Sept. 16


Crime kept dropping after death penalty abolished

The statewide murder rate continued to decline after Illinois abolished the death penalty 5 years ago, following a nationwide trend of decreasing crime.

However, some state lawmakers want to reinstate capital punishment in certain cases.

Illinois has a long and complicated history with the death penalty. The 1st execution after Illinois attained statehood occurred in 1819, and Springfield hosted its 1st government-sanctioned hanging in 1826. Illinois has twice reinstated its death penalty after courts struck it down: once in 1974 after a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision, and again in 1977 after a decision by the Illinois Supreme Court in 1975.

In 2000, former Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions in Illinois following the exonerations of several people who had been sentenced to death. Just before leaving office in January 2003, Ryan commuted the sentences of 167 death row inmates to life in prison.

When former Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill abolishing the death penalty in 2011, Illinois joined 15 other states without capital punishment. Today, 20 states have no death penalty. Thirty states still have a death penalty, although four of those are under an execution moratorium by gubernatorial decree.

According to data from the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting system, Illinois has seen a decrease in murders and non-negligent manslaughter since abolishing the death penalty. However, the decrease started well before that. The FBI data shows 986 murders and non-negligent manslaughters in Illinois during 2001, a number that gradually dropped to 721 in 2011. For 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, there were 685 such crimes reported in Illinois.

Violent crime, which for the FBI count includes murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault, dropped in Illinois both before and after the death penalty's abolition. In 2001, there were 79,504 violent crimes in Illinois. That number dropped steadily to 55,247 by 2011 and continued dropping to 47,663 in 2014.

The data does have some limitations stemming from how crimes are reported and classified - or not reported at all. Until 2009, Illinois only reported crime data to the FBI for certain metropolitan areas, meaning statistics for the rest of the state were estimated. Additionally, the FBI previously counted sexual assault as rape only if the victim was female and force was used. Starting in 2013, the definition was widened to include any sexual penetration without consent. Crime reporting also relies heavily on police agencies, which can sometimes become political as cities try to manage their public image.

Still, Illinois' experience with decreasing crime follows a national trend.
From a peak of 1.93 million in 1992, the annual number of violent crimes
nationwide has dropped steadily to fewer than 1.2 million in 2014.

Criminologists don't agree on why crime is decreasing, attributing it to a variety of factors like an improved economy, more effective law enforcement, changing drug abuse trends and even decreased incidence of lead poisoning.

Despite the drop in crime, the death penalty remains popular. National pollster Gallup, which has tracked public opinion on the death penalty since at least 1936, recorded 60 % support for capital punishment in every poll since 2000. The most recent poll in 2015 showed 61 % of respondents in favor of the death penalty.

The Gallup data shows support for the death penalty has eroded significantly among Democrats in the past 2 decades, from 75 % support in 1994 to a still-majority 49 % in 2014. And although Democrats led the charge to abolish the death penalty in the Illinois General Assembly, some lawmakers within their own party fought to keep capital punishment intact.

Among them is Sen. William Haine, D-Alton, who served as a prosecutor before his election to the Illinois Senate. Haine argued against abolishing the death penalty in 2011 and has since called for reinstating it in some cases. Last year, Haine announced he would seek a new death penalty for cases involving mass killings or killing of police, children, elderly people or people with disabilities. He could not be reached for comment.

Republican state Rep. Mark Batinick from Plainfield says he's considering a similar bill which would apply to first responders. He points to a "recent uptick" of crime targeting police, like the police shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge earlier this year.

"If first responders don't feel protected," Batinick said, "it's harder for them to protect us."

(source: Illinois Times)


Should Nebraska have a death penalty?

Wednesday, the Nebraska attorney general questioned a study by Creighton economist Ernie Goss about the cost of the death penalty.

Thursday, both sides of whether or not Nebraska should keep capital punishment debated in downtown Omaha.

Those against capital punishment say it costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year and runs the risk of putting innocent people to death.

Those in favor say it protects prison staff, police and saves lives by deterring crime.

"So we now have people who have been sentenced to death and have been sitting there not for years, but for decades," said State Senator Colby Coash, Lincoln.

Coash referenced a Creighton study last month showing that Nebraskans spend $14.6 million per year on a death penalty that hasn't been used since 1996.

Other studies released since suggests that abolishing capital punishment in Nebraska would save much less than millions.

"You have to ask yourself this question, because the legislature asked itself this question over and over again: regardless of the cost, is the taxpayer getting what he or she paid for?" Coash said.

Senator Coash says the death penalty should not be an option because innocent people are sometimes put to death.

Attorney Bob Evnen disagrees.

Evnen says there has never been an innocent person executed in Nebraska.

"I can't justify the Jim Crow south," Evnen said. "I cannot justify the corruption of other states. This is state issue for our state. And I can tell you in our state, we have never executed an innocent person."

Because the death penalty deters crime, it saves lives, Evnen said.

"If we know or have good reason to believe the death penalty saves innocent human lives, then isn't it the case that it's not only morally permissible, it's morally required," Evnen said.

The legislature overturned a veto last year that would have kept Nebraska's death penalty intact.

Voters have a chance in November to repeal last year's decision that abolished capital punishment in Nebraska.



Spirited debate begins at Death Penalty Forum

As the vote to retain or repeal the death penalty in Nebraska nears, a death penalty forum was held in Adams at the American Lutheran Church where Gage County officials answered questions.

Gage County Attorney Roger Harris, Gage County Sheriff Millard Gustafson, and Pastor Bob Bryan, pastor for the Followers of Christ Prison Ministry, all sat down to discuss their views and have a conversation with those in attendance.

"Overall I think it went really well," said Pastor Nathan Metzger, pastor at the American Lutheran Church. "When we set out to do this, the goal was to have a thoughtful conversation on the subject and I think that we accomplished our goal.

"I was very pleased with the panel. It was our intention to try to get as mixed a panel as possible in terms of those in favor and those against the death penalty and I think it ended up being a very balanced conversation."

Throughout the discussion a variety of topics were brought up, including mental health, innocent people who could be executed and consideration of the safety of officers.

"We weren't trying to push any agenda," Metzger added. "The way we vote on this is not going to be a determining factor of somebody going to heaven. At this point we don't have an agreement, but however the outcome is decided, we all must live with one another."

While Sheriff Gustafson expressed support for the death penalty, as did other officers in the room, Pastor Bryan and individuals who made connections to religion and Christianity held the opposite view, which created a spirited yet civil debate.

"I was picked because I'm a proponent of capital punishment and they wanted people from both sides in the discussion," Harris said. "I thought it was a good informational forum; it???s one of those discussions that can be very personal. Anytime you can have a forum like this where you are able to exchange ideas and begin a conversation I think is a good thing."

One sticking point in the conversation was whether or not the death penalty costs more money to the tax payers. Retain A Just Nebraska claims that the death penalty is consistently more expensive than life in prison without parole because of the additional preparation in capital cases, the separate sentencing phase, post-conviction appeals and other costs of death row.

In spring 2015, the Unicameral voted 30-19 to replace the death penalty in Nebraska with life without parole, according to information from Retain A Just Nebraska. On November 8 Nebraska voters will choose to either retain the law or repeal it and bring the death penalty back to the state.

(source: Beatrice Daily Sun)


Death penalty supporters, foes argue over $14M cost estimate

Attorney General Doug Peterson again sought to discredit a study that says Nebraska's death penalty costs $14.6 million per year, while the economist who conducted it stood by his work Wednesday.

The Republican attorney general, who supports the death penalty and has criticized the Legislature's decision to abolish it, said the study inflated the defense and housing costs for death row inmates, as well as the number of court days spent on capital punishment cases. "There are serious inaccuracies contained in this report," Peterson said at a news conference less than 2 months before voters will decide whether to overturn the state's ban on the death penalty in the November general election.

Creighton University economist Ernie Goss said his study is scientifically valid, based on U.S. census data and is generally accurate. He was hired to do the report by death penalty opposition group Retain a Just Nebraska.

Peterson said the report falsely claims that seating a jury and imposing a sentence in a death penalty case can take weeks, countering that the average time in Nebraska to select a jury for the current death row inmates was 3 days and to impose the sentence was 3.6 days.

But Goss' study doesn't say that seating a jury or imposing a sentence takes weeks in Nebraska, instead citing averages drawn from a separate study of Colorado's criminal justice system, which concluded that capital punishment cases take longer than others.

When it comes to the price of the death penalty, Goss said he looked at average spending by states with the death penalty and those without for 2012 and 2013, the latest years with available data. His comparison showed that states with capital punishment generally spend more, and then he adjusted the numbers to account for differences among states, such as prison population, per-capita income, geography and minority and religious populations.

"I did not calculate a bunch of these little things together and add them up," he said. Death penalty supporters are "using anecdotal data. When you use anecdotal data, the margins of error are really huge."

Goss also stressed that his study only addressed the financial costs of the death penalty, not the moral, ethical or religious issues. The conservative economist has refused to discuss his personal feelings about the punishment.

(source: Associated Press)


Rethinking the Death Penalty----The option on the death penalty that few know about.

In California, the death penalty has been a hot topic. This year is no different. In November, voters have a choice between Proposition 62, which outright abolishes the death penalty in the state, and Proposition 66, which significantly alters it. Most, if not all, the talk is on keeping or not keeping it. What we don't realize, however, is that a 3rd option does exist. If the death penalty is given some retooling, there's a rather decent chance it can regain its effectiveness as a deterrent.

First, the appeals process for inmates on death row can be streamlined. This means cutting down on the timeframe for an appeal, and the number of appeals themselves. This means voting 'Yes' on Prop 66. According to the California Complete Voters Information Guide, the proposition 'Designates superior court for initial petitions and limits successive petitions.' In short, it will cut down on the repeated appeals some death row inmates repeatedly file to stave off an execution for as long as possible. The description goes on to say, "A defendant's claim of actual innocence should not be limited, but frivolous and unnecessary claims should be restricted." With the appeals down, the process will go faster, and, more importantly, less money will be used. That is music to the ears of a state that is tight for cash.

According to the San Jose Mercury-News, "the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a federal judge's sweeping decision last year finding California's death penalty system unconstitutional because of decades-long delays in the handling of death row inmates' appeals." This decision is important to the cause of keeping the death penalty in California, as it keeps the door open to fixing a broken system. Proposition 66 will take things a step further when streamlining the appeals process. It will then take months, not years, to process the appeals by criminals.

Think of this for a second: California's death row at San Quentin Prison is home to around 700 male inmates. The last time one of them was executed was in 2006. As harsh as it might sound, executions need to happen more frequently again. Therefore, the factor of intimidation the death penalty once had will return again.

We also need to return the 'deterrence' factor the death penalty once had. Much of what has been outlined above can help towards that. More executions means more people getting the message that if you kill someone, you forfeit your right to live. In a speech in the British Parliament against a bill that would abolish capital punishment, in 1868, John Stuart Mill said, " deter suffering by inflicting suffering is not only possible, but the very purpose of penal justice. We show, on the contrary, most emphatically our regard for it, by the adoption of a rule that he who violates that right in another forfeits it for himself, and that while no other crime he can commit deprives him of his right to life, this shall."

Mill is right: If we have to inflict suffering on another person to show everyone else that doing so is wrong, we shall. Similar to how if you steal, you get fined, or if you try to kidnap someone, you get held in prison. The punishment has to fit the crime.

Also, when a murderer kills someone, it shows their disregard for human life, and therefore, they must be punished accordingly. Now, does the deterrence effect work? Well, according to US News, from September 2014, quoting a study by Kenneth Land of Duke University, "from 1994 through 2005, each execution in Texas was associated with "modest, short-term reductions" in homicides, a decrease of up to 2.5 murders."

If there's one thing that the study proves, it's that the death penalty, when used correctly, deters crime. There is a deterrent effect. The last time California executed anyone was a decade ago. That needs to change. We talk the talk, now we have to walk the walk. If we vote "No" on Proposition 62, and "Yes" on 66, the death penalty has a chance. Taking measures, such as those outlined above, will go ways to make it greater and effective again.

(source: Mesa Press)


California's choice on death penalty: End it - or speed it up?

In November California voters will be asked to look at 2 competing ballot measures on the death penalty - 1 to abolish it and 1 to speed it up.

Proposition 62 repeals the death penalty in California and replaces the maximum punishment for murder with life in prison without possibility of parole. It would also apply to the more than 700 inmates who are already on California's death row.

Proposition 66 keeps the death penalty in place and sets up new procedures to speed up appeals of capital punishment cases, so that executions could be held more quickly after the sentence is delivered.

Members of law enforcement, families of murder victims and other supporters of Prop. 66 argue that the California legal system takes too long to carry out the death penalty once a defendant has been sentenced.

"The average death row inmate has spent 16 years with a death sentence. No one on California's death row has been executed in 10 years," said Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens.

Beth Webb supports Prop. 62, to end the death penalty. Her sister Laura was 1 of 8 people murdered by a gunman who opened fire on a Seal Beach salon in 2011.

She argues that the death penalty makes the state sink to the level of those who carried out the murders.

"Any eye for an eye is not accurate, it's not going to happen. And it just sinks us to his level. So we want to make a statement saying we're not at your level. We're better."

(source: KABC news)


Riverside County death sentences lead the nation

The death penalty is the ultimate form of punishment.

Ostensibly reserved for the worst offenders against society, use of the death penalty has declined throughout the country, with fewer than 1/2 the number of death sentences being handed down in 2015 than in 2010. Yet the Inland Empire, especially Riverside County, has remained a big contributor of death sentences.

According to a recent report by the Fair Punishment Project, an initiative of the Harvard Law School's Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice and the Criminal Justice Institute, "Riverside County has become the nation's leading producer of death sentences."

In 2015, of the 45 death sentences ordered nationwide, Riverside County was the source of 8 of them, sending more to death row than every other entire state with the exception of Florida and California.

According to the report, minorities make up the overwhelming majority of individuals sentenced to death in the county, with 76 % of all death sentences between 2010 and 2015 being imposed on minorities. Additionally, 23 % of the cases involved defendants with intellectual disabilities, severe mental illness or brain damage.

Along with Riverside County, San Bernardino County is 1 of 16 counties in the entire country to impose 5 or more death sentences between 2010 and 2015. San Bernardino County will be the subject of a report due sometime this month.

San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos and Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin are proponents of streamlining executions in the state. With over 700 offenders currently on death row in California, they have backed Proposition 66, which, among other things, would limit the appeals process.

Our editorial board has not yet taken a position on that particular initiative, or the competing Proposition 62, which would outright abolish the death penalty. But we are concerned that a punishment as severe as depriving someone of life is being sought so often in the Inland Empire.

This is true even though the death penalty is rarely carried out. More individuals have been added to death row without assurances the penalty will ever be carried out, hollowing the meaning of a death sentence and leaving taxpayers with the legal bills.

(source: Editorial, The Daily Bulletin)


Jury deliberations begin in Indio double-killings retrial

Jury deliberations began Thursday in the retrial of a 30-year-old gang member accused in the execution-style killings of 2 rival gang members in Indio more than a decade ago.

Elias Carmona Lopez is accused in the shooting deaths of Erineo Perez and Martin Garcia on Oct. 10 and Oct. 26, 2004, respectively. Perez was found in the front seat of his vehicle near Indio City Hall and Garcia was found dead in an Indio alley. Both victims were shot several times, including in the face.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Lopez, who is charged with 2 counts of 1st-degree murder, with special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and being an active gang member.

Closing arguments began Wednesday and concluded this morning with the prosecution's rebuttal, then jurors got the case.

Deputy District Attorney Scot L. Clark urged the panel to hold Lopez accountable for "the 2 lives he destroyed,'' saying it had been "12 years that justice has been deferred.''

Clark said the evidence clearly pointed to Lopez as the killer of both men. He cited the murder weapon, a .22 caliber handgun found beneath Lopez's mattress, as well as Lopez's move out of the state - days after the 2nd killing - to Avondale, Ariz., with his then-girlfriend and his mother.

Once there, Clark alleged, Lopez told his girlfriend that he had committed both murders, providing her details that only the killer would have known.

But defense attorney Demitra Tolbert said Lopez's ex-girlfriend not only had an ongoing methampetamine addiction that made her recollection of events unreliable, but she loathed Lopez, and sought to rid herself of him, particularly because of her current relationship with a member of a rival gang.

Her testimony was "uncorroborated, unreliable and untrustworthy,'' Tolbert argued. Tolbert also disputing that the witness was privy to things only the killer would have known, noting testimonial inconsistencies, as well as the fact that 2 years passed between the killings and her statements to police.

Shell casings taken from both crime scenes came from the same gun, the 22-caliber Smith & Wesson found beneath Lopez's mattress, Clark said. Tolbert countered that the evidence presented throughout the trial did not prove the murders were committed by the same person, only that the same gun was used.

Lopez told investigators in 2004 that he was only holding the gun for a friend.

According to a probable cause statement prepared by Indio police Detective Christopher Piscatella, Lopez would not identify the friend he said he was holding the gun for, nor would he volunteer how he came to possess the weapon.

Clark said a number of other potential suspects suggested to be the killer by the defense could be easily ruled out. According to the prosecutor, none of the supposed killers had connections to both Perez and Garcia, and none of them could have managed to get the murder weapon underneath Lopez's mattress.

But Tolbert said detectives did not fully pursue the connections between those suspects and the victims to the extent necessary, saying "law enforcement failed miserably'' in its investigation, dismissing potential suspects and not following through with DNA testing or witness interviews at both crime scenes.

Lopez was an early suspect in both killings, but there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the case until July 2008, according to prosecutors. He was serving an eight-year sentence for armed robbery at a Tucson, Ariz. state prison when the murder charges were filed against him.

In his 1st trial, jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of conviction after about six weeks of testimony. Before a mistrial was declared, Lopez agreed to plead guilty to a single felony count of participating in a criminal street gang.

(source: The Desert Sun)


Qualified death penalty lawyers don't grow on trees

In response to The San Francisco Chronicle's recent editorial "Fight crime, not futility: Abolish the death penalty," a thorough evisceration of Proposition 66 - the Grim Reaper ballot initiative seeking to speed-up state-sponsored executions - Sacramento D.A. Anne Marie Schubert promised California voters that, "[t]he overall changes" needed to repair the state's discriminatory and horribly dysfunctional death penalty are, "easy fixes."

To anybody who believes that: Not only do I have a snazzy bridge in Brooklyn to sell you, I'll throw in a bridge to nowhere too.

The Chronicle, which published Schubert's glib and disjointed talking points under the header "dissenting view," was also clearly unimpressed. It excerpted just 1 devastating paragraph from its prior full-length blistering editorial to run beneath Schubert's superficial response.

The Chronicle reminded Californians it urges a "No" vote on Proposition 66, and a "Yes" vote on the counter-initiative, Proposition 62, which would end capital punishment forever in California: "Prop. 62 offers a straightforward and certain solution: abolish the death penalty, and replace it with a punishment of life without the possibility of parole. The other [ballot initiative], Prop. 66, proposes a highly complex, probably very expensive and constitutionally questionable scheme for streamlining the appeals process in hopes of shaving years off the timeline between conviction and execution. Even the most ardent advocates of capital punishment should be wary of the promises in Prop. 66."

Perhaps the biggest of the false promises made by Prop. 66 that The Chronicle alludes to - one that all Californians should be wary of - is Prop. 66 proponents' claim (led by Schubert), that "Prop. 66 would expand the pool of qualified lawyers to deal with [capital] cases." Again and again, this mantra has been repeated in their op-eds and public statements campaigning for more and quicker state-sanctioned death. I guess they figure if they keep repeating this claim - without a shred of evidence to back it up - that this canard of Prop. 66 will be plum overlooked by California voters. It won't be.

As explained in "Proposition 66, The 'Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016,' is Fool's Gold for Californians" qualified death penalty lawyers don't grow on trees. Nor will a gigantic stork suddenly deliver them on November 9. There simply "are not enough willing and qualified lawyers in California to take these kinds of cases - the most difficult, emotional, time-sensitive, resource-draining cases our legal system has."

Prop. 66's "easy fix" for this catastrophic flaw in the death penalty system is, by its express language, to: (1) pressure defense attorneys who don't currently handle death penalty cases to start doing so, or risk their livelihood, because if they refuse, they won't be eligible for court appointments at all, and (2) handicap the quality of capital defense representation in California by decimating the independence and the leadership of California's Habeas Corpus Resource Center (an agency which has been zealously and competently representing death row inmates in the state for decades).

Beyond windy platitudes and rehearsed talking points, not a single Prop. 66 proponent has articulated to voters just how, in practice, Prop. 66's proposed shotgun-style-appointment of defense attorneys in capital cases, or its ruination of the Habeas Corpus Resource Center, will "expand the pool of qualified lawyers to deal with [capital] cases."

There's a reason for this, and it begins with that bridge in Brooklyn I mentioned earlier - the one I've said you can have for a steal - and it ends with that other bridge, you know, that one that'll take us, and our state, nowhere.

Instead of embarking on that fruitless endeavor, I implore you, my fellow citizens, to vote "No" on Prop. 66 and "Yes" on Prop. 62. Ending the death penalty is the only sensible path forward for California.

(source: Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.;


What I Learned From Executing 2 Men

As superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary, I planned and carried out that state's only 2 executions in the last 54 years. I used to support the death penalty. I don't anymore.

I was born and raised in the segregated South. I was 13 when Emmett Till was lynched for "flirting" with a white woman. I can remember upstanding black Christians expressing hope that his murderers would be caught and hanged. It seemed quite reasonable to me then that death was the only proportionate response for people who would so egregiously violate the norms of a society.

Years later, as a young law enforcement officer, I lost a close friend, John Tillman Hussey, and a cousin, Louis Perry Bryant - both law enforcement officers themselves - to execution-style murders at the hands of felons who were attempting to avoid arrest. I remember feeling that justice had been served when one of their killers was executed.

In 1994, during my interview for the superintendent job, I was asked if I would be willing to conduct an execution. I said yes. Oregon had not executed anyone in decades, but the death penalty was part of the criminal justice system, and I had to be prepared for all of the duties that a superintendent could be called upon to perform.

Shortly afterward, I was charged with executing 2 inmates on the penitentiary's death row, Douglas Franklin Wright and Harry Charles Moore. Moore had been convicted of killing his half sister and her former husband, and he said he'd take legal action against anyone who tried to stop his execution. Wright was sentenced to death for killing 3 homeless men. He later admitted to killing a 10-year-old boy. He, too, had given up his appeals.

Regardless of their crimes, the fact that I was now to be personally involved in their executions forced me into a deeper reckoning with my feelings about capital punishment. After much contemplation, I became convinced that, on a moral level, life was either hallowed or it wasn't. And I wanted it to be.

I could not see that execution did anything to enhance public safety. While death penalty supporters suggest that capital punishment has the power of deterrence, a 2012 report by the National Research Council found that research "is not informative about whether capital punishment decreases, increases or has no effect on homicide rates."

I now believed that capital punishment was a dismal failure as a policy, but I was still expected to do my job. So I met with my staff and explained my position. I made it known that anyone who felt similarly opposed could back out of our assignment. According to state policy, assisting in the executions was voluntary for everyone but the superintendent. And yet each of those asked to serve chose to stay to ensure that the job was done professionally.

I'm a Vietnam-era veteran, and a law enforcement professional who has been trained to deal with life-or-death situations, as were many of my colleagues. We focused on carrying out our responsibilities and leaving everyone involved with as much dignity as possible.

I began to feel the weight of this undertaking while practicing for the executions. Teams rehearsed for more than a month. There was a full "run through" of the execution every week.

The weight intensified during the executions, which took place 8 months apart, and it didn't subside until well after they were completed. I cannot put into words the anxiety I felt about the possibility of a botched procedure. I wasn't certain how my staff would fare. These were the first executions in Oregon in over t3 decades. These were the first executions in Oregon to be administered by use of lethal injections. I was the 1st black superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary. All of these firsts had the potential to come together in a very negative way if my team made a single mistake.

Planning an execution is a surreal business. During a prisoner's final days, staff members keep the condemned person under 24-hour surveillance to, among other things, ensure that he doesn't harm or kill himself, thus depriving the people of Oregon of the right to do the same. I can understand the administrative logic for this reality, but it doesn't make this experience any less strange.

During the execution itself, correctional officers are responsible for everything, from strapping the prisoner's ankles and wrists to a gurney to administering the lethal chemicals. One of the condemned men asked to have his wrist straps adjusted because they were hurting him. After the adjustment was made, he looked me in the eye and said: "Yes. Thanks, boss."

After each execution, I had staff members who decided they did not want to be asked to serve in that capacity again. Others quietly sought employment elsewhere. A few told me they were having trouble sleeping, and I worried they would develop post-traumatic stress disorder if they had to go through it another time.

Together, we had spent many hours planning and carrying out the deaths of two people. The state-ordered killing of a person is premeditated and calculated, and inevitably some of those involved incur collateral damage. I have seen it. It's hard to avoid giving up some of your empathy and humanity to aid in the killing of another human being. The effects can lead to all the places you'd expect: drug use, alcohol abuse, depression and suicide.

But the job gets done - despite the qualms and the cost. That's the way it's supposed to work. Capital punishment keeps grinding on, out of sight of society.

The average citizen will never find himself looking a death row prisoner in the eye, administering a lethal injection and stating the time of death in front of observers and reporters. But we all share the burden of a policy that has not been shown to make the public any safer, and that endures despite the availability of reasonable alternatives.

I am encouraged that Oregon now has a moratorium on executions, and there have not been any in the state since the ones I oversaw. Nationwide, in the past few decades, executions have also been declining, from a high of 98 in 1999 to 15 so far this year. But people continue to be sentenced to death.

Since I retired from corrections in 2010, my mission has been to persuade people that capital punishment is a failed policy. America should no longer accept the myth that capital punishment plays any constructive role in our criminal justice system. It will be hard to bring an end to the death penalty, but we will be a healthier society as a result.

(source: Opinion; Semon Frank Thompson was the superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary from 1994 to 1998. An interview with him appears in the forthcoming "Death: An Oral History," edited by Casey Jarman----New York Times)


Defense intends to add jury instruction on sparing Dylann Roof's life

Defense attorneys for Dylann Roof say they intend to tell jurors they don't have to pick the death penalty during the sentencing phase of the trial.

Citing Fourth Circuit precedent on the matter, attorneys Sarah Gannett, David Bruck, and Kimberly Stevens say the government's request last week that a mercy instruction be barred from use during the trial should be denied.

Citing an article on juror instructions that found there tends to be a "presumption of death" by the jury when jurors are confused that can lead to a default death sentence.

"This ... confusion should not come as a complete surprise. Few jurors - or judges, for that matter - will be glad to learn that the life of a fellow human being has been consigned to their discretionary moral judgment. Faced with this prospect, it is simpler to believe - even if it is not true - that the law itself provides the answer to the momentous question of life and death," Gannett writes.

Roof faces the death penalty if he's convicted of the nearly 3 dozen hate and gun crimes he's been charged with in connection to the church shooting. His attorneys have offered repeatedly to have him plead guilty if the government will walk back the death sentence as a possible punishment.

Roof also faces the death penalty in state court, which is slated to begin at the end of January.

(source: WCIV news)

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