going to get it wrong again and send an innocent person to their death," Koretz said. "Time is of the essence." Koretz was joined by Assembly co-authors Sally Lieber, D-Mountain View, and Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, chairman of the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
2/07 – Lawmaker wants to divert death-penalty funds to cold cases
Colorado State Rep. Paul Weissmann wants to abolish the death penalty and use the savings from prosecuting and defending death penalty cases to solve old cases, including 1,200 unsolved murders since 1970. Weissmann, a Democrat from Louisville, said the state could save about $2 million a year that is spent prosecuting and defending death penalty cases. He said the money could be better spent catching criminals still walking the streets. The legislation (House Bill 1094) would use the savings to help finance the forensic unit, the chemistry lab and a cold-case unit in the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. It would also allow local law enforcement agencies and relatives of victims to request help solving old cases.
2/03 – Tinkering with death – Editorial
The Colorado Supreme Court Monday reduced the sentences of 2 condemned killers, George Woldt and Francisco Martinez Jr., to life without parole. The decision almost certainly means that a 3rd killer, William "Cody" Neal, will have his death sentence reduced to life without parole as well. The annals of Colorado’s crimes yield few more vicious criminals than Woldt, Martinez and Neal. But don’t blame the court for sparing them from being strapped to a gurney. That fault lies squarely with the legislature and former Gov. Roy Romer – who discarded a constitutionally tested death-penalty law in favor of an experiment in which 3-judge panels would decide whether to sentence convicted killers to death or life without parole. The previous law actually did result in the 1st execution in Colorado since 1967 – that of Gary Davis in 1997. But legislators were frustrated because Colorado juries weren’t sending more killers to death row. They voted in 1996 – at Romer’s suggestion – to change the law to allow 3-judge panels to make the decision on life or death after juries had found killers guilty. The 1996 change did not affect Davis, who was convicted under the earlier law.) In the cynical arithmetic of death-penalty proponents, the 1996 law was designed to produce more executions because the previous law required Colorado juries to be unanimous in voting for a death penalty – meaning there were 12 possible vetoes. The 1996 law still required a unanimous decision but since it reduced the number of possible vetoes to 3, backers hoped for more judgments of death. In fact, it didn’t work out that way, with only Woldt, Martinez and Neal drawing the death penalty under the three-judge system. But the number of cases where the new system was invoked was small – mercifully, because that reflects the rarity of such heinous crimes – and no real judgment about the "efficiency" of the new blueprint for death could be drawn before the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down last year in an Arizona case that also voided similar laws in Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Nebraska. The state Supreme Court decision Monday was inevitable in the wake of that ruling. For the record, The Denver Post has long opposed the death penalty and still does. But even citizens who support the death penalty should share the belief, so eloquently voiced by the U.S. Supreme Court, that the jury system represents "the conscience of the community." The death penalty is not a technical issue to be resolved by experts, but a question that goes to the nature and soul of the community and its representatives in court: the jury. And in the U.S. legal system, the jury is also supposed to be the sole finder of fact. Laws requiring judges, not juries, to determine whether a crime involved "aggravating factors" that permit the imposition of a death penalty usurp that function by asking judges to serve as fact-finders. Following last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision, Gov. Bill Owens called a special session of the legislature to reinstitute the pre-1996 law that returned the life-or-death decision to the jury. If Colorado really has to have a death penalty, that’s the best way to do it. But this endless tinkering with the machinery of death only underscores the arbitrary and capricious manner in which that irreversible sanction is meted out in modern-day America.
4/03 – Judiciary Committee set to finalize death penalty bill
In Hartford, the legislature’s Judiciary Committee is preparing to finalize a bill that would make 21 changes to the state’s death penalty. Lawmakers say the proposal to revamp the state’s capital punishment statute came from a blue ribbon commission appointed to ensure that innocent people aren’t put to death, and that minorities are not unfairly targeted. The proposed bill, drafted from suggestions from the commission’s report, calls for the creation of a Death Penalty Authorization Committee. The body would be made up of the chief state’s attorney and a representative from each of the 13 state’s attorney’s offices. It would approve any request from a prosecutor before a death penalty case could proceed. Connecticut has not executed anyone since 1960, when Joseph "Mad Dog" Taborsky went to the electric chair for a murder and robbery spree. The state currently has 7 men on death row.
4/03 – Death Penalty Goes Nowhere In Md. Session
Seldom in the quarter-century since Maryland reinstated capital punishment has this deeply contentious issue presented lawmakers with as much conflict as it did during the just-ended General Assembly. The new governor lifted his predecessor’s moratorium on executions, even as a state-funded study revealed disparities in how Maryland decides who should be put to death. Within weeks, an execution warrant was signed for one of the 12 men on death row — followed days later by the state attorney general’s impassioned call for outright abolition of such sentences. Legislators responded with a score of bills that seemed to cover every possible approach, from narrowing or expanding use of the death penalty to requiring that a prosecutor seek it. Yet in the end, virtually nothing changed. Not a single piece of legislation made it out of either chamber by last week’s adjournment — though one Senate proposal fell short 24 to 23, a result that both sides managed to claim as a measure of victory. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) quickly fulfilled his campaign promise and ended the ban on executions, but inmate Steven H. Oken’s countdown was stayed not long after by the state’s highest court. That ambiguous outcome may be fine with many Marylanders, death penalty experts say. "It may not be a failure of government to do something. It may be a reflection of the minds of the people," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "They seem to want the death penalty on the books but not a lot of executions." Maryland has executed only three people since 1961. Still, looking back to the start of the session, it would have been hard to predict this kind of stalemate. With the possibility that Ehrlich’s move could lead to as many as seven executions this year, anti-death penalty momentum appeared to be building even before University of Maryland criminologist Raymond Paternoster released his research in early January. His study of nearly 6,000 homicide cases across the state from 1978 to 1999 concluded that prosecutors were far more likely to pursue the death penalty for black suspects charged with killing white victims. Paternoster also found that geography was a major factor in determining whether a suspect faced a capital charge. The disparities were systemic, he stressed. "They cannot be identified on a case-by-case analysis." Numerous lawmakers pushed for further review of the research. Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R) said he would urge Ehrlich not to dismiss it. Paternoster welcomed the outside scrutiny because, as he repeated several days ago, "these facts are troubling." Paternoster said he anticipated a commission being formed to investigate the findings. "I thought that was a noncontroversial position," he said. But efforts at follow-up went nowhere. (Steele, who has been meeting with prosecutors and others at Ehrlich’s request, declined through a spokesman to talk about the issue last week.) University of Iowa law professor David C. Baldus, who also has studied Maryland’s system, said he expects the reaction would have been far different had Paternoster found significant disparity flowing from defendants’ backgrounds. While the distinctions shouldn’t matter legally — "both violate the Constitution," Baldus said — "a claim based on the race of the defendant carries much greater weight from a moral standpoint than disparity based on the race of the victim." Given that, legislating a moratorium was always a long shot. Supporters such as Del. Salima Siler Marriott (D-Baltimore) say they believe that they made strides even in defeat: "In the Senate, we lost by one vote. They filibustered it to death 2 years ago. That’s progress." And though opponents know the debate is not over, blocking the moratorium bills was key for them this year. In fact, Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford) came to the State House intent on doing nothing else if that were what the task demanded. The brother of Oken’s 1st victim lives in her district, and she kept Dawn Marie Garvin’s gruesome rape and murder in mind as she led the floor fight against the Senate measure. "Sometimes stopping something is just as important as passing something," Jacobs said. Once Oken’s execution was stayed, the pressure to address the death penalty eased, several legislators suggested. The 90-day session was packed with other critical concerns, which allowed little time to delve into Paternoster’s findings. Gary Bair, solicitor general in the state attorney general’s criminal appeals division, watched from afar as the many bills stalled. "There were just a lot of cross currents and no clear consensus," he said. The attention now shifts to the courts, state and federal. One week after the Senate refused to temporarily halt executions, Bair was at the U.S. Supreme Court to defend the death sentence of an inmate convicted of drowning an elderly Baltimore County woman in her bathtub in 1988. Kevin Wiggins contends he was incompetently represented at sentencing when his trial attorneys failed to tell jurors about the horrific abuse he had endured as a child. Next month, Bair will go before the Maryland Court of Appeals on a case that could upend capital punishment in the state far beyond the General Assembly’s recent considerations. Oken, a three-time murderer, is arguing that Maryland’s statute is unconstitutional because of the standard it directs judges or juries to use when deciding whether a convicted killer should be put to death. "I’m hoping we don’t need [future] political action if the appeals court bites the bullet," his attorney, Fred Bennett, acknowledged. Indeed, if the court finds for Oken, it could force resentencing in all of Maryland’s current death row cases. That would restart the appeals process for each man. "It would effectively stop executions," said Jane Henderson, co-director of the Quixote Center, a Maryland-based social justice organization. "We would definitely be years away from the next one."
8/02 – Elections supervisors suing over death penalty ballot question
15 county elections supervisors sued the state Monday hoping to remove a proposed constitutional amendment on the death penalty from the ballot, saying it is too long and confusing. The Legislature voted to place the question on the ballot during its 2001 session. It asks voters to put the death penalty in the Florida Constitution and is similar to a measure approved by voters in 1998 and thrown out by the state Supreme Court 2 years later. The justices said the measure wasn’t clearly written. Neither is the current question, said Ion Sancho, the Leon County elections supervisor. "Telling the voters that they get to vote on a 714-word summary which a third-year law student couldn’t figure out simply is plain wrong," he said. Proposed amendments placed on the ballot through citizens petitions are limited to 75 words, but the Legislature does not have to follow the same rules. The question, which will be the first listed on the ballot, will take up the entire front and back of a ballot page, Sancho said. He predicted that some voters will not bother reading all of it and may skip the remaining questions. "It will take more than a few minutes for any voter to read this 714-word monstrosity and that simply is not right," Sancho said. But Sen. Locke Burt said the supervisors could have questioned the proposed amendment when it was before the legislature and wondered why it took so long to decide there was a problem. "Where were they 2 years ago when this was going through the legislative process?" asked Burt, R-Ormond Beach. "I never had one supervisor of elections tell me that it was too long or that it was too confusing." He said the legislature was simply trying to clarify the question the Supreme Court threw out. "If you want to blame somebody, blame it on the Supreme Court," Burt said. The lawsuit was filed in Leon County Circuit Court and names acting Secretary of State Jim Smith and Attorney General Bob Butterworth.
3/03 – Bill: No death penalty for mentally retarded
Those accused of murder who are judged to be mentally retarded would be spared the death penalty under House-passed legislation endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Under the proposed law, potential capital defendants would submit to a pretrial procedure in which a judge would determine whether the defendant qualified to be excluded. Part of the test will be that the defendant must have an IQ of less than 70 and have been determined to be mentally retarded based on limited adapted functioning by age 18.
12/03 – 2 legislators want executions again
2 Central Illinois lawmakers called Friday for a repeal of the moratorium on the death penalty in connection with the Sept. 2 drowning deaths of 3 DeWitt County children. In a letter to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, state Rep. Bill Mitchell and state Sen. Bill Brady said they believe the children’s mother, Amanda Hamm, and her former boyfriend, Maurice Lagrone Jr., should receive the ultimate punishment if convicted of murder. "I represent the people of Clinton who are mourning the tragic murder of 3 young children," said Mitchell, R-Forsyth. "At the present time, if those accused of this monstrous crime are found to be guilty, the most severe punishment they could receive is life in prison." Mitchell’s statement, however, is incorrect. Under state law, Hamm and Lagrone could still be sentenced to death if convicted of multiple 1st-degree murder charges. Executions could still take place if Blagojevich lifts the moratorium put into place by his predecessor, George Ryan. Jane Bohman, executive director of the Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said Mitchell and Brady are a good example of why the governor should wait on lifting the moratorium. "It (the letter) points out how emotions can cloud our judgment on this issue," Bohman said. "If we allow our leaders to lead by emotion rather than by the cold, hard facts of how deeply flawed our capital punishment system is, we could live to regret it." Since Ryan imposed the moratorium, lawmakers have adopted new laws aimed at reforming a death-penalty system that saw 13 death-row inmates set free because of mistakes made by police and prosecutors. Before leaving office in January, Ryan cleared Illinois’ death row out of fear the state would put an innocent person to death. Despite the reforms adopted this year, however, Blagojevich has said he’s not ready to lift the moratorium. Spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said Friday the governor wants to wait and see if the recently adopted reforms work. In addition, Ottenhoff said the case involving the drowning deaths of Christopher Hamm, 6, Austin Brown, 3, and Kyleigh Hamm, 23 months, should work its way through the court system. "We need to let the judicial process take its course," she said. Mitchell and Brady, R-Bloomington, said Blagojevich should move faster. "We have done our duty to address the problems of a flawed system and that was only achieved by the commitment of many hard working individuals," the letter read. "Their work should not go in vain and the victims of violent crimes and their families today deserve to have justice prevail." Bohman called Brady and Mitchell’s letter "very disappointing." "It shows you how the system became such a mess in the 1st place," she said. "We know now that over a dozen people, who everybody thought were just as evil as everybody thinks these people are, were ready to be killed, and then it turned out they didn’t even do the crime."
12/03 – No place for a felon
A convicted felon is seeking to be reborn as an Illinois legislator. Aaron Patterson, a former death row inmate, has filed for the Democratic primary. The district Patterson hopes to represent includes parts of Englewood, Canaryville, Bridgeport and Back of the Yards on the South Side. Patterson was released from death row after former Gov. George Ryan decided the evidence against him in a 1986 double homicide was insufficient. The former gang leader claimed he was tortured by the notorious former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge into giving a false confession. Since his release, Patterson has, understandably, been an outspoken critic of the criminal justice system. But we don’t think convicted felons should hold public office. If elected, Patterson would be able to make the laws, but he would be deemed morally unfit to get a law license. He would be a representative of the people, but would be unable to get a teaching position in a public school. It isn’t Patterson’s death row exoneration that concerns us. It’s his criminal past. A former gang leader, Patterson was sentenced to 13 years for a 1985 attempted murder and aggravated battery. The last thing a gang-plagued community like Englewood needs is a former gang-leader-turned-legislator who appears to have gotten one over on the system.
Chicago Sun-Times Editorial
3/03 – House panel advances bill on death penalty cases
An Indiana House committee on Wednesday endorsed a bill requiring the state Supreme Court to consider newly discovered evidence in death penalty cases. The bill would require the Supreme Court to consider whether the previously undisclosed evidence undermines the conviction or sentence and allows the court to remand the case back to a trial court. The Supreme Court currently reviews only the legal aspects of a case. 2 committee members raised concerns that the bill as written would open the door for frivolous appeals. "This reeks with delays," said Rep. Dean Young, R-Hartford City. But the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Anita Bowser, D-Michigan City, said evidence discovered after a death penalty is imposed must be heard to prevent an innocent person from being executed. The Indiana Civil Liberties Union, Indiana Public Defenders Council and state attorney general’s office also support the bill. Indiana has 38 people under death sentences, including a woman being held in Ohio. The state is challenging decisions to overturn the death penalties against 3 others who officially remain on death row.
6/05 – Gay marriage, death penalty talks unlikely
Iowans should not expect a full-scale legislative debate of gay marriage or the death penalty next year, Senate Democratic leader Mike Gronstal said Friday. The Council Bluffs lawmaker, who is exploring running for governor in 2006, downplayed the possibility of a renewed debate in the Legislature about imposing a constitutional ban on gay marriage. "I think it’s pretty unlikely we’ll have a debate on that. We already have a state law that outlaws gay marriage," said Gronstal. He was commenting on the Iowa Supreme Court’s rejection Friday of a lawsuit, spearheaded by conservative lawmakers, to overturn a district judge’s ruling that dissolved a lesbian couple’s out-of-state civil union. "It’s one of those issues where I don’t see the votes to pass" in the Senate, Gronstal said during a taping Friday of "Iowa Press," an Iowa Public Television program that will be shown at noon Sunday. The Republican-controlled House this year approved, 54-44, a constitutional amendment declaring that only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in Iowa. The proposal never came up for debate in the Senate, divided equally between Democrats and Republicans. As co-leaders of the Senate, Gronstal and Republican counterpart Stewart Iverson of Dows have the power to block legislation they don’t like. To become part of the Iowa Constitution, House Joint Resolution 1 would have to be endorsed by the Senate by the end of the 2006 session, then by the next General Assembly in either 2007 or 2008, and finally by voters in a statewide referendum. Gronstal noted that the Senate defeated a similar anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment in 2004. The Democratic legislative leader also said he would continue to block any Republican efforts in the 2006 session to revive the death penalty in Iowa. "It’s pure politics for Republicans… I don’t know why we would waste our time" debating the issue, said Gronstal, who objects to capital punishment on moral grounds and also maintains it would be a very costly addition to the legal system. On the other hand, Gronstal said he would still like to see the Legislature approve an increase in the state cigarette tax. The Senate this year approved a plan to double the cigarette tax to 72 cents a pack, but the proposal died in the House. "I’m not convinced we’ll have to raise it next year, but I am convinced it’s the right public health thing to do, to discourage young people from starting smoking," said Gronstal, a former smoker. On the issue of taxes, he said the 2006 Legislature is unlikely to revise Iowa’s income tax structure, but there will be "more opportunity" to make changes in the state’s cumbersome property tax system. Gronstal said this week that he will decide by Sept. 1 whether to seek the Democratic nomination for governor.
4/04 – Life-without-parole bill sent to Sebelius
A bill giving juries the option of sentencing someone to life in prison without parole is headed to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius after the Senate agreed today to technical changes approved by the House. The measure creates an alternative to the death penalty in capital cases. Currently, Kansas’ harshest alternative to execution is the "Hard 50" — life in prison without a chance for parole for 50 years. First approved by the Senate last month, the bill won House passage last week with minor changes. The Senate voted 39-1 today to accept the changes. Legislative auditors said in December the average cost of a death penalty case in Kansas is $1.2 million. An advisory group of judges and attorneys that studied the state’s death penalty law last year concluded the life-without-parole option could save the state between $400,000 and $500,000 per trial. Of the 38 states that have capital punishment, 35 have an alternative sentence of life without parole, auditors said. The exceptions are Kansas, New Mexico and Texas. 7 people have been sentenced to death in Kansas since capital punishment was reinstated in 1994. The state’s last executions, by hanging in 1965, occurred under a capital punishment law struck down as unconstitutional in 1973. Life without parole is SB 422.
./04 – Kentucky Unborn Victims Bill Continues to Advance, Courts Get Involved
A 2001 automobile accident in which a pregnant woman and her unborn child died may become the first challenge to Kentucky’s unborn victims of violence legislation, due to the rapid progress the bill is making. The Senate Judiciary committee passed HB 108 Thursday, a bill that would expand the definition of a homicide to include unborn children from the moment of conception. The bill, which previously passed the House, now goes to the full Senate. If it passes there without amendment, Governor Ernie Fletcher is expected to sign it into law. As the legislation includes an "emergency clause," it will become effective immediately. The Kentucky Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments in the death of Veronica Jane Thornsbury who was in labor when she was killed in an automobile accident March 25, 2001 by a driver who was speeding and ran a red light while under the influence of drugs. Charles Christopher Morris, the driver, was charged with 2 counts of murder. In a plea bargain agreement, Morris pleaded guilty to both counts, but appealed the charge for the unborn child, as Kentucky has no law allowing for such a charge, even at such a late term. He is currently serving two concurrent 10-year sentences. If the "fetal homicide" law is passed before the Supreme Court issues a ruling, such grounds will not exist, and the Court will have an opportunity to uphold the constitutionality of the bill shortly after it is passed. Lawsuits against similar laws in other states have been turned back and the unborn victims laws have been upheld by the courts in every instance. Senate President David Williams (R-Burkesville), predicted the legislation will come to a vote this week, especially considering that the Senate passed a similar bill, SB 4, in January. "I believe that it’s a good, strong piece of legislation that will protect the unborn," said Williams. A difference in the two bills is the limit to penalties SB 4 allowed for the death penalty, while HB 108 does not. The distinction has earned HB 108 the endorsement from the Kentucky Catholic Conference and the Kentucky Right to Life Association. "Far too long have Kentucky mothers been told that their unborn children don’t matter in the eyes of the law when those children are killed or injured because of the criminal acts of others," said Kentucky Right to Life Association in a statement. "We are hopeful that the KY Senate will be cognizant of the emergency provision on the bill and act quickly and vote for HB 108, with no amendments. Kentucky Right to Life Association supports the bill, as is, and we look forward with joyful anticipation to the day when this bill becomes Kentucky law." According to the National Right to Life Committee, 28 states have unborn victims laws, including 15 that cover mothers and their unborn children throughout pregnancy. The presentation of three bills in the Kentucky legislature to protect unborn children this session, HB 108, HB 3, and SB 4, comes after numerous violent crimes and automobile accidents claimed the lives of several unborn children — none of which were ever recognized as being alive by the courts. Charmaine Holbrook who lost her unborn child last summer in an automobile accident, spoke at a rally for Rep. Lee’s bill earlier this month. The other driver, who tried to pass in a no-passing zone, will be tried for a single charge of assault on Holbrook. He won’t be held accountable for killing her baby. "That man won’t spend one day — not one day in jail for killing my daughter," Holbrook said in a choked voice. "That’s unthinkable." More recently, the body of 18-year-old Ashley Renee Lyons was found shot to death in her car in January. Her family had just found out hours before her death that she was 5 months pregnant. "My grandbaby was alive. I saw pictures of him," said Lyons’ mother, Carol.
4/04 – House Panel Considers Bill to Put ‘Fairness’ in Death Penalty
Black Americans have been aware of problems with the death penalty for years, the sponsor of a Senate bill to study the sanction’s disparities told a House committee Wednesday, and it’s time something is done about those problems. "The African-American public is very aware of these disparities, and they’ve been saying this for years and years," Sen. Ralph Hughes, D-Baltimore, told the House Judiciary Committee. "The criminal justice system in Maryland is unfair." Hughes’ bill, which passed the Senate 30-16 last month, would create a new Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment. The panel would continue a University of Maryland study of the state’s use of the death penalty released last year and would be charged with proposing solutions. The springboard for the bill was a 2003 University of Maryland study by Raymond Paternoster, commissioned by former Gov. Parris Glendening, which found both racial and geographic bias in how the state applies the ultimate sanction. "Inequalities have led to the death penalty," Hughes said. "After the 2003 Report by Raymond Paternoster, nothing was done to solve the problems presented by his study. The application of the death penalty is not fair as far as we are concerned." Jane Henderson, director of the Quixote Center, an advocacy group located in Hyattsville, pointed out in her written testimony that Paternoster found the chance that the state’s attorney would seek a death sentence was twice as high if the person was black rather than white. Black perpetrators of crimes who killed white victims were nearly 3 times more likely to face the death penalty in Baltimore County than in the city of Baltimore. Finally, everyone on death row currently is there for the murder of a white person, she said the study found. Adding to the difficulties surrounding the death penalty is the advent of reliable genetic testing, which has been instrumental in freeing a number of death row inmates nationwide, Hughes and others said. Hughes’ bill would approve a commission consisting of 2 state senators, 2 delegates, the Attorney General, the State Public Defender, a state’s attorney, the president of the Maryland State Bar Association, the secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services, and the president of the Maryland Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Opponents have argued that Paternoster’s study found that race was not a relevant factor in the application of the death penalty. Gov. Robert Ehrlich has said in the past that the death penalty has been administered fairly, but his office could not be reached for comment on the bill. In 2002, Glendening imposed a moratorium on executions while Paternoster completed his study. The moratorium was voided with the election of Ehrlich.
11/05 – Reinstate capital punishment (H 3834)
A House vote of 53-100 rejected Gov. Mitt Romney’s bill reinstating the death penalty in Massachusetts. The measure allows the imposition of the death penalty in specific first-degree murder cases including multiple killings, murder with torture and murders that were committed as an act of political terrorism or against a law enforcement officer, judge, juror, prosecutor, attorney or witness. It also requires that conclusive scientific evidence link the defendant to the crime scene, the murder weapon or the victim’s body, and prohibits a jury from imposing the death penalty if one or more jurors harbor any residual doubt about the defendant’s guilt. Supporters said that this narrowly-drawn legislation is almost foolproof and is "the gold standard for the death penalty." They argued that it includes numerous safeguards to ensure fairness and execute only those truly guilty of the most heinous murders. Opponents said that any death penalty is fallible and irrevocable. They argued that it is not a deterrent to murder and often discriminates along race and class lines.
3/04 – Vote falls short on death penalty–Petition may be only way voters get say on issue
It appears a petition-gathering effort will be the only way voters soon will be able to cast a ballot to end the state’s 158-year-old ban on the death penalty. The state House failed Thursday to get enough votes to put on the Nov. 2 ballot a constitutional amendment allowing capital punishment for certain 1st-degree murder cases. On a 55-52 vote, the House was 18 short of the 2/3 vote needed to send the measure to the Senate. It’s the 2nd time in 5 years that a resolution to allow the death penalty in Michigan failed in the House. The resolution would have considered changing the state constitution to allow the death penalty to be considered for 1st-degree murder cases in which there is absolutely no doubt about a defendant’s guilt. Now, a 1st-degree murder conviction carries an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole. Rep. Larry Julian, a former state trooper who introduced the resolution, said he wouldn’t ask for the measure to be reconsidered. "It would take a traumatic experience for the public to come forward and say they want this," the Lennon Republican said. Representatives quietly listened to about 20 of their colleagues debate the issue for more than 2 hours. Those who spoke on the issue focused on the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent, the religious aspects of state-sanctioned killing and whether voters should be able to decide the issue. During the debate, Julian introduced the families of Detroit police Officers Jennifer Fettig, 26, and Matthew Bowens, 21, who were killed during a Feb. 16 traffic stop. The families were in the House gallery for Thursday’s debate with Evelyn Sandborn of Sunfield, whose daughter Kassandra, who has developmental disabilities, was stabbed to death by 3 men in 1998. After the vote, Bowens’ father, James, said he plans to go ahead with an effort to gather the petition signatures needed to have voters decide in November whether the death penalty should be considered for those convicted of killing a police officer or corrections official. Fettig’s mother, Kathy, said the people ultimately will decide the issue. "It’s just another political ploy so they won’t have to deal with it," she said about the failed House vote. Democratic Rep. Brenda Clack of Detroit broke down crying during her floor speech as she recounted the violent death of her nephew, Dana Jones. "Nothing, I felt, would ever ease our pain but to have the killer suffer the same experience Dana felt," she said. "Yet my strong religious background let me know that to take a life was a crime in and of itself. While I can never support the death penalty, I do hope that the person who took Dana’s life will never have a day of peace." Touching on themes of revenge, justice, forgiveness and religion, an impassioned 2-hour death penalty debate in the Michigan House failed to garner the 73 votes needed to put the issue before the public. Still, the 55-52 vote Thursday showed some momentum on the issue. When the same debate was held in 1999, only 30 House members voted in favor of the death penalty. Watching the debate from the gallery above the chamber were the families of 2 Detroit police officers killed on duty last month and that of Kassandra Sandborn, a disabled Sunfield woman stabbed and beaten to death by 3 young men who pretended to befriend her. The families support the death penalty. The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Larry Julian, R-Lennon, implored his colleagues to let voters decide, even if they oppose the death penalty. Those convicted of premeditated murder in Michigan face mandatory life without the chance of parole. Julian’s measure would allow executions only for those who were convicted with absolute certainty of their guilt. Michigan has a 158-year-old prohibition in its constitution on the death penalty; voters have not addressed the issue since it was included in the 1963 revision of the state constitution. Julian said it was time to let a new generation decide. "These are cold-blooded, vicious, violent murderers," Julian said. "Let’s give this generation a chance. Let this generation voice their opinion." Rep. Gary Woronchak, R-Dearborn, said he opposes the death penalty but was persuaded to vote for it when he looked at the grieving families. "I don’t support capital punishment, but I do support the people’s right to self-govern," Woronchak said. Opponents argued that revenge would not help victims’ families, nor would it deter crime. "It does not bring back one life. It does not ease that pain at all. After that person is executed, your loved one is still dead," said Rep. Bill McConico, D-Detroit. Another opponent, Rep. Julie Dennis, D-Muskegon, said Christians must practice forgiveness. "It is about what Christ has asked us to do in our lives, that we too forgive," she said. But death penalty supporter Rep. Fulton Sheen, R-Plainwell, said both could be practiced. "There’s a confusion today between forgiveness and consequences," he said. "Forgiveness should not remove the consequences." Rep. Jim Howell, R-St. Charles, said the most serious crimes deserve the most serious punishment, death. "Are we giving justice to the families and the victims of these most serious, heinous crimes?" he asked. Eleven Republicans joined 41 Democrats in voting no. The measure was supported by 51 Republicans and 4 Democrats.
2 area House members say public should make death penalty decision
Southwest Michigan’s state House members have strong feelings about last week’s attempt to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to allow capital punishment. The resolution failed Thursday in a 55-52 vote in the House, 18 votes short of the two-thirds required to send the measure to the Senate. Of those voting, Southwest Michigan representatives Neal Nitz and Mary Ann Middaugh voted with the majority. Charles LaSata voted against it. However, a petition effort by voters could put the measure on the Nov. 2 ballot. Neal Nitz, R-Baroda, who represents the 78th District, said he voted for the amendment to keep up with changes in society. "The reason I voted to allow the death penalty to be added as a form of sentence was that I felt that the Constitution was changed back in 1963, over 40 years ago, for the Constitution to express the true feelings of the residents of the state of Michigan would be to let the people decide it. "It was stated that there were 1,000 murders between 1959 and 1963, and 34,000 between 1959 until today. Times definitely have changed. You talk with people, a lot of them seem in favor of the death penalty." He said the House heard from opponents and proponents of capital punishment at length before the vote. He said legislators also discussed concerns that if the death penalty were allowed, poor people and minorities would be executed in disproportionately higher percentages that wealthier people and whites. Although the vote to put an amendment on the ballot failed, Nitz said the issue is not dead. "Our vote would not have changed the issue at all. (It) would have just let the matter come before the people in November. So I voted to let the people decide for themselves on the issue," he said. Charles LaSata, R-St. Joseph, said he assumed voters in the 79th District sent him to Lansing to make decisions. He voted against putting the amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot. "For me, it was fairly straightforward," LaSata said. "Literally, back in law school I wrote a paper on miscarriages of justice and Michigan being the 1st colony, state or nation to abolish capital punishment 158 years ago. "I respect my colleagues’ view, but based on empirical evidence we were supplied, there is no deterrent effect. It’s also more expensive to put someone to death than to incarcerate them for life." LaSata said he also wondered about the soundness of instituting the death penalty when just 60 miles from his district, the state of Illinois found literally dozens of innocent people on death row. Illinois’ previous governor, George Ryan, suspended the death penalty indefinitely so that Death Row cases could be reviewed. Now there is discussion about abolishing the death penalty in Illinois. "At a time when states are moving away from capital punishment, I didn’t feel Michigan should be moving toward it," LaSata said. "That doesn’t prevent citizens from a petition drive. That’s their right." LaSata said the proposed petition language would allow capital punishment if the victim were a police officer or corrections officer. He said that raises questions of what offenses should rate death. He asked about the murderers of children: Should they not face the death penalty? Although LaSata received many more e-mails and telephone calls on the issue of same-sex marriage than he did on the death penalty, he said all the communications he received opposed instating capital punishment. "I don’t base my decisions on those, but it was interesting that all were opposed," he said. In Van Buren County, Mary Ann Middaugh, R-Paw Paw, who represents the 80th District, also saw her "yes" vote as a vote to let the public decide. "When the issue was before us, I had two choices: A yes vote would have placed the issue on the ballot for all Michigan residents to make that decision. A no vote would have limited it to me, then I would have decided. If I voted ‘yes,’ it would have given the people a voice." But Middaugh refused to say whether she favors continuing the 158-year rule of no capital punishment or amending the state Constitution to allow it in very limited circumstances in which, as she said, "there is no doubt, not beyond a shadow of a doubt, but no doubt at all" of the murderer’s guilt. The proposed amendment would have allowed use of the death penalty for first degree, premeditated murder in which there was absolute certainty of the suspect’s guilt. "I have been contacted by people on both sides of issues, and I was not afraid to let the voters decide the outcome," Middaugh said.
3/04 – Death penalty proposal falls
Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s death penalty proposal suffered a near-certain fatal setback Wednesday when a Senate committee voted decisively against reestablishing capital punishment in Minnesota. "I can’t justify the intentional taking of a life in the state I want to live in," said Sen. David Knutson, R-Burnsville, an ally of the Republican governor on most other issues. Knutson and Sen. Mike McGinn, R-Eagan, a retired St. Paul police commander, joined all 6 DFLers on the Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee in an 8-2 vote that effectively killed the death penalty for this year. Sen. Mady Reiter, R-Shoreview, sponsor of the bill that would have put the capital punishment question to voters in November as a proposed constitutional amendment, acknowledged its likely demise, saying the defeat blocks her from bringing it to a vote on the Senate floor. Meanwhile, House Judiciary Chairman Steve Smith, R-Mound, said he plans neither further hearings nor a vote on the issue. The Senate setback "doesn’t help move it along in the House," he said. Even Pawlenty conceded defeat. "He knew from the beginning that it had little chance of passage," said his spokeswoman, Leslie Kupchella. "But he was pleased that it got a hearing." Reiter, however, said the long-term fight has only just begun. "There’s going to be a hue and cry that will not be stopped," she said. "The average Minnesotan would like the death penalty. People just have to know that they’ll be safe." Minnesota is one of 12 states without capital punishment, having abolished it in 1911 after the gruesomely botched hanging of a murderer named William Williams in 1906. "People forget there was a victim in that case, a 16-year-old boy named Johnny Keller," said Sen. Dave Kleis, R-St. Cloud, who voted for Reiter’s bill. The other yes vote came from Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point. Her district includes Pequot Lakes, the hometown of Dru Sjodin, whose disappearance last fall prompted Pawlenty’s call for the death penalty. The vote followed 2 hours of sometimes-tearful testimony from witnesses on both sides of the issue. Proponents included parents and friends of murder victims and the Pequot Lakes police chief. Among the opponents were parents of other murder victims, an exonerated death row inmate, a prosecutor and religious leaders headlined by Archbishop Harry Flynn, spiritual leader of more than 1 million Minnesota Catholics. Flynn stressed his church’s "consistently pro-life message" and belief that "every human life is sacred from conception to natural death." He added: "The death penalty diminishes each of us. It is a sign of growing disrespect for human life." Reiter, a Catholic, cited her catechism to support the opposite view: "Traditional teaching of the church does not preclude recourse to the death penalty." She added: "We’ve got to get rid of these predators among us." Jim Stuedemann, whose daughter, Jolene, was raped and killed in their Woodbury home in 2000, said life in prison without possibility of parole is too light a sentence for the murderer. "I see no place in the prison system for an animal like him," he said. However, Don and Mary Streufert of Duluth, whose daughter, Carin, was raped and killed in 1991, said they "see no sweetness in revenge, only bitterness and alienation." Through restorative justice programs, the Streuferts have met Carin’s two murderers in the prisons where they are serving life sentences. "It has been our experience that healing occurs when we face and confront the killers of our loved ones," they read in a joint statement. "With the death penalty, we destroy these opportunities. More is lost than what can be gained from exercising again the base desires met when we kill." The opposite view came from Ann Schwartz, whose father and sister were stomped to death by an intruder in their Minneapolis home. "He should have been stomped to death himself," she said. Debate among committee members focused largely on costs and benefits of the death penalty. Reiter claimed that it deters crime because "criminals have no wish to die," but opponents noted that murder rates in most states without capital punishment are below the national average. Reiter acknowledged that the average public cost of a death penalty case — $2.3 million to $3.2 million — is 50 percent higher than the alternative of life in prison without parole. "It is not a cheap public safety solution," she said. "In fact, it is a very expensive one." Her bill did not specify costs of restoring capital punishment, although she said the burden would be borne by the state, not local governments. Opponents noted that 113 inmates have been exonerated and released from U.S. death rows since 1973, but proponent Sue Ann Bleess of Sauk Rapids said no executed convict has ever been proven innocent. "That shows the system does work," she said. Pequot Lakes Police Chief Mark Forsberg praised the death penalty as a tool that can help authorities negotiate with killers to lead them to victims’ bodies. "It can help law enforcement, help families, help the missing people," he said. However, Washington County Attorney Doug Johnson said the death penalty extends the length of murder trials to as much as 20 weeks. "I’ve never heard one prosecutor say, ‘I wish we had the death penalty,’ but I’ve heard a lot say, ‘I’m glad we don’t,’" he said.
3/07 – Death penalty debated in House committee
HELENA — The system that results in people getting capital punishment is broken, advocates of abolishing the death penalty told a legislative committee on Friday. “It’s a crazy system. It’s broken and it’s costly, and it doesn’t work regardless of how you feel about the criminal, the crime and the retribution,” said Elizabeth Griffing, a former assistant attorney general who once supervised death-penalty cases on appeal. Her testimony came in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a bill to replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole. The Senate recently approved the bill, with bipartisan support. Opponents to the legislation argued that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to crime, and is a just punishment for horrific crimes. “If the death penalty maybe stops one murder, one person from committing murder, then isn’t it worth it?” asked Rep. Janna Taylor, R-Dayton. She cited the case of Lana Harding, a Conrad teacher. Her killer, Duncan McKenzie, was executed in 1995. There are two people on death row in Montana. Source: Great Falls Tribune
3/04 – Nebraska alters death penalty protocol
In an attempt to strengthen its hand in approaching court arguments, the state has changed the way it administers electrical jolts in executions. The change – to 1 15-second jolt of electricity instead of 4 cycles amounting to 8 jolts total – was adopted by the Nebraska Department of Corrections in anticipation of hearings this month on whether the electric chair used by the state amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. The court arguments, scheduled April 26 to 28, involve 3 men convicted in the slayings of 5 people inside a Norfolk bank in 2002. The protocol for administering the electric jolts has been a contentious legal issue in recent years and has been among the reasons some state lawmakers have advocated replacing the electric chair with lethal injection for administering the death penalty. "This is a perfect example of the risks that are inherent in what is clearly an outmoded means of execution," said Attorney General Jon Bruning, whose office advised the corrections department on the change. "There are clearly more humane ways of executing people. When we put our beloved pets down, we use lethal injection; we don’t electrocute them." It is not the 1st time Nebraska has changed its electrocution protocol because of legal concerns. The state adopted a protocol of 4 jolts and four pauses in response to a series of botched executions in Florida, including one in 1990 in which flames shot out of an inmate’s head. But two district judges in Nebraska, in 2001 and 2002, ruled that the on-and-off protocol conflicted with state statutes that say "the application of such (electric) current shall be continued until such convicted person is dead." While both judges upheld the constitutionality of using the electric chair, one of the judges, Robert Hippe of Scottsbluff, also said the on-and-off protocol provided "the potential for the inmate to regain consciousness and experience substantial and unnecessary pain." With no executions scheduled, the state had deferred any changes in the protocol in anticipation that the Nebraska Legislature might adopt lethal injection. The Legislature postponed debate on the issue this spring in the face of a promised filibuster by Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, a leading death penalty foe. There also was a possibility that the Nebraska Supreme Court would weigh in on the protocol issue. But the 2 death-penalty cases in which the issue was raised – those involving convicted murderers Raymond Mata Jr. and Kimberly Sue Faust – never got to the high court. Mata was granted a new sentencing hearing and Faust was sentenced to life in prison. The Norfolk bank hearings, though, made addressing the protocol issue more urgent, said Steve King, a spokesman for the corrections department. King said the department made the change even though it believed the old protocol was constitutional. Madison County Attorney Joe Smith said he didn’t think the change would affect his arguments that the electric chair still can be used in Nebraska. One of the defense attorneys in the Norfolk case, Jim Mowbray of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, said the change in protocol will require new testimony about that type of execution. He added that he is waiting to interview experts before deciding if the new protocol is better or worse than the old one. Nebraska is the only state remaining that uses electrocution as its sole means of administering the death penalty. The new protocol calls for administration of a 15-second-long jolt of 2,450 volts of electricity. After a 15-minute wait, a coroner then checks for signs of life. King said authorities on the subject have assured Nebraska officials that such a continuous jolt would be sufficient. Previously, an initial eight-second jolt of 2,450 volts was administered, followed by a 1-second pause, then a 22-second jolt at 480 volts. After a 20-second break, the cycle was repeated 3 more times. Since executions resumed in Nebraska in 1994, all 3 men who have died in the electric chair – Harold Otey, John Joubert and Robert Williams – received multiple jolts.
4/03 – Anti-terrorism amendments approved by Nevada panel
In Carson City, the Assembly voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt amendments to a Nevada anti-terrorism bill – changes hailed by civil libertarians concerned that the initial plan was too broad. But while AB250, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Richard Perkins, was revised, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada still is worried about some of the wording in the bill. Richard Siegel, head of the Nevada ACLU, said his organization has more concerns about SB38, a Senate-sponsored anti-terrorism measure. Siegel added the concerns are warranted because terrorists convicted under the proposed law could get sentences ranging from life imprisonment to the death penalty. "We feel pretty good about what’s been accomplished in the Assembly," Siegel said. "But the language in the Senate bill was not as carefully tailored." Siegel also credited the conservative Nevada Eagle Forum for helping to raise many of the same issues brought up by the ACLU, adding, "The truth is, there’s a left-right coalition that’s working on this." The amendments to AB250 include wording to protect peoples’ free speech rights. The changes include a line that says "coercion" doesn’t include protests or other forms of civil disobedience. "One of our major concerns was that acts of civil disobedience or labor protests not be considered acts of terrorism," Siegel said. Other changes tighten the definition of terrorism to exclude the use of fear as a tactic. Now it’s the use of sabotage, coercion or violence to cause "great bodily harm or death to more than one person." Also covered are the use of such tactics to destroy, contaminate or impair buildings, communication networks, transportation or utility services or "any natural resource or the environment." Siegel said he still has some concerns because wording in the Assembly bill dealing with damage to structures or services might be used to prosecute arsonists as terrorists. The amended version of AB250 is expected to come up for a final vote in the Assembly in a few days. From there, it must go to the Senate for its review. Perkins, D-Henderson, said that while all of the acts covered under his bill are already illegal, it’s still necessary to codify terrorism in Nevada’s statutes and to increase the penalties. "The people who do these types of despicable things deserve to be punished more stringently," Perkins said during an earlier hearing on the bill.
3/07 – Bill to abolish death penalty halted
SANTA FE — A bill to abolish the death penalty in New Mexico has been halted this session. The Senate Judiciary Committee took no action on the measure during a hearing Wednesday night, effectively shelving the bill. The hearing chamber was packed with both death penalty supporters and opponents, including Sam Millsap, a former San Antonio, Texas, district attorney. He once supported the death penalty but changed his mind after discovering a man he sought the sentence for might not have committed murder. Millsap said an argument he often hears in favor of the death penalty is that it deters crime. But murder rates remain highest, he said, in areas of the country where capital punishment is used most. "There is simply no evidence the existence of a death penalty has a deterrent effect," he said. The measure would have replaced the death penalty with a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell, a panel member, voted against removing the death penalty. He said he supports capital punishment because some crimes are so serious it’s the only fitting sentence. "To me it’s extremely unethical to eliminate the death penalty," he said. "It’s immoral not to have it. It means we have less respect for life." Bill sponsor Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, said because the chance exists for an innocent person to be executed under the death penalty, it should be abolished. "For me it’s a matter of justice," she said. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, said often people agree with the death penalty in principle but don’t support it because they realize the justice system isn’t perfect. Adair said tools such as DNA give the judicial system confidence about whether a person is innocent or guilty of a murder. Millsap said DNA evidence is one tool, but it’s not the "be all, end all" in determining a person’s guilt. Sen. Lidio Rainaldi, D-Gallup, voted against the bill. After the meeting, he said he believes there are instances that warrant the death penalty. "What happens if there’s no death penalty and there’s a fireman or a policeman shot?" he said. "What do you do then?" Chasey said she was disappointed about the bill’s fate but plans to propose the measure in a future legislative session. The measure failed the Senate Judiciary committee on a 4-to-5 vote. The legislation is House Bill 190. Source: Las Cruces Sun-News
12/03 – NY Court Is Called Anti-Death — Overturn in 2 cases reignites state debate
At first, James Cahill 3rd seemed to be precisely the kind of killer New York had in mind when it revived its death penalty 9 years ago. In April 1998, Cahill resolved a pre-dawn argument with his wife, Jill, by bashing her with an aluminum baseball bat with such force that it dented her skull and knocked her from the room and into a coma. 7 months later, he sneaked into the Syracuse hospital room where she was still recuperating and slipped potassium cyanide into either her mouth or feeding tube, killing her. A jury sentenced Cahill to death in 1999 after deliberating for five hours. But last month, a majority of New York’s Court of Appeals vacated that punishment, ruling that even though there was no doubt of Cahill’s guilt, the murder was not atrocious enough to qualify under the state’s death penalty statute. Issued a year after the high court overturned the first death penalty sentence to reach them – imposed on Darrel Harris, who admitted killing three people in a Brooklyn nightclub – the ruling has provoked the most passion about the death penalty in New York since the mid-1990s, when the topic helped George Pataki unseat then-Gov. Mario Cuomo through a campaign that focused on the incumbent’s opposition to capital punishment. The Cahill decision revealed a deep schism within the state’s highest court. The 4-judge majority chided the trial judge for not being careful enough in selecting an impartial jury, and rejected what they considered the jury’s overly elastic interpretation of who qualifies for execution under the state’s law. 2 of the Court of Appeals judges wanted to go even further and strike down as unconstitutional 1 provision in the law concerning the instructions judges must give jurors. On the other side, two dissenting judges, noting "the extreme disagreement that envelops the members of this court," lambasted the majority for imposing its own views over those of the death penalty’s legislative architects and ignoring the "measured, reasoned verdict" of the jury. Many death penalty advocates agree. "As presently constituted, I don’t think the Court of Appeals has the stomach for a death penalty actually carried out," said Robert Blecker, a professor at New York Law School in Manhattan who favors capital punishment. "They will find one way or another to prevent it." The ruling has prompted some members of the Republican-led State Senate to consider breaking with their tradition of rubber-stamping Pataki nominees next month, when they hold a confirmation hearing on Pataki’s choice to fill the latest Court of Appeals vacancy. The nominee, Robert Smith, is a widely respected Manhattan lawyer and Republican donor who has represented two death row inmates before the U.S. Supreme Court and admitted to an ambivalence about capital punishment. Sen. Dale Volker, one of the authors of the death penalty statute, said that many of the state’s district attorneys are pressing the Senate to reject Smith if he indicates significant qualms on the subject. "He’s a very bright guy. He’s a problem," said Volker (R-Depew). "We’re getting a lot of flak on this one." While much of the current fury is aimed at the Court of Appeals, legal experts note that many of the reasons for New York’s delay in executing anyone can be traced to features that lawmakers originally included in the death penalty statute, and the way it has been applied in the subsequent 9 years. To avoid allowing ill-equipped or incompetent lawyers to be assigned to represent defendants, New York lawmakers created a well-funded capital defender office to represent defendants aggressively from trial up through appeals. Prosecutors and death penalty opponents say that office has lived up to that intent, often filing motions of many hundred pages and effectively marshaling arguments. Defense attorneys have been able to take advantage of small errors made by trial judges, few of whom were even on the bench in 1963, when New York last executed someone. "The dozens of ancillary issues that arise in the course of a capital trial haven’t been thought through," said Kevin Doyle, the state capital defender. In some ways, New York is not that different from other states that have revived their death penalties since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed executions to be reinstated in 1976. On average, it has taken those states 15 years before they conducted their first execution, according to data compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit. "It’s just a matter of time," said Sean Byrne, executive director of the New York Prosecutors Training Institute, based in Albany. "I think one would be mistaken to think that a reversal on the first two cases means there is some larger problem with the death penalty." But New York’s district attorneys have been more cautious than most in pursuing cases. As of Oct. 1, all but 5 of the 38 states with capital punishment had more people on death row than did New York, according to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. Through July, New York prosecutors sought the death penalty in only 50 of 799 murder cases where they were considering it, according to the state Capital Defender Office. There are now 5 people on death row. 3 are from Suffolk: Steven LaValle, who raped and stabbed to death a jogger in Medford; Robert Shulman, who dismembered 3 prostitutes; and Nicholson McCoy, who gagged and killed a supermarket co-worker. Another, John Taylor, was convicted of leading a robbery at a Wendy’s restaurant in Queens in which he and an accomplice fatally shot 5 people. The only upstater awaiting lethal injection is Angel Mateo, convicted of abducting and killing a mentally ill man in Rochester. In its appeals, the Capital Defender Office has argued that New York’s death penalty is unconstitutional because it is not being administered evenly. Death penalty opponents point out that although upstate counties account for only 20 % of all murders, they bring 65 % of all capital prosecutions. In large part, experts say, that is due to the district attorneys of two of New York’s busiest criminal jurisdictions: the Bronx’s Robert Johnson, who has voiced his philosophical disapproval of execution, and Manhattan’s Robert Morgenthau, who is widely believed to share that opinion though he has publicly said he will consider it on a case-by-case basis. Together, Johnson and Morgenthau have declined to bring capital cases against any of 145 defendants indicted for 1st-degree murder from 1995 through July 2003. So far, however, sweeping arguments about the unfairness of the death penalty have yet to sway the Court of Appeals, which instead has vacated the 1st 2 death sentences to reach it on specific, sometimes technical, flaws in the trials. In the Cahill case, for instance, the court found that the jury had wrongly decided he murdered his wife to stop her from testifying that he had beaten her. The court also rejected the jury’s conclusion that he had committed a separate crime – burglary – when he broke into his wife’s hospital room. Those 2 assertions had been the prosecutions’ rationale for invoking the death penalty, which requires at least 1 of 13 aggravating factors to be present, to avoid the death penalty from being arbitrarily or randomly administered. But Judge Albert Rosenblatt’s majority opinion determined that "the better part of the evidence reveals that defendant was motivated to poison his wife because their marriage and family life were being destroyed." That issue is not expected to play a central part in most of the pending five appeals. Still, capital punishment opponents hope and supporters fear that New York will continue to be 1 of 6 of states that have yet to execute anyone since reviving their death penalties. Those include Connecticut, which restored its death penalty three decades ago, and New Jersey, which reinstated its law in 1982. "Until the composition of the court changes, DAs around the state will be very reluctant to file death penalty notices," said Onondaga District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, whose office prosecuted Cahill. "When I look at the emotional toll the family went through, that this office went through, I’ll be hard-pressed to ever file a notice again." The state Court of Appeals’ 4-2 decision last month to vacate the death sentence of James Cahill provides the clearest indication yet of where the judges stand on the death penalty.
2/07 – NC leaders to take up execution issue (click for full article)
RALEIGH — Forced into an ongoing debate over capital punishment by a judge’s order, top state officials next week will consider the role a doctor must play in executions, Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry said Wednesday. Three executions have been put on hold since a Wake County Superior Court judge ruled last week that the 10-member Council of State must approve a recent change that keeps doctors from actively participating in the execution process. The Council of State ended up at the center of the issue last week when Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens stayed three pending executions. His ruling came in response to the North Carolina Medical Board decision declaring that any participation by a physician violated medical ethics. The policy conflicts with the state law requiring a doctor’s presence at executions, so the state changed its methods so that a doctor would be present but not have an active role. A nurse and a medical technician would monitor the inmates’ vital signs. If a problem arose requiring the doctor to intervene, officials would stop the execution and reschedule it, allowing the physician to assist without breaching ethics rules. Relying on a law originally written in 1909, Stephens said such a change in the state’s process for imposing a death sentence requires the approval of the governor and the Council of State. Berry, a supporter of capital punishment and one of three Republicans on the council, believes the council’s action would merely address a "technicality." "In the meantime we have a de facto moratorium on the death penalty," she said, calling it unfair to victims’ families.
4/03 – Yates wants moratorium on executions in Ohio
With the 10th anniversary of the Lucasville riots as his backdrop, state Rep. Tyrone Yates said today he will have legislation prepared calling for a moratorium on executions in Ohio. Saying that the death penalty is not a deterrent to the types of crime it is meant to stop and that life sentences without parole would sufficiently protect society from its worst criminals, Yates, D-Cincinnati, said he would begin researching the issue more thoroughly and have legislation drafted for possible introduction in coming months. "The time has come for a moratorium," he said. "The center of action must be in the halls of the Ohio legislature." Yates said he is getting involved because nearly one fourth of the people on Ohio’s death row are from Hamilton County. He called the county’s record of sending people to death row "particularly troublesome." Yates spoke at a press conference this morning where death penalty opponents marked the 10th anniversary of the Lucasville uprising. Nine prisoners and correctional officer Robert Valandingham were killed in the 11-day uprising. Five people eventually were convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death. Their cases are in various stages of appeal. James Ware, whose sentence was overturned on appeal, has a Hamilton County re-trial date of April 28.
8/05 – Senate votes to add crimes to death penalty law (click for full article)
Murdering a woman who is known by the killer to be pregnant would carry a possible death sentence under a bill approved by the Senate Monday. The measure, passed 19-11, returns to the House for action on amendments. Several senators opposed the bill despite their support for capital punishment, saying it should have allowed a separate murder charge for slaying a fetus. "This bill is silent to the second life," said Rep. Roger Beyer, R-Molalla. "There is no justice for the second person." A bill permitting a separate criminal charge for killing a fetus was passed by the Republican-controlled House in May, but hasn’t advanced in the Democrat-run Senate. Abortion-rights advocates claim the House bill is meant to be a step toward outlawing abortion by establishing a fetus as a person. The bill is modeled after the California law that allowed Scott Peterson to be convicted of two murder charges for killing his pregnant wife, Laci, and their unborn son. Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown, D-Portland, said it’s time to add the death sentence to murders of pregnant women and that there have been 1,900 such killings in the United States since 1990. Brown said other provisions in the bill would eliminate inconsistencies under which killing a regular law enforcement officer is a capital crime but murdering a reserve officer is not. Also, murder of a witness in an adult criminal court proceeding can mean a death sentence, but murdering a witness in a juvenile court proceeding isn’t a capital offense. Several opponents of the measure said they staunchly oppose capital punishment and that a prison term without chance of parole is a more severe sentence. "The death penalty has no place in the criminal justice system" said Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland. "The government is not perfect." The move to increase possible penalties for murdering juvenile court witnesses stems from the 1994 killing of Aaron Iturra by teenage members of a Eugene street gang organized by "gang mom" Mary Thompson. Prosecutors said Thompson persuaded two youths to kill Iturra to prevent him from testifying against Thompson’s son in an assault case. Killing a witness to prevent testimony in a criminal proceeding is aggravated murder, with possible sentences of death, life without parole, or life with possible parole after 30 years. Thompson’s sentence of life without parole was reduced, to allow parole, after the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in 2000 that juvenile court proceedings technically are not "criminal" proceedings.
1/00 – The Assembly gave final legislative approval to a bill that would provide about $80,000 to survivors of murdered police officers by diverting profits from a Meadowlands benefit concert for a convicted killer of a Philadelphia policeman. The lower house, in a 70-0 vote, agreed to donate the concert profits to the 200 Club, a statewide network that helps families of police officers killed in the line of duty. A concert was held last Jan. 28 at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford to benefit the defense fund for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former radio reporter on Pennsylvania’s death row for the 1981 killing of Officer Daniel Faulkner. The concert featured The Beastie Boys, Rage Against the Machine, Bad Religion and Black Star. Police groups opposed the concert. The bill would divert profits made by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. Abu-Jamal, who is black, contended that police coerced an eyewitness to testify against him, unfairly stacked a jury with white people and railroaded him to a guilty verdict in the 1981 shooting of Faulkner, 26, who had stopped Abu-Jamal’s brother for a traffic violation. Abu-Jamal’s case has attracted widespread support among death penalty opponents. Police and prosecutors say Abu-Jamal was fairly convicted on physical evidence and testimony. The bill, A-3036, now advances to Gov. Christie Whitman.
2/01 – An epidemic of domestic violence can be stemmed with a new law that calls for the death penalty in spousal abuse cases that end in murder, an Upstate lawmaker said. "We have to get rid of this stigma that this is a domestic problem," said Rep. Becky Meacham-Richardson, R-Fort Mill, who is pushing for the Domestic Violence Prevention Act. "It is not. It is a criminal problem." Her bill not only imposes the death penalty, it also would not allow prosecutors to drop charges once a feuding couple say they’ve worked things out. In addition, it requires a two-day waiting period in jail for those arrested for domestic violence, and it mandates counseling for anyone convicted of the crime. "Each year, more women are injured by domestic violence than are killed by automobile and cancer deaths combined," Meacham-Richardson said, quoting national statistics from the American Bar Association. 39 women in South Carolina died last year as a result of domestic violence, she said. "We are facing a crisis." Attorney General Charlie Condon urged the House Judiciary subcommittee not to water down the bill, saying South Carolina’s per capita rate of men killing women is more than twice the national average. The national rate in 1998 was 1.4 women per 100,000 people while the state rate was 3.1 %. Nearly 54,000 domestic violence offenses were reported in the state in 1999 and 1/4 of all aggravated assaults were domestic violence. "That’s unbelievable. It’s inexcusable and it’s unacceptable," Condon said. "Turning one’s spouse or girlfriend into a punching bag, sparring partner or dead victim deserves complete contempt from everyone." Some lawmakers questioned the no-drop policy, saying it mandates that a solicitor try a case and takes away any chance for a couple’s reconciliation after a nasty fight. "I’ve had numerous cases the next day where she’s begging to have him back," said Rep. Jim Klauber, a Greenwood attorney. Meacham-Richardson said such requests are just another symptom of domestic violence. "She’s really not thinking correctly," she said. "She needs help." The S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault called the legislation well-meaning but said it doesn’t address an immediate problem that another law has caused. Recently passed legislation requires an arrest in domestic violence situations, but coalition director Vicki Bourus said what is happening more frequently is that officers are taking both the man and the woman in the dispute into custody. The arrest law was meant to protect women, she said. During one recent week in Lexington County, she said 66 % of all cases involved dual arrests – an alarming figure considering the state Criminal Justice Academy’s training curriculum provides that the maximum should be about 4 %. "Is it isolated or is it a trend?" Bourus said. "We don’t know, but it’s troubling." The battered women’s support group hasn’t taken an official position on the bill, "but we have some serious concerns about it as it is written," she said. "There’s an assumption that preceded this bill that the perpetrator and the victim would be identified correctly. We don’t need to be adding laws to laws that are not now being enforced." Judge Mel Maurer, president of the S.C. Summary Court Judges Association, said he doesn’t believe South Carolina has adequate support services in place for either victims or defendants in domestic abuse cases and said the bill takes away the option of not sending someone to jail. The S.C. Coalition Against the Death Penalty opposes the bill’s provision that calls for capital punishment. "There is no evidence to suggest that availability of the death penalty has any impact on preventing crimes," state coordinator Bruce Pearson said. Columbia attorney David Bruck, an expert on death penalty cases, said he doesn’t think most people will support expanding the death penalty for crimes that are driven by jealousy, rage, and sometimes, mental illness. "Domestic violence is a terrible scourge in our society, but murders of some partners are typically not premeditated," he said. Meacham-Richardson said she believes women need to know that the law is on their side.
2/07 – Death Penalty Repeal Fails In South Dakota Senate
PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — An effort to repeal the death penalty in South Dakota failed today in the state Legislature. The Senate State Affairs Committee killed a bill that would have put an end to capital punishment in the state and required that the death sentences of four people on death row be commuted to life in prison without parole. Those who supported the bill say the government has no right to kill people, and modern prisons can keep society safe from the most dangerous felons. But those who opposed the bill say even people on death row can kill again — placing prison guards and other prisoners at risk. The committee killed the repeal measure on a vote of seven to one. South Dakota is scheduled to have its first execution in a half century in July. The bill was SB161.
committee voted to divert the legislation into the House Judiciary Committee’s summer and fall agenda for further study. The bill had the backing of death penalty opponents, including the Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission and the legislature’s Black Caucus. Its House sponsor, Rep. Rob Briley, D-Nashville, said he wants the Judiciary Committee to conduct hearings on several death penalty issues.
6/05 – Governor signs life-without-parole bill into law
Legislation that will allow life without parole for Texas’ most heinous murderers, the first significant change in the state’s death penalty laws in decades, was signed into law today. Gov. Rick Perry signed Senate Bill 60 today. It will replace a current law that allows life in prison with the possibility of parole, with life in prison without the possibility of parole. "I believe this bill will improve our criminal justice system because it gives jurors a new option to protect the public with the certainty a convicted killer will never roam our streets again," Perry said in a statement released after the signing. The measure by Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, sparked intense controversy during the legislative session that ended in May. Several big-city prosecutors and victims rights groups opposed it because it would make death sentences harder to obtain, and civil liberties groups and other prosecutors pushed for its passage to give juries more choices. As filed, the bill would have given juries three choices: life in prison with the possibility of parole, life without parole or a death sentence. But late in the session, with its chances of passage rapidly evaporating, Lucio agreed to drop life in prison with the possibility of parole to get it approved by lawmakers. Then, in recent weeks, rumors had swirled that opponents were lobbying hard for Perry to veto the bill. In a session when death-penalty supporters successfully fought several other changes in current law, Lucio said he thought it was better to compromise than face defeat again. He has tried three times previously to enact a life-without-parole measure — without success. Lucio could not immediately be reached for comment. In approving the new law, Texas becomes the 48th state with a life without parole statute. The new law will take effect Sept. 1 and will apply only to those defendants who are convicted after that date. In a related development, Perry this morning also signed into law House Bill 93, which changes the wording on death certificates of executed inmates. Instead of "homicide,” the cause of death will be listed as "judicially ordered execution."
3/04 – Governor Says No Executions on Sundays, Mondays or Holidays
In Salt Lake City, Gov. Olene Walker has signed a bill banning executions on Sundays, Mondays or holidays as a cost-saving measure. Executioners normally don’t work weekends or holidays, when it costs $45,000 in overtime to carry out an execution, said Rep. DeMar Bowman, R-Cedar City, who sponsored the measure approved by the Utah Legislature on Feb. 19. Mondays are out because it takes a full day to set up an execution, and that would require corrections officials to work on Sunday. Walker has said she’ll sign another bill passed by the Legislature that abolishes the firing squad as an option for condemned killers. Walker has yet to sign that bill, which makes lethal injection the state’s only method of capital punishment. Walker has until March 23 to sign, veto or let become law without her signature 419 bills passed by the Legislature.
1/03 – Lawmakers turn down payment to ex-inmate
A panel of legislators rejected a request to pay Earl Washington Jr. $1 million for the 9 years he spent on death row for a rape and murder he did not commit. The 5-2 vote does not automatically kill the compensation measure, HB2662, but members of the House of Delegates made it clear they want to delay paying damages to Washington for at least a year. A majority of the lawmakers said they would be willing to give Washington a smaller amount. However, they wanted to wait on the outcome of a pending lawsuit against officials in the town of Culpeper and Fauquier County. Washington’s attorneys say law enforcement officers coerced a confession from their client, who is mildly retarded. The General Assembly is considering 2 requests for compensation from men who were wrongfully convicted of crimes. The Senate gave preliminary approval for a $1.5 million claim, SB863, filed for Marvin Lamont Anderson, who served 15 years in prison for the rape and abduction of a Hanover County woman. Anderson was the 1st prisoner to be exonerated by DNA evidence in Virginia. House members who reviewed the Washington claim Sunday said they will likely agree to a financial award for Anderson, although they were inclined to be less generous than the Senate. Del. Riley E. Ingram, R-Hopewell, said the cases differ because Washington does not dispute that he beat an elderly woman in an incident unrelated to the wrongful murder conviction. Washington was sentenced to 30 years in prison for that attack. He served 18 years for the assault and murder convictions, with half of his term spent on death row. The director of the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission determined that Washington would have served between 5 and 7 years for the assault if he had not also been convicted of murder. In contrast to Washington, Anderson has no criminal record. "He’s entitled to something," Ingram said of Anderson. "Now, whether we should make him a millionaire, that’s another question." Last year, the legislature awarded its largest claim ever, $750,000, to a New Kent County man who spent 11 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. The 3 claims are raising questions about whether Virginia needs to establish guidelines for compensating people who are wrongfully convicted of crimes. 15 states and the District of Columbia have laws to determine such awards, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Maryland and Tennessee limit claims to actual damages; North Carolina allows $10,000 for every year in prison with a cap of $150,000; California allows $100 per day, up to a maximum of $10,000; and Texas allows $25,000 for every full year served in prison, up to 20 years. Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan cleared death row in his state this month, basing his decision on several high-profile reversals of convictions. The state caps claims at $35,000, but some cases of egregious misconduct have legal grounds for larger settlements. Cook County agreed to pay $36 million to 4 men wrongfully sent to death row. Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, said men wronged by the state are entitled to compensation for the difficulties they face in clearing their names, readjusting to society and getting a job. Washington’s lawyer, Robert T. Hall, said his client planned to use the money he requested for a house and perhaps a car. Washington makes about $12,000 a year working full time as a janitor in Virginia Beach, Hall said.
11/01 – Governor Locke proposes anti-terrorism legislation — Washington laws would be tougher than most other states – Washington state joined the war on terrorism last week with Gov. Gary Locke and Attorney General Christine Gregoire proposing sweeping legislation aimed at preventing attacks and prosecuting those who might try them. "Washington state will not be a home to terrorism. Washington state will not be a friend to terrorists, and Washington state will not be a money conduit for terrorism," Gregoire said at a news conference in Seattle. "We know we can never take our safety for granted again." Many states have taken steps to combat terrorism, but most have been limited to setting up task forces, stockpiling medical supplies, adding security at public buildings or gathering information. Few appear to have enacted new laws to address the threat, though Washington officials said the federal government has asked them to do so. "There are sort of generic statutes that you can use," said Assistant Attorney General Jerry Ackerman. "What we’re trying to do is focus the crime on the weapon." To that end, for example, contaminating public water supplies as part of a terrorist attack would be a felony punishable by life in prison. Another proposal would allow the death penalty for a terrorist act resulting in a death. Similar acts that cause only injuries or property damage could result in a life sentence. Civil libertarians reacted with caution, saying they want to see how the proposed legislation is written, though some expressed concern about elements of the package outlined by Gregoire and Locke. "We’re now going to have a terrorism mental state being applied to a range of criminal activities," said Jerry Sheehan of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington. The ACLU is concerned that the proposed laws might target people committing acts of civil disobedience, not terrorism. "Is a nun who’s spilling her own drawn blood on a Trident (submarine) a terrorist because she is seeking to change public policy through intimidation?" Sheehan said. But Locke said that the proposed laws aren’t meant to stifle public debate. "Compromising civil rights is not a substitute for a terror-free society," the governor said. Some of the proposed laws duplicate those already adopted by the federal government under the USA Patriot Act. For example, the new federal regulations require flight schools to conduct background checks on students, something Locke’s proposal would also require. But Gregoire said the state has to have its own anti-terrorism laws because "the federal government simply does not have the resources to do it alone." Two proposals, dealing with wiretaps and the state’s open records act, were requested by the federal government, she said. One would allow information gleaned through federal wiretaps to be used in state courts. Currently that information would not be allowed because federal privacy regulations are weaker than state laws. Recently adopted anti-terrorism legislation will allow federal investigators to skip federal court review to obtain wiretap approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a panel that has never rejected FBI requests for secret warrants. The federal government also asked state officials to exempt from public disclosure any information related to national safety. Gregoire said there have been instances where the FBI and other federal agencies have been reluctant to share information with state officials for fear that the information would be released to the public under the state’s open records act. For example, Gregoire said, she was recently asked not to take notes during a teleconference with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The exemptions would apply only to highly sensitive materials having to do with intelligence, terrorist threats or plans to deal with terrorism, Gregoire said. "We’re only talking about information that is highly sensitive," Gregoire said. But Sheehan expressed concern about this particular proposal. "The principle is worrisome… to weaken (the law) just because the feds say they are uncomfortable," he said, pointing out the public disclosure laws were enacted in 1972 through a state initiative. "This came directly from the people of the state of Washington," Sheehan said. Locke also targeted those who would frighten people already on edge because of the Sept. 11 attacks and subsequent anthrax exposures on the East Coast. One proposal would make it a felony to stage a terrorist hoax. A misdemeanor isn’t stiff enough for those who make bogus claims to alarm others, Locke said. "These are no longer just pranks," Locke said. "These are very, very disruptive and can even hurt people in terms of the panic that might ensue." Larry Erickson, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said officers have been called to investigate everything from sugar to talcum powder because of fear of anthrax. "We’re not going to put up with these kinds of hoaxes," he said, adding that all they do is spread fear. Other proposals would create new penalties for possessing or releasing such weapons of mass destruction as radioactive materials, chemical weapons or biological agents, strengthen state laws against price gouging, and make it a felony to raise money for terrorist activities. There is also a proposal to regulate money transmitting businesses, such as the Barakat Wire Transfer in Seattle and others federal agents raided in a nationwide sweep 2 weeks ago. Federal investigators believe the businesses were part of a syndicate funding the al-Qaida network connected to Osama bin Laden. Typically, the businesses don’t wire money in a traditional sense, but deal mostly in cash, calling a trusted person in the other country to deliver money to the recipient. Later, the delivery person and the business settle among themselves. Ackerman said the trick will be to regulate these businesses without damaging legitimate money transfer operations. "We have to be very careful," he said. Locke and Gregoire staff members are now drafting bills for introduction when the Legislature convenes in January.
GOV. LOCKE’S ANTI-TERRORISM PROPOSAL
Gov. Gary Locke’s anti-terrorism proposal seeks to: Apply the death penalty to acts of terrorism that kill 1 or more people. Make terrorist acts causing injury or property damage punishable by up to life imprisonment. Make possession of weapons of mass destruction a felony punishable by up to life imprisonment. Upgrade hoaxes made for terrorist purposes to a felony. Allow intelligence gleaned from federal wiretaps that do not meet state wiretap standards admissible in state courts. Regulate money transmitters, which generally deal with cash and maintain few written records. Exempt from public disclosure documents relating to national security, response plans, vulnerability assessments and other material relative to terrorism threats. Strengthen state laws against price gouging. Require background checks for flight school students. Make it a felony to knowingly raise, collect or solicit money to support terrorism.
3/04 – State push for death penalty not quite dead
During its 15-month session, the Wisconsin Legislature debated same-sex marriage, carrying concealed weapons and other policy issues that expose deep ideological rifts. However, another other big-time controversy erupted early on in the session, but it quickly sank and never quite reappeared. Senate Bill 2, a measure authored by Senate President Alan Lasee, R-Rockland, sought to reinstate the death penalty in Wisconsin. It never underwent a Senate committee hearing, much less a vote. Lasee’s bill, introduced in January 2003, would have reinstated the death penalty for offenders at least 16 years of age who are convicted of 1st-degree intentional homicide in the death of a victim who is under 16 or an unborn child. Included in the legislation were new procedural requirements for the court system, including a separate jury hearing to advise whether to impose a life sentence or death, as well as a Supreme Court review of cases that result in death sentences. Separate legislation by Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, would have put the issue on a statewide ballot. That legislation also went nowhere. Opponents have long countered that the death penalty fails to deter violent crimes and adds costs to the court system. Plus, there’s always the risk that an innocent person could end up on death row. Wisconsin hasn’t had capital punishment in more than 150 years. Lasee said it was clear last session that Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle would have vetoed any such bill. And the past session showed just what a losing proposition that would have been. Efforts to reinforce the ban on same-sex marriages through state law and repeal the state’s ban on carrying concealed weapons both ranked high on the GOPs agenda but couldn’t get past Doyle’s veto pen via override. However, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which would bypass Doyle, did clear its first hurdle. Lasee said legislation to bring capital punishment back to Wisconsin won’t go away. "Given the world we live in, the willful taking of innocent lives demands that at some point we need to join other states to reinstate the death penalty," he said. Sticking around Lasee, the most senior Republican senator with 27 years in the chamber, is wrapping up his 1st 2-year session as the Senate president. The group will elect leadership positions when it convenes again next January, and Lasee sees himself as president again. If Republican senators keep their majority after this falls elections, they’ll be in a position to nominate and elect a president. "I don’t see any reason why they’d want me out," he said. Lasee’s Senate seat is up for re-election in 2006.
2/04 – Juvenile Death-Penalty Bill Moves Ahead
A proposal to eliminate the death penalty for people younger than 18 advanced in the state House Monday. State law currently allows the death penalty for anyone 16 and older who is convicted of 1st-degree murder, under certain circumstances. House Bill 5, sponsored by Democratic Representative Jane Warren, would raise the minimum age to 18. The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to send the measure to the full House for further debate. David Fassler, a psychiatrist from Burlington, Vermont, told the committee that the brains of adolescents function differently from the brains of adults. He says the instinctual part of the brain develops first, followed by the parts of the brain that control reasoning and help us think before we act. Fassler says 28 states do not allow execution for individuals under 18.
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