Oct. 12


New Mexico Wants to Bring Back the Death Penalty

While California has been in the news for competing death penalty measures, New Mexico quietly brought a bitter House debate to an end, passing HB7, a measure to restore the death penalty in certain circumstances.

New Mexico's governor, Susana Martinez, must be pleased. She's been pushing for the state to resume prisoner executions.

Now it's up to the Senate to decide whether the legislation will more forward. Even so, it's a bad sign for death penalty opponents who are fighting to ban this archaic form of punishment across the country.

In 2009, New Mexico banned the death penalty on the grounds that it was highly costly and used so infrequently that it didn't make sense to leave it on the books as a punishment.

But the state's Republicans claim that the death penalty should be part of the judicial toolbox. They argue that the cost projections related to administration of capital punishment are inflated.

The number of people eligible for the death penalty might be so small as to make it virtually unused, but evidently Republicans want the option just in case -- especially in rare cases when people kill law enforcement officers on the job.

The bill makes an appeal to emotion by suggesting the death penalty should be available in the case of child murders and killings of police and correctional officers.

For lawmakers, it's a wise move to target members of the public who might be on the fence about the death penalty except in extreme cases. But it also creates a slippery slope, opening up the possibility of legalizing it in a growing number of circumstances.

Regardless as to one's personal stance on the death penalty, the bill has a glaring legal problem, according to Nicole Knight: It imposes an IQ cutoff for executions, which the Supreme Court has deemed unconstitutional.

The cutoff is set at 70, a largely arbitrary number. Some people with lower IQs could potentially be found competent to stand trial, while those with higher IQs might not be legally competent. These assessments are based on evaluations of individuals, not sweeping judgments on the basis of a single number.

The phrasing around methods of execution is also vague, indicating only that prisoners should be executed by being given enough of a "substance" to cause death. One reason for that wording is the repeated legal challenges to specific drugs used in executions. The shrinking availability of approved compounds is also a factor, as pharmaceutical companies refuse to supply drugs for executions.

New Mexico Republicans are clearly hoping to build in a bit of a buffer for themselves, but that may not be great news for justice.

Democrats argue that the bill was snuck through the House in the middle of the night -- which it was -- with a lack of transparency for members of the public who might have an interest.

Legislative transparency and hastily-passed bills have been a bit of a theme in 2016, as opponents of North Carolina's HB2 have noted.

Democrats may get the last laugh in the Senate, though. The bill is unlikely to pass, ensuring that it stalls out in the lower house and never actually makes it to the books -- at least, until the makeup of the House and Senate changes and death penalty supporters make up the necessary majority.

(source: truth-out.org)


Support for death penalty stronger in Utah than nationally, poll shows

Utahns still support capital punishment at a rate much higher than the nation as a whole, a new poll shows.

Some 71 % of likely Utah voters say the state should continue to impose the death penalty in capital murder cases, according to the survey of conducted by Dan Jones & Associates for The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah.

That's 10 points higher than the 61 % of Americans who said they favor capital punishment in a national poll conducted last year by Gallup.

Nationwide, backing of the death penalty has been slipping since reaching an all-time high of 80 % support in the 1990s. That hasn't been true in Utah, where conservative political and religious views have kept support high.

In the Dan Jones survey, 22 % of respondents said they disapproved of capital punishment and another 7 % either didn't respond or said they didn't know.

Support was higher among Utah men (75 %) than women (67 %), and highest among Republican respondents at 84 %.

Democrats were more evenly divided - with 49 % against the death penalty and 45 % for it.

Capital punishment won backing among Utah's major religious groups - including 79 % of active Mormons, 71 % of Protestants and 54 % of Catholics.

Conducted Sept. 12 to 19, the overall poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 % points.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, who has been the primary driver of pro-death penalty legislation on Utah's Capitol Hill, is not surprised by the results. They fit, he said, with what he hears from constituents even amid a national push to end the practice.

"A very large majority of people still support it," he said. "And the fact that we do it carefully [in Utah] and we don't have 45 people on death row shows that citizens have a comfort level with the way we do it."

Even so, Utah opponents say they are optimistic that the state eventually will end executions.

A bill to repeal capital punishment - as at least 7 other states have done in recent years - cleared the Utah Senate earlier this year. While it failed to get a vote in the House, it got further than any expected.

"That tells me that, poll numbers aside, the people who are responsible for making our laws in the state are really beginning to rethink the death penalty," said Mark Moffat, a defense attorney who sits on Utah's Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ). "I think it's time we examine whether we, as a state, have it on the books."

Marina Lowe, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, sees an appetite for that conversation. Lowe was among the advocates pushing lawmakers toward repeal.

An interim legislative committee and the CCJJ are examining the issue, she said, including looking closely at how prosecutors use capital-punishment laws, the appeals process and the legal costs Utah incurs in pursuing drawn-out capital cases.

The last person the state executed was Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010, by firing squad. 8 of the 9 men currently on death row were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death before 1999. The last time a capital conviction was secured in a new case was in 2008.

Utah prosecutors bring capital charges more frequently than those numbers suggest. But, in nearly every instance, those cases resolve in ways that carry lesser sentences, including life in prison without the possibility of parole. That costs the state far less than capital cases, each which can run state and local governments an additional $1.6 million.

Sharing that kind of data with Utahns statewide is critical to advancing the conversation around repeal, said Ralph Dellapiana, a defense attorney who heads Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

"People who don't know about the problems with the death penalty are unsurprisingly going to support it; it's the law," he said. "But the more people learn about it, the more they go, 'this is horrible.'"

Dellapiana said he and other advocates are working to renew a repeal effort during the 2017 Legislature, although they have yet to find a sponsor.

(source: Salt Lake Tribune)


Former Marine begins trial in 2014 death of pregnant wife of fellow Twentynine Palms Marine

A former U.S. Marine is expected to begin trial Tuesday for the death of 19-year-old Erin Corwin, the pregnant wife of a fellow Twentynine Palms Marine.

Former Marine Cpl. Christopher Brandon Lee, 27, is charged with o1 felony count of murder with a sentencing enhancement of having intentionally killed the victim by means of lying in wait.

Both sides were expected to deliver their opening remarks this morning at San Bernardino Justice Center, 247 W. 3rd St. The case moved to San Bernardino from the desert last year.

Corwin, of Twentynine Palms, disappeared on June 28, 2014. Her husband reported her missing the following day.

An intense 7-week search for Corwin covered more than 300 square miles including the areas of Joshua Tree National Park, Twentynine Palms, Amboy, Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Base and areas covered by Bureau of Land Management.

Her body was found on Aug. 16, 2014 in an abandoned 140-foot mineshaft in a remote desert area outside of Twentynine Palms. Lee was arrested the next day in Anchorage, Alaska and extradited back to San Bernardino County to face charges.

Investigators learned of an affair between Corwin and Lee. Homicide detectives said they were able to trace the affair as far back as February.

Lee has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He could face the death penalty, if convicted.

This case is being prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Sean Daugherty, who is a member of the District Attorney's Major Crimes Unit.

(source: San Bernardino Sun)


The Dark Side of History: Edmund Kemper

The story I am about to tell is about murder and mutilation. It happened in Aptos ... Seacliff to be specific. The exact address of the crime scene is not confidential but I will not disclose it in this article. If you do find the address, don't disclose it and don't bother the current residents. They may not know this history and may not want to know.

As I mentioned in my last article, the "dark side of history" these events are definitely not feel-good stories but nevertheless are part of our history and as a historian, I feel they are to be told and remembered.

On April 24, 1973, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department received a phone call from Edmund Kemper. He told them that he was responsible for murdering his mother (Clarnell Strandberg) and her close friend (Sara Hallet). Kemper placed the call from a payphone in Pueblo, Colorado, and made a desperate plea, "Stop me. I'm an inch from doing it again."

This wasn't the 1st time Kemper had placed a phone call admitting to the murder of a family member. When Edmund was 15 years old, he was sent to live with his paternal grandparents in North Fork, California. On August 24, 1964, Kemper shot his grandmother because, according to him, he ???just wondered how it would feel to shoot grandma." He then shot his grandfather stating, "I didn't want him to see what I had done." Kemper then called his mother to tell her what he had done. She notified the authorities and Edmond was arrested and charged with murder.

During his trial, it was decided that a psychiatric hospital would be more beneficial than a penal institution. On December 6, 1964, Edmund entered Atascadero State Hospital where he would spend the next 5 years of his life. It was during this time that they discovered a big part of Kemper's psychological issues stemmed from his strained and toxic relationship with his mother.

Even though the doctors at Atascadero recommended that Edmund never be returned to live with his mother, the Youth Authority did just that. At 20 years old, he was released to his mother, who by this time had moved to Santa Cruz to work at the University.

Kemper was actually a very likable guy. He used to frequent the Jury Room, a bar across from the Santa Cruz County Courthouse, and became friendly with many police officers in town. They even gave him the nickname "Big Ed," which captures Kemper's impressive 6'9", 280 pound stature. Kemper was so well liked that when he made that call from Pueblo, Colorado, the police thought he was playing a practical joke. Little did they know Kemper had spent the last ten months on a murdering spree.

Between May 1972, and February 1973, Kemper had murdered 6 young female hitchhikers. They were all college students, which earned him the nickname, "The Co-Ed Killer."

Kemper's killing process is the disturbing part of this story. Again, read at your own discretion. After murdering his victims, he would often bring their bodies back to his mother's house in Aptos where his victims were decapitated and dismembered and most of the time, their body parts were scattered throughout the county.

Kemper was sick. And he knew it. He was riddled with guilt but had no way to control the urges when they would strike. He tried to stop several times but was never successful. He was also experiencing paranoid fantasies and was certain he would soon be caught. He knew something had to be done.

On April 21, 1973, at 5 a.m. in the Aptos home he shared with his mother, Kemper arose from bed and retrieved a claw hammer that was kept in the kitchen. He walked into his mother's bedroom stood over her sleeping body and struck her right temple, killing her.

He quickly cleaned up the mess, flipped the mattress over, and dragged his mother's body into the closet. He then left the house and went to the Jury Room for a drink.

Later that night, he returned to the scene of the crime and the paranoia set in. He decided he would explain his mother's absence by telling people she had left town with her best friend, Sara Hallet. For that story to work, Mrs. Hallet would also have to disappear. Edmund called Mrs. Hallet and told her he wanted to surprise his mother with dinner and a show that night.

She happily accepted his invitation and showed up that evening around 8 p.m. She entered the room, removed her sweater, and Kemper quickly hit her in the stomach. He then choked her until her body went limp.

The next day, Easter Sunday, he jumped into Mrs. Hallet's car and drove east. He assumed the bodies would be discovered the next day and a warrant for his arrest would be issued. However, as the hours past and turned into days with no mention of the crimes on any of the radio news stations, Kemper decided he would have to be the one to make the call.

He was picked up and transported back to Santa Cruz where he was indicted on 8 counts of 1st-degree murder. On November 8, 1973, the jury found him sane and guilty on all counts. Kemper, who tried to commit suicide twice during the trial, asked for the death penalty but due to the moratorium placed on capital punishment at the time, was given a life sentence, which he is still serving today.

During the period from 1970 to 1973, there were 26 murders committed in Santa Cruz by three serial killers all active at the same time: Edmund Kemper, John Linley Frazier, and Herbert Mullin. For a more in-depth discussion of when Santa Cruz was known as "The Murder Capital of the World,' please join us on Saturday, October 29 from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Rio Sands Hotel Community Room as part of the Aptos History Museum's "Coffee, Tea, and Mystery." $15 donation benefits the museum and reservations are required.

(source: Kevin Newhouse; tpgonlinedaily.com)


Vote to end the death penalty in California

On your November ballot, you have the choice of voting to reform implementation of the death penalty or end it in California. Or you could vote against both initiatives and leave the system alone.

California has 747 inmates on death row, nearly double the number of the next highest state, Florida. Since we re-instituted the death penalty in California in 1977, the state has executed only 13 people.

This is clearly a system that is not working.

Proposition 66 seeks to fix that system through a series of legal reforms to speed up the appeals process. It now takes 20 years or more for a death penalty case to wind its way through the courts. The measure also would change how the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation deals with death row inmates in an effort to save money.

Proposition 62 would abolish the death penalty in California, replacing it with a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Both measures would apply to the 747 inmates now on death row as well as future cases.

We urge a yes vote on Prop. 62 and a no vote on Prop. 66.

You can address the death penalty issue on 2 levels. First is whether we are doing it correctly. Second is whether we should be doing it at all.

On both points, we believe California should join the 20 other states and vast majority of nations in the world and abolish the death penalty.

Prop. 66 would set time limits on how long courts have to consider the majority of appeals in death penalty cases, change the system for which courts hear those appeals, broaden the base of attorneys eligible to handle those cases and alter how the state handles inmates sentenced to death.

The appeals system for these cases is absolutely broken. There is a long list of inmates waiting up to 5 years for the California Supreme Court to simply name their attorney to start the process of handling their basic appeal.

But this is a classic example of legislating by the ballot box. Opponents to Prop. 66 make cogent arguments that the effort to speed up the system could actually slow it down by adding new layers of courts to hear the appeals. The plan to broaden the base of attorneys could shift the burden from the state to counties. With 9 death row inmates from Ventura County involved in basic habeas corpus appeals, that could run up $2.7 million for the county in new legal costs.

This is a complex issue that involves courts changing their systems. We should not be making such decisions by asking California voters to raise their hands yes or no.

If Prop. 66 passes, there remains the issue of legal challenges to the implementation of the death penalty. Federal courts have halted all executions in California because of the way the state has handled lethal injections. A state judge has ruled that the arbitrary system and long delays violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Prop. 62 is one of the rare instances of an issue that is suited for the initiative process. It is clear and straightforward: Do you want to continue the death penalty in California?

We had the same issue on the ballot only 4 years ago. At that time, 52 percent of voters did not want to abolish capital punishment.

Since then, the number of states and nations banning the death penalty has grown. Last year alone, Fiji, Madagascar, Suriname and Congo joined the list. Only 25 nations still have the death penalty, and 89 percent of the executions are in only 3 nations: Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

The death penalty is not a deterrent. The death penalty is immoral. It is inhumane. The current system prolongs the trauma of victims' families rather than end it. Its administration, even if legal hurdles are cleared, remains based on the state or county where you commit the crime and the quality of your legal adviser.

It is not equal justice. It fails to allow for the growing exoneration rate of inmates. We can no longer support it.

We support locking up those convicted of these terrible crimes for the rest of their lives, with no possibility of parole. But we must abolish the death penalty. Vote yes on Proposition 62 and no on Proposition 66.

(source: Editorial, Ventura County Star)


Father of slain Palm Springs officer calls for death penalty

Lesley Zerebny was wondering what direction her life should take when a television show pointed her to Palm Springs.

She and her father, David Kling, were watching an episode of "COPS" set in the city when Kling suggested his daughter consider joining the Palm Springs Police Department. Kling's 30-year career with the California Highway Patrol made him think she'd be a good fit.

Zerebny was working at a restaurant in Oceanside at the time. A year later, she was on the force.

"When she decided she wanted to do something, that's exactly what she did," Kling said Tuesday.

Zerebny and fellow officer Jose "Gil" Vega were shot and killed Saturday after responding to a 911 call about a domestic disturbance at a Palm Springs home. A 3rd unidentified officer was shot but is said to be recovering well after being released from the hospital Sunday.

An outpouring of support has brought some relief to Zerebny's family over the ensuing days, Kling said.

Zerebny, 27, was the youngest of his 3 children. She graduated from West Valley High School in Hemet, where she still lived with her husband, Zach Zerebny, a Riverside County Sheriff's Department deputy.

Zach and Lesley Zerebny celebrated the birth of their 1st child, a girl named Cora, 4 months ago. Police say Zerebny had recently returned to work after maternity leave before she was killed.

"She followed in my footsteps and we were able to talk about her work and my experience, and it has just been brutal dealing with that," Kling said.

The Palm Springs Police Officers Association is accepting donations that it can direct to Zerebny's family.

Police say John Hernandez Felix, a 26-year-old with gang ties and a previous felony conviction, shot the 3 officers, leading to a 12-hour standoff that ended with Felix's arrest early Sunday. He is being held in a Riverside jail and is expected to be charged Wednesday.

Prosecutors have not said if they will seek the death penalty, but Kling is adamant that they must.

"I want the death penalty," Kling said. "This individual here is what that law was written for. He laid in wait, he had a loaded gun, he wore a vest. He ambushed my daughter, Vega and the other officer in that house."

Vega appeared in at least 1 episode of "COPS." The Palm Springs police have been featured on the show multiple times, including the premiere of the 27th season in July 2014.

Memorial services for Vega and Zerebny on Tuesday are expected to draw law enforcement officers from around the country. Kling said he's already hearing that at least 2 agencies in North Dakota, where his other daughter lives, plan to send representatives.

The service and its expected crowd of thousands will be the largest show of support yet for the officers and their families.

A smaller gesture came over the weekend, along the three-miles of rural road near Hemet where Kling and his wife live. Neighbors had decorated the road, and the stop sign was festooned with more than a dozen blue balloons.

"And then along the way up our street," Kling said, "every mail box and fence post had signs saying how much they appreciated Lesley and the sacrifice she gave."

(source: desertsun.com)


Justices divided over jury racism, privacy

Supreme Court justices agreed Tuesday that juries should not be tainted by racism, but they disagreed on whether their verdicts should be thrown out as a result.

In a case that balanced a Colorado defendant's right to a fair trial against the sanctity of private jury deliberations, the justices appeared closely divided. To some, guarding against racial discrimination was paramount. Others worried that piercing the privacy of a jury room over race would lead to challenges concerning religion, gender, sexual orientation -- even a defendant's political persuasion or driving skills.

The case involves a racetrack employee's conviction for sexual battery involving teen-age girls and a single juror's statements -- revealed by 2 other jurors only after the verdict was announced -- that he must be guilty "because he's Mexican, and Mexican men take whatever they want."

Lawyers and judges seek to dismiss potentially racist jurors before and even during a trial, but federal and state rules seek to protect jury verdicts from impeachment after the fact.

Jeffrey Fisher, the lawyer for Miguel Angel Pena-Rodriguez, said the Supreme Court has ruled in many cases that "race is different" and "racial bias is never the lesser evil" among competing interests. "Race is a particular poison," he said.

That appeared to be a winning argument with most of the court's liberal justices, though they struggled with how to differentiate a juror's racial statements from those affecting other protected traits, including gender.

"Suppose somebody in the jury room, say it's an automobile accident, says, 'What do you expect of women drivers? Women shouldn't be allowed to drive cars. Every woman I know is a terrible driver,'" said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a former women's rights appellate lawyer.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito said granting Pena-Rodriguez a chance at a new hearing would lead to challenges based on religion and other types of discrimination or improper behavior. Roberts said a biased juror could say, "That witness lies all the time." Alito asked what would happen to a verdict determined by "flipping a coin."

But Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan took strong stands on the defendant's behalf, agreeing with Fisher that race and ethnicity should get extra protection -- as they already do in 18 states.

"We have the best smoking-gun evidence you're ever going to see about race bias in the jury room," Kagan told Assistant Solicitor General Rachel Kovner, whose office sided with Colorado.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, frequently the swing vote on the court, asked Colorado Solicitor General Frederick Yarger if a juror's racist comments could be ignored if it was a death penalty case. "Would the government of the United States come and make this argument -- that the person can be executed despite what we know happened in the jury room?" he said.

(source: USA Today)

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