March 21


Man won't face death in Plano slaying of ex-wife----DA reassesses case
before trial begins next month

Curtis Armstrong's life has been spared.

The Collin County district attorney recently made an about-face and
decided not to seek the death penalty against the Houston-area man accused
of killing his ex-wife in her Plano apartment last summer.

Mr. Armstrong, 38, has been charged with fatally stabbing and beating
Jennifer McCallum, a Plano nurse. His capital murder trial is scheduled to
begin April 7. Instead of death, the maximum punishment Mr. Armstrong now
faces if convicted is life in prison without the opportunity for parole.

Richard Franklin, Mr. Armstrong's attorney, has long complained about
prosecutors' original decision to seek a death sentence for his client
because he said the facts of the case did not warrant it.

Collin County District Attorney John Roach said this month that "there was
nothing in particular" that led his office to take the death penalty off
the table for Mr. Armstrong.

"Mainly it was a reassessment. Once there is an indictment, the Police
Department does not stop sending information, and we continue to evaluate
all the evidence," he said.

Last year after Mr. Roach announced that his office was seeking the death
penalty in Mr. Armstrong's case, the district attorney talked at length
about the circumstances that help determine whether a case qualifies for
the death penalty.

He said prosecutors look at the egregiousness of the offense, the terror
inflicted and the likelihood that the defendant will be a continued danger
to society. They also consider whether they have a case in which a jury
will grant the death penalty.

"It has to do with the credibility of the office and the credibility of
the death penalty. If you sought it and didn't get it, there's something
wrong there," Mr. Roach said last year.

"We just don't take any old case because it is technically a capital
murder. It has to be one in which the death penalty is warranted."

Death penalty cases require more than proof that a murder occurred. The
murder must have been committed during the commission of another offense,
such as kidnapping, robbery, burglary, retaliation, arson, terroristic
threat or another murder. It also applies to the murder of a police
officer, jail employee, or a child younger than 6.

Ms. McCallum did not pick up their daughter from school in May 2007, and
Plano police went to her apartment to check on her. When officers arrived,
they found blood on the stairs leading to her upstairs apartment unit,
according to the arrest warrant affidavit for Mr. Armstrong.

When Plano police found Mr. Armstrong later the same day, they discovered
blood in the bed of his pickup and on the bumper. He was arrested and
charged in Ms. McCallum's death.

More than a week later, Plano police said Mr. Armstrong passed a jailer a
note describing where to find his ex-wife's body  just outside of
Fairfield in a grassy median of Interstate 45 nearly an hour from Dallas.

Originally prosecutors claimed Mr. Armstrong burglarized Ms. McCallum's
apartment. There was a broken window.

Mr. Armstrong and Ms. McCallum had been having disagreements over custody
of their then-6-year-old daughter, according to court records. The girl is
now living with her maternal grandparents in Plano.

Ms. McCallum had accused Mr. Armstrong of having a "history ... of
physical abuse" with one of his stepchildren. And Mr. Armstrong asked a
judge to change the custody agreement to make him the primary caretaker of
his and Ms. McCallum's child.

Mr. Franklin said he does not know why prosecutors decided against the
death penalty for his client but he's glad they changed their minds.

"I never believed this was death-penalty-worthy, because it was basically
a domestic dispute," Mr. Franklin said.

But John Steven Gardner apparently was not as fortunate as Mr. Armstrong.
Mr. Gardner was convicted of capital murder in November 2006 for driving
from Mississippi to Westminster to kill his estranged wife. A Collin
County jury sentenced him to death.

The Gardner case qualified for the death penalty because prosecutors said
he broke into the house and fatally shot her in the head in retaliation
for trying to divorce him.

But Bob Hultkrantz, Mr. Gardner's attorney, said Collin County prosecutors
never had any evidence that another felony had been committed, so the
death penalty should not have applied. The verdict is being appealed.

"I have faith in the judicial system," Mr. Hultkrantz said. "But I also
know that there are certain areas of the country that are more apt to
issue the death penalty than others.

"I think Collin County is one."

(source: Dallas Morning News)



The state Supreme Court in San Francisco today overturned a death sentence
for a Southern California man convicted of killing a Los Angeles police
officer in 1983.

The court said unanimously that Kenneth Earl Gay did not receive a fair
penalty trial because his lawyers were not allowed to present evidence
suggesting that a co-defendant was the person who shot the officer.

The panel sent the case back to Los Angeles Superior Court for a new
penalty trial to determine whether Gay should be sentenced to death or
life in prison without possibility of parole.

The ruling does not affect Gay's conviction for participating in the
crime. The court upheld his conviction in 1993.

The co-defendant, Raynard Cummings, was also sentenced to death and both
his conviction and death penalty have been upheld by the court.

Gay, Cummings and their then-wives engaged in a series of brutal robberies
in Los Angeles County in the spring of 1983 in which store employees were
threatened and beaten, according to the court.

The 2 men were convicted of murdering Officer Paul Verna on June 2, 1983,
during a traffic stop in the Lake View Terrace district of the San
Fernando Valley area. Prosecutors alleged the motive for the shooting was
to avoid arrest for the robberies.

Today's ruling was the 2nd time the high court ordered a new penalty trial
for Gay. In 1998, the court, ruling on a habeas corpus petition, said
Gay's trial lawyer was ineffective during the penalty phase of his 1st
trial in 1985.

The panel's 7 justices said today the penalty retrial in 2000 was unfair
because the judge refused to allow evidence that Cummings allegedly told
two sheriff's deputies and two fellow prisoners that he was the sole

(source: Associated Press)


Dozens of children in U.S. face life in prison

Underage criminals cannot face the death penalty in the United States but
dozens of offenders imprisoned for crimes committed when they were young
teenagers will still die behind bars.

The U.S. Supreme Court abolished the death penalty for minors in 2005 but
19 states permit "life-means-life" sentences for those under 18, according
to a study by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI).

In all, 2,225 people are sentenced to die in U.S. prisons for crimes they
committed as minors and 73 of them were aged 13 and 14 at the time of the
crime, according to the group, which is based in Montgomery, Alabama.

Elsewhere in the world, life sentences with no chance of parole are rare
for underage offenders. Human Rights Watch estimates that only 12 people
outside the United States face such sentences.

Judicial reform advocates say the U.S. provision is an example of how
harsh sentences have helped cause a jump in incarceration rates since the
1970s. The United States jails a higher percentage of its population than
anywhere else in the industrialized world, these advocates say.

"These kids have been swept up in this tide of carceral control that is
unparalleled in American history," said Bryan Stevenson, director of the
EJI. "We have become quite comfortable about throwing people away," he

Others defend the statute, arguing it is popular with voters and gives
comfort to victims to know that perpetrators of serious crimes against
them will not one day walk free.

They also use an "adult crime, adult time" argument -- minors who commit
adult crimes should be punished as adults.


The case of Ashley Jones, who was 14 when she killed, illustrates the
seriousness of many crimes that result in for-life sentences.

One night in August 1999, Jones and her 16-year-old boyfriend, Geramie
Hart, angered by her family's disapproval of their relationship, went to
her home in Birmingham, Alabama. They set her grandfather on fire with
lighter fluid, stabbed him and shot him dead.

They also stabbed and shot dead Jones' aunt in her bedroom and set her
grandmother on fire.

Jones' 10-year-old sister, Mary, was asleep in bed but they dragged her to
the kitchen to see the attack on her family.

"I had to sit there and watch her (Ashley) torture my grandmother. I saw
her in flames," said Mary Jones, recounting her ordeal in an interview in
Alabaster, Alabama.

"Geramie ... picked me up by my neck and pointed a gun at me and said:
'This is how you are going to die.' Ashley said: 'No, wait. I'll do her.'"

They stabbed Mary Jones repeatedly, puncturing a lung, and drove off
leaving her and her grandmother, whose injuries included burns, stab and
gunshot wounds, to stagger outside.

The questions raised by criminal cases involving teenagers are difficult
to answer.

Is a young teenager responsible for crimes in the same way as an adult and
to what extent, if at all, should courts consider a minor's family
situation and background?

"It goes against human inclinations to give up completely on a young
teenager. It's impossible for a court to say that any 14-year-old never
has the possibility to live in society," said Stephen Bright, director of
the Southern Center for Human Rights.


The Equal Justice Initiative has filed suits in six states challenging the
life-without-parole sentences and has brought a case in federal court in
northern Alabama over the Jones case, arguing it represents cruel and
unusual punishment.

Hart is also serving the same sentence.

The group says a disproportionate number of the minors serving the
sentence are black or Hispanic and many were tried as adults with
inadequate legal counsel. Also, it says up to 70 % were given mandatory

Not all those serving life-means-life sentences for crimes committed as
minors are convicted killers.

Antonio Nunez was convicted of multiple counts of attempted murder and
also aggravated kidnapping and sentenced to life without parole for his
role in a kidnap, police chase and shootout in April, 2001, in which
nobody was injured.

Nunez, aged 14 at the time of the crime, grew up in a part of Los Angeles
where gang activity was common. In 2000, he was wounded and his brother
killed in a gang-related shooting.

His sister Cindy Nunez said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles the
life sentence devastated her family.

"He has lost all hope .... We try to keep his spirits up by saying
something will change in the law," she said.

Mary Jones, now 19, is attempting to reconstruct her life. She testified
against her sister in court but has visited her in jail. She blames Hart
for changing her sister from "the sweetest girl" into a murderer.

"She should have a chance to have a life. Her life shouldn't just be taken
away from her like that. Sometimes I'm kind of mad and then I'm sad," she
said. "I practically lost her too because she is in prison."

(source: Reuters)


Democrats are wrong on death penalty, life

This is something mainly for Democrats because this is dear to their
hearts, capital punishment and their notion that it's not a deterrent for

Just this past week someone who spent 14 years in prison for murder and
was released in January killed again.

He killed 6 people, including his brother and two of his brother's young
children. He stabbed and thought he killed 3 other children. If these
people who are convicted of murder are not executed they should be
sentenced to life without parole. It won't happen.

Don't expect the Democrats to ever do anything about this because these
are the same people who thinks it's fine to kill unborn children by the

So, if you're for abortion but against capital punishment, then you're
probably a Democrat and definitely wrong.

God bless America and those 6 innocent people in Memphis.

Charles Francis----Stroudsburg

(source: Letter to the Editor, Pocono (Penn.) Record)


Death penalty opponents should pay bill for lifers

Concerning the death penalty in these United States, for those who oppose
it, allow me to put it in this perspective:

For taking a human life, the person is sentenced to life in prison. This
means the taxpayers have to clothe, feed, provide shelter and medical care
and numerous persons to watch them for years at a cost of, I'd say, $200 a

This includes building and grounds maintenance plus new prisons due to
overcrowding, delivery of food, electricity for light, gas for heat and
cooking, etc.

So, maybe those opposed to it should give their names and help pay for
this, then maybe they would change their minds.

Tim Dawson----Normal

(source: Letter to the Editor, Bloomington Pantagraph)


Why Would Anyone Support Capital Punishment?

In my previous column, we saw that the practical objection about executing
innocent convicts can be solved by heightening the capital standard to
guilt beyond any doubt. Now, lets look at some of the conceptual

Conceptual Objection 1: You cannot teach people that killing is wrong by

What punishment could we assess against criminals that wouldnt be wrong
when done to innocent people?

Is it inconsistent to punish embezzlers with fines? Is it inconsistent to
put kidnappers in the liberty-deprived condition of prison? Would we be
inconsistent, or merely brutal, to adopt a more Indonesian response to
assault by publicly flagellating offenders?

Precisely because every form of punishment is a form of harm to the
convicted, the problem with this objection is that it proves too much,
indicting all expressions of any justice system. Thats why the proper
response to it is to ask why the person advocates anarchism, since only
the anarchist view (that all outside impositions upon a person are wrong)
is consistent with the principle of this argument.

But thats probably a bit much for your nave friend in a casual discussion.
Instead, ask him if he also opposes execution because of the risk that the
convict is innocent. If so, then he is simultaneously arguing that all
killing is wrong and that the killing of innocents is uniquely wrong.
Every person who opposes capital punishment because of the risk to
innocents affirms, in making that argument, that there is something vastly
different between killing those who have done nothing to deserve it and
killing those who have. And clearly, this is the distinction that solves
this objection.

Simply put, to allege that killing murderers and killing innocent citizens
are the same is to deny the distinction between guilt and innocence which
is the presuppositional foundation of all law in the first place. If we
cannot distinguish between how we should treat lawbreakers and
non-lawbreakers, we have much more elementary problems than rationally
discussing the validity of capital punishment.

Conceptual Objection 2: It erodes the sanctity of human life.

There are two ways for our justice system to show that something is
sacred: by protecting it from violation and by punishing those who violate
it. Clearly, in this case, the two are interconnected. Life is uniquely
precious, which is exactly why taking the life of one who deliberately
takes innocent life is the only way to affirm lifes sacredness. Rather
than proclaiming the preciousness of life, allowing a known murderer to
live is a declaration that life is not precious enough to justify the
forfeit of another life as punishment.

When something is sacred, that does not mean that it cannot be violated.
Rather, it means that it must be violated only in the rarest of cases and
only in the most deliberate of ways. The almost absurd solemnity with
which we execute people in this country is not a defect of our system, but
a testament to the importance we attach to human life. Instead of eroding
the sanctity of life, execution practiced with such regard actually
affirms it.

Conceptual Objection 3: You cant be pro-life and pro-capital punishment.

First, its a mistake to assume that all pro-lifers base their view on the
idea that abortion is homicide. While this is common, there are other
grounds for opposing abortion. Nonetheless, Ill grant most pro-lifers do
oppose abortion for this reason.

According to this objection, it is inconsistent to oppose the killing of a
human fetus while favoring the killing of a human murderer because one
must treat all killings the same way.

What so offends us about abortion is the taking of an innocent life, the
destruction of someone utterly vulnerable and guilty of no wrong.
Executing a murderer doesnt elicit the same response because we are,
again, making the simple distinction between the innocent victim of a
crime and the guilty perpetrator of that crime. Since this distinction is
at the heart of our justice system, the person who cant make it is back to
equating being stolen from with being fined, and being kidnapped with
being incarcerated, equivocations that make a life sentence in prison
every bit as problematic as execution.

I am convinced that even those who grieve the death row convict do not
view his death as a tragedy equal to that of his victim. In fact, Id have
trouble taking someone seriously who told me that his horror at an
executed murderer was equal to his horror at the original murder itself.
This difference of reaction acknowledges a distinction even at an
emotional level. It may not seem big enough to justify execution, but just
getting opponents to admit the difference might start to erode their
notion that the two are morally indistinguishable.

Furthermore, if the idea is that we must oppose all homicides if we oppose
any, then we might reasonably demand that such opponents also protest
every form of warfare or self-defense. Obviously, most death penalty
opponents are not pure pacifists, which makes them no less inconsistent on
this issue than they allege pro-lifers to be. I only point this out to
show that many capital punishment opponents are skewered by their own
willingness to distinguish wartime and self-defense homicides from others.

I am willing to concede that it would be more philosophically rigorous and
less confusing to use the more cumbersome label pro-innocent-life. But we
all know that rigor often yields to pith in modern discourse.
Nevertheless, there are clear lines distinguishing abortion from capital
punishment which this objection colors quite sloppily across.

However, as a point of practical concern, ending abortion is far more
important to me than continuing to execute. Id certainly rather save a few
million innocent than kill a few hundred guilty. So, if I thought that
opposing capital punishment would make me look more consistent to those
who cant make such distinctions and thus gain their support for ending
abortion, I might well consider it. But Id like to hope, perhaps naively,
that we can get both issues right without pandering to such superficial

In the next column, well look at the concerns that execution is
unconstitutional, barbaric, motivated by hate, and degrading to the

(source: Andrew Tallman is host of The Andrew Tallman Show on AM 1360 KPXQ
from 5-7PM weekdays in Phoenix,


Death penalty sought in soldier murder case

In Hwaseong, military prosecutors Friday sought the death penalty for a
man charged with killing a soldier and stealing ammunition near a marine
guard post along the west coast late last year.

The suspect, 35, was accused of stabbing 1 marine guard soldier to death
and critically wounding another as they were patrolling a base on Gwanghwa
Island, west of Seoul, in December. He then ran away with the soldiers'
weapons and ammunition, including a K-2 rifle and a hand grenade,
prompting fears of a possible terror attack in the presidential election

His defense claimed their client suffers from mental illness. The suspect,
who cannot be identified before the ruling is made, has previously made 3
suicide attempts and has a record of receiving mental treatment.

But prosecutors dismissed the claim, saying an examination of his mental
status found no personality disorder grave enough to cause him to commit
the crime.

Prosecutors said his grudge against his former girlfriend of 10 years
drove him to the murder. With such destructive behavior, he wanted her to
feel pain as she had refused to reunite with him, they said.

"The defendant planned the crime 2 weeks prior to its execution, studied
soldiers on patrol and toured the base. He parked his car and waited for
40 minutes before they appeared," a prosecutor said, "Considering the
crime was prepared in such a meticulous way, he should be isolated from
society forever."

The accused said, "It's too late to ask forgiveness, but I know that I've
committed a serious crime. I've got no words to say to the family of the
victim but I'm sorry and I will humbly receive whatever is placed on me."

The father of the dead soldier, Park Sang-cheol, was full of tears.

"My son is dead and he is not here. What's the use of hearing an
apology?," he asked, "Please, when making a decision, consider the parents
who have buried their son in their hearts."

(source: Yonhap News)

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