Oct. 13


Nashville judge gives death row inmate new hearing

A Nashville judge says a man on death row for nearly 3 decades will get a new hearing to determine if prosecutors discriminated against potential jurors based solely on their race.

Abu-Ali Abdur'Rahman, 65, has been on death row since 1987 when he was convicted in Nashville of first-degree murder and other counts in the robbery and fatal stabbing of Patrick Daniels and attack on Norma Jean Norman, who survived. Abdur'Rahman, also known as James L. Jones Jr., previously challenged his convictions arguing that prosecutors discriminated against African Americans in jury selection, but was not successful.

However, a new order from Nashville Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins will give Abdur'Rahman's lawyer a chance to argue that again.

Watkins writes that the U.S. Supreme Court case Foster v. Chatman potentially created new precedent that warrants an evidentiary hearing for Abdur'Rahman. That hearing has not yet been scheduled.

In May the justices reopened a case against Georgia inmate Timothy Foster after finding that prosecutors struck all four African American potential jurors based solely on their race. The U.S. Supreme Court has held for 30 years that lawyers cannot excuse potential jurors solely based on race.

Brad MacLean, Abdur'Rahman's lawyer, declined to comment on the judge's order since the hearing is pending. But, he said implicit bias is a problem that leads to the arbitrary implementation of the death penalty.

"Racial bias is a factor that contributes to the arbitrariness of the system," he said. "That racial bias can affect different phases of the case. It can affect the decision whether to seek the death penalty, it can affect how jury selection is conducted, it can affect the attitudes of jurors, whether they're aware of it or not."

In June, MacLean filed a new motion to reopen Abdur'Rahman's appeals citing two other recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions. He argued that a Brentwood lawyer, Ed Miller, had analyzed more than 2,000 1st-degree murder cases showing that the death penalty was arbitrary.

Watkins said the issue should have been raised on prior appeals or was more appropriate to be taken up in federal court.

And, like several other Tennessee judges have done in regards to other inmates, he found that the nation's top court in deciding the same-sex marriage case known as Obergefell last year, did not apply to inmates. Abdur'Rahman and several others on death row have argued that the justices affirmed a fundamental right to life that extended to condemned inmates.

"This court must conclude that while Obergefell indeed states a new rule of constitutional law related to same-sex marriage, that new rule does not alter the long-standing precedent under which the death penalty does not deny an individual his fundamental right to life," Watkins wrote.

There are 64 inmates on death row in Tennessee. The last execution in the state was in 2009. For several years, the state's single-drug lethal injection protocol has been challenged in court by more than 1/2 of those people on death row.

That issue, whether the protocol is constitutional, is currently being weighed by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Some say the state could resume executions if the court rules the protocol is constitutional.

(source: The Tennessean)

MISSOURI----new execution date

Missouri Supreme Court sets execution date for killer despite ongoing federal appeal

The Missouri Supreme Court issued an execution order Wednesday for a man convicted of killing a mother and her 2 children in 1998, despite an ongoing appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

Barring a stay from a federal court, Mark Christeson's execution date is set for the 24 hour period beginning at 6:00 p.m. on Jan. 31, 2017.

In 1998, Christeson, then 18, and his 17-year-old cousin, Jesse Carter, broke into the home of Susan Brouk near Vichy, Mo. Armed with shotguns, they had planned to steal her car.

Once inside, Christeson raped Brouk. He and Carter later drove her and her 2 children to a nearby pond. Brouk, who was 36, and her son Kyle, 9, were stabbed and thrown into the water to drown. Her daughter Adrian, 12 was suffocated.

Carter later testified against Christeson and was sentenced to life in prison.

Christeson was originally sentenced to executed on Oct. 29, 2014, but adjunct professors and Death Penalty Clinic students at St. Louis University Law School helped him win a stay of the execution just hours before it was scheduled.

Christenson had been too poor to afford counsel and was represented at trial by state public defenders. When his state appeals were exhausted, a federal judge in western Missouri appointed new attorneys to handle his federal appeals.

The U.S. Supreme Court halted his execution after finding those attorneys missed the federal appeal deadline by 117 days. They also admitted they hadn't met with Christeson until 6 weeks after the appeal was due, with no evidence they communicated with him before that.

New attorneys were appointed again, who sought to bring in experts to testify to Christeson's mental impairment, which they argue left him totally reliant on lawyers. But a U.S. district court only provided $10,000 of the $161,000 they asked for, with no explanation as to why funding was slashed.

Now, attorneys from 3 leading criminal defense organizations and the MacArthur Justice Center in St. Louis are hoping to overturn the decision denying the funding, but the execution order makes for a tighter deadline.

(source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch)


Missouri won't Exonerate Innocent Man Because He's not on Death Row

Eyewitness testimony from a 7-year-old girl who saw her mother stabbed to death was the "linchpin" that put Rodney Lincoln behind bars for life for the April 1982 murder of a St. Louis woman.

The deciding factor for the outcome is now doubting her own story, and she wants her mother's supposed killer to go free.

On Tuesday the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District denied Rodney Lincoln a writ of habeas corpus that would have forced a retrial of his 1983 conviction.

In the opinion filed Tuesday by the Western District, the court agreed with the Cole County's June ruling that Lincoln's Constitutional right to due process was not threatened because he was not on death row.

Lincoln's attorneys from the Midwest Innocence Project challenged the Constitutionality of Lincoln's imprisonment using a 2003 case, State ex rel. Amrine v. Roper, in which Missouri man Joseph Amrine was wrongly convicted of a prison murder based on false witness testimony.

The Missouri Supreme Court ordered a retrial when 3 witnesses subsequently recanted their statements. Amrine was released after prosecutors declined to retry him.

In 1982, JoAnn Tate was found stabbed to death in her St. Louis apartment, lying face down in a pool of blood. Tate's daughters, then aged 7 and 4, were found stabbed but alive. The testimony of the older sibling, Melissa Davis (who now goes by Melissa DeBoer) was key to finding Lincoln guilty of murder and 2 counts of assault.

A relative identified Lincoln, who used to date Tate, as a suspect based on a composite sketch of the killer made with the help of Davis. Davis picked out Lincoln in his mug shot, next to a picture of a distant relative, and later in a lineup.

After his 1st trial ended in a hung jury, Lincoln was sentenced a year after the murder to life in prison without parole.

Deboer's 1st doubts about Lincoln's guilt surfaced last year after she participated in a true-crime TV show that speculated whether serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells, who had once lived in St. Louis, might instead have been the culprit.

Until the Missouri Supreme Court recognizes that "continued incarceration ... of an actually innocent person violates principles of due process, we have no authority to presume that Missouri's habeas jurisprudence permits such a claim in a non-death penalty case," Presiding Judge Cynthia L. Martin wrote in the court's opinion. Judges Gary Witt and Rex Gabbert concurred.

"Because the Missouri Supreme Court has not recognized a freestanding claim of actual innocence in cases where the death penalty has not been imposed, we are not at liberty to expand Missouri habeas jurisprudence to permit consideration of the claim in this case,"

"It's hard to wrap your brain around, but as it turns out innocence is not a good enough reason to release a prisoner in Missouri," Sean O'Brien, one of Lincoln's attorneys, told KSHB on Tuesday.

More than faulty eyewitness testimony was allowed into Lincoln's murder trial, Lincoln's attorneys say.

In 2005, when Lincoln successively petitioned for DNA testing of the hair found at the scene of the crime, a lab determined that the hair did not belong to Lincoln. An expert witness had testified in Lincoln's trial that DNA from a strand of hair found at the crime scene was a "match" to Lincoln's.

In 2013 the Eastern District agreed with prosecutors who downplayed the significance of the hair for the conviction. The judge concluded that DeBoer's testimony, not the discredited DNA evidence, was the "linchpin" that determined Lincoln's guilt.

Is a serial killer to blame?

DeBoer now believes serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells was the man who attacked her.

"When the veil fell from my eyes I was horrified," DeBoer wrote in a November Facebook post announcing her belief in Lincoln's innocence according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I have kept an innocent man in prison for 34 years ... I did not know I was wrong but I was."

Sells was convicted for the 1999 murder of a 13-year-old girl in Del Rio, Texas. Police connected him to at least 17 other killings, while Sells claimed credit for dozens more before he was executed in Texas in 2014.

When Lincoln's daughter contacted a private investigator, he confirmed that Sells lived in St. Louis at the time of the murder.

When Lincoln petitioned for release from the Jefferson City Correctional Center in Cole County court in June, DeBoer appeared in court to recant her key childhood testimony fingering Lincoln as the murderer of her mother.

DeBoer said investigators manipulated her to accuse Lincoln, and that the experience had left her traumatized.

DeBoer's sister, Renee Tate, who was unable to identify Lincoln in lineups in 1982, has since died from natural causes, leaving DeBoer the only survivor.

The Cole County judge didn't find her change of opinion credible. He also noted that a jail log found by the prosecution indicated Sells was in juvenile custody in Arkansas at the time of the murder.

"[F]or a freestanding claim of actual innocence to support habeas relief, a petitioner must establish that his continued restraint is manifestly unjust because it violates the constitution or laws of the state or federal government," the Western Court's opinion says.

Unlike life imprisonment "executing an innocent person, in the face of clear and convincing evidence of innocence is a manifest injustice," the Western District concluded.

Lincoln, now 72 years old, isn't done fighting.

"I've lasted this long because I know I'm innocent. I want everybody in the world to know I'm innocent," he told KSHB. "The confidence in the system has slipped some, but not the expectation that I will walk through that front door," he said.

Lincoln???s attorneys are considering appealing to the Missouri Supreme Court, according to Missouri Lawyers Weekly. "This cannot be the law of a just society," the Midwest Innocence Project wrote on Facebook on Tuesday. "We are not done fighting."

(source: photographyisnotacrime.com)


Death penalty conference set for Oct. 22

On Oct. 22, the Kansas Coalition Against the Death Penalty will host its Annual Abolition Conference, with this year's theme being "The Kansas Death Penalty: What A Waste!" This event at St. Aidan's Episcopal Church in Olathe is free and open to the public.

Speakers for the event include: Darryl Burton, who was wrongfully convicted of murder and later exonerated; Celeste Dixon, who has called for an end to the death penalty after her mother's murder; Roger Werholtz, retired Secretary of the Kansas Department of Corrections; and Al Terwelp, former Chair of the Libertarian Party of Kansas, who will speak on the death penalty's cost.

These speakers will highlight the human and fiscal toll of Kansas's death penalty. Across the country, the death penalty is in sharp decline, with executions and death sentences at record lows.

Kansas's last execution was in 1965. According to a Kansas Judicial Council study from 2014, death penalty trials cost 3-4 times more than similar cases where the death penalty is not sought.

(source: McPherson Sentinel)


Judge denies motion to preclude death penalty for accused killer of Coeur d'Alene police officer

A Kootenai County judge on Wednesday denied several defense motions, including another attempt to take the death penalty off the table, in the case against a North Idaho man accused of killing a Coeur d'Alene police officer in May 2015.

First District Judge Lansing Haynes denied the motion by Kootenai County Public Defender John Adams to preclude the death penalty for Jonathan Renfro, who is charged with 1st-degree murder in the shooting death of Sgt. Greg Moore. Adams based the motion on an argument of insufficient funding for a defense of a capital crime.

Haynes also denied Adams' motion to suppress police video footage of the shooting and to dismiss several counts of the indictment, including 1st-degree murder, robbery and concealing evidence, based on lack of evidence presented at Renfro's preliminary hearing.

Renfro, 27, a Rathdrum resident, was walking late at night in a residential neighborhood in northwest Coeur d'Alene on May 5, 2015, when Moore stopped to question him and check his identification. Renfro allegedly admitted to investigators that he shot the officer because he feared Moore would discover he was carrying a gun in violation of his felony parole.

Haynes previously has denied motions by the public defender's office that sought to exclude the death penalty from the potential punishments if Renfro is convicted. The trial is set to start Feb. 6, 2017.

(source: The Spokesman-Review)


Death Row Inmates Weigh in on Capital Punishment

If where you stand on an issue depends on where you sit ... when it comes to California's Capital Punishment, 746 people sitting on death row stand to provide unparalleled perspective.

San Quentin State Penitentiary has the largest death row in the Western hemisphere, made up of 5 cell blocks of men sentenced to death for special circumstances murders. Not one inmate is scheduled to have that sentence carried out. But voters have the power to change all of that this Election Day.

"Gimme mines, I'll go in front of everybody," said inmate Jamar Tucker.

Tucker was convicted in 2005 for a deadly Los Angeles home invasion. He was awaiting trial for another murder when he killed his cellmate.

"I don't regret nothing. It's just a choice, I never did anything to innocent people," said Tucker.

Tucker's only question about the death penalty seems to be why it takes so long.

"What am I supposed to do for the rest of my life, just sit here? I'm ready to go," said Tucker.

To understand these inmates' point of view, there are at least 3 basic things to know about California's death row.

The state hasn't executed an inmate in more than 10 years, won't start until a new lethal injection protocol has been approved, and even then, the average appeals process takes over 20 years.

In November, voters will decide whether to do something about that. Prop 66 would speed up the death penalty process, saying it's possible to go from conviction to execution in 10 years.

Prop 62 to would abolish capital punishment and commute the sentences of current death row inmates to life in prison.

"They should execute us, stop playing, they put us in here for a reason, stop playing," said Tucker.

We only had to go 1 cell over to get a different opinion.

"You can't listen to the people that say 'kill us' that's just crazy to me," said Juwann Graham.

Graham was convicted in 2006 for shooting and killing 2 people on a Riverside freeway. He claims they were trying to run him off the road.

Life in a cage may not seem like much of a life, but for some, it beats the alternative.

"Of course I'm against it. Nobody wants to be executed," said Paul Tuilepa.

Tuliepa was convicted in 1986 of a Long Beach armed robbery. He's been going through appeals nearly 30 years. He rejects any proposal that would make that process faster.

"You're dealing with people's lives, you can't speed things up, you gotta take all the time you need," said Tuliepa.

Time is something that's not in short supply.

William Dennis was convicted in 1988 in Santa Clara for killing his ex- wife and her unborn child. He says he's only guilty of manslaughter, and should not be on death row. Nevertheless, he opposes the death penalty.

"It's just a waste of money, and it doesn't really solve anything, and California, as slow as it's going, it's not doing California people any good," said Dennis.

Both Prop 62 and Prop 66 would require inmates to work to pay restitution to victims, however, Dennis points out a flaw in their plans.

"There's only a handful of jobs and there's 34 people for about 5 jobs," Dennis said.

To fill their days, inmates find humor and hobbies where they can.

"I'm trying to write a book," Anthony Wade said.

Wade was convicted in 2013 for admittedly raping, beating, stabbing and robbing an elderly woman in Orange County. He is one of the youngest people on death row. He has been waiting 3 years just to be assigned an appeals lawyer. The 31-year-old doesn't believe he'll be executed.

"At this point, it's not like they're going to execute you, most of these dudes been up here for like 30 years or something like that, so that's not really my concern," Wade said.

It seems like every inmate FOX40 spoke with was evidence of what supporters of both of California's capital punishment initiatives agree on, California's death penalty is broken.

"They've side tracked me, I can't get anything done in court, I've been here 33 years," said Douglas Clark.

Even infamous inmates like Clark, one of the Sunset Strip killers, is more likely under the current system to die of old age, suicide or sickness than by execution.

"I've been waiting 38 months for the state supreme court to do something. I think they're just waiting on their ass for me to die of old age," said Charles Case.

Case was convicted in 1993 of a double murder robbery at a Sacramento bar. He maintains his innocence but is in favor of the death penalty.

"After 20 years in this place I'm more in favor of it than I've ever been in my life," said Case.

He says overcrowding, like the type that's led to this 5th San Quentin death row cell block being opened, is a reason he would rather speed up the appeals and execution process than abolish the death penalty.

"You give all these guys life without instead of giving them the death penalty, you give all the new guys life without, 10, 20 years from now you're going to have 33 prisons loaded up with guys doing life without. What are you going to do with everyone else who's stealing cars?" asked Case. Yes, the inmates of San Quentin's death row have incomparable insight into the death penalty debate, but while their stances are as diverse as they are, they have no say in the issue.

Instead, come November, what happens to them is up to voters.

(source: Fox News)


'Chessman' explores crucial moment for Brown family, California death penalty ---- The new play "Chessman" features former Gov. Pat Brown and current Gov. Jerry Brown as characters. Director Buck Busfield discusses the challenge of casting famous historical figures.

Buck Busfield is pondering the finer points of one of the most important phone calls in California political history.

It was Feb. 18, 1960, the eve of the long-delayed execution of Caryl Chessman. A 21-year-old Jerry Brown, recently departed from the seminary and now a student at UC Berkeley, called his father, then-Gov. Pat Brown, asking him to grant a reprieve for the condemned inmate.

Across the world, millions awaited the fate of a man they had taken up as the poster boy for ending the death penalty. The freighted decision tore at Pat Brown, whose Catholic faith taught him that execution was immoral.

At the moment, however, Busfield is more concerned about the type of telephone Jerry would have used. During a recent rehearsal for "Chessman," a new play about the case debuting this week at the B Street Theatre, director Busfield asked his stage manager whether they could hang a phone on the wall for the pivotal scene.

"When I was in college, which wasn't that long after this, we only had 1 phone on the wall in the hallway," he said. It's his job to consider these details, so the audience can forget the distractions and focus on the story. "We'll get letters: 'Well, the play was great, but that phone was wrong.'"

That is perhaps among the lesser challenges for the creative team behind "Chessman," a side project of political consultant Joe Rodota. The production attempts to capture the international, O.J. Simpson-like frenzy and divisiveness that surrounded Chessman for more than a decade, while also asking the audience to look beyond its cast of iconic California figures to a family split by a deeply personal, ethical dilemma.

It also strives to keep a neutral distance and a historical sheen on one of California's most inflammatory political issues, just as voters are weighing 2 November ballot measures on capital punishment: 1 to abolish it and 1 to expedite the process.

"This is not a documentary for or against the death penalty," Rodota said.

So how did a former aide to Republican Govs. Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger come to write a play about arguably the greatest political struggle of one of the state's most enduring Democratic leaders?

Rodota, a graduate in history from Stanford University, said he began a "2nd career" a few years ago as a writer. While he continued to run Forward Observer, his bicoastal consulting firm, Rodota began searching for "overlooked moments in political history" that he could turn into a play.

After Busfield suggested he focus on something relevant to California, Rodota thought of the Chessman case. He remembered reading about it in Pat Brown's 1989 memoir, "Public Justice, Private Mercy: A Governor's Education on Death Row," and more intimately, from daughter Kathleen Brown's 1994 run for governor against Wilson, whose re-election campaign Rodota worked on.

Pressured for months to explain her position on the death penalty, Kathleen Brown held a news conference at the historic Governor's Mansion. There, she discussed how her family history informed her opposition to the punishment then supported by 80 % of Californians: a Catholic upbringing, watching her father review briefing binders on capital cases after dinner, the "mortifying" experience of hearing her mother booed at the opening ceremonies of the 1960 Olympic Games while her father stayed home wrestling with the Chessman decision.

"I could no more contemplate being politically correct on this issue than I could contemplate disavowing my family," she said at the time.

Rodota found his entry point to the incident that reverberated for the Browns, professionally and personally, for decades: "I basically started from scratch looking at the case through the eyes of the family."

Using trial transcripts and other documents from an extensive Chessman archive at the California State Library, a Brown family oral history housed at UC Berkeley, and the counsel of Pat Brown biographer Ethan Rarick, Rodota began constructing a narrative.

Caryl Chessman was 27 and already a convicted felon when he was found guilty in 1948 of a series of robberies and rapes around Los Angeles. The "Red Light Bandit," as the perpetrator was dubbed, had visited lovers' lanes pretending to be a policeman and mugged couples in their cars.

On several occasions, Chessman took the young women back to his vehicle and sexually assaulted them. Under California's since-discarded "Little Lindbergh Law," named for the kidnapping and murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh's infant son, Chessman was sentenced to death for kidnapping with bodily harm, though he had killed no one.

Chessman maintained his innocence and continued to fight his conviction. By 1954, he had been on death row for 6 years, longer than anyone in California history until that point. The unusual delay for his execution was gaining notice, and it would soon explode into sensation with the publication that year of his 1st memoir, written secretly and smuggled out of prison.

Translated into more than a dozen languages and adapted into a movie, "Cell 2455, Death Row: A Condemned Man's Own Story" captured the public's imagination with its searing and brutal dispatch from inside San Quentin State Prison.

"The slugging impact of a death sentence upon the psyche is often terrible and always tormenting, with the result that as often as the death row ennobles it degrades," Chessman wrote. "Some men reach the point where they would literally sell ... their own mothers for another day of life, and the knowledge that this is so can make you want to vomit."

As "Fortnight" magazine put it in its Feb. 3, 1954, issue: "The crime problem appears to have found its tongue."

Blockbuster sales for "Cell 2455" and 3 more memoirs paid for his lawyers and dozens of appeals over the years. Chessman managed to avoid execution deadline after execution deadline. Eventually, his case came before the newly elected Pat Brown, a death penalty opponent.

By then, Chessman had become a worldwide phenomenon. Thousands of letters and a petition signed by 2 million Brazilians streamed into Brown's office. Figures ranging from Eleanor Roosevelt to Marlon Brando and Shirley MacLaine lobbied on his behalf. Even the Vatican urged clemency.

While many argued against capital punishment, others felt that death was too extreme a punishment for Chessman's non-murder case or that his writings proved he had been rehabilitated. Some disputed that he was guilty at all.

The controversy also came at a relative highwater mark for opposition to the death penalty, when Americans were about evenly split on the issue. This allowed Pat Brown to openly grapple over Chessman's fate without committing "automatic political suicide," the biographer Rarick noted at a recent panel on the case.

"He always looked for the best with everybody. He was inclined toward mercy, but inclined toward upholding the law," Rarick said.

Because Chessman had prior felonies, Pat Brown could not commute his sentence without the approval of the California Supreme Court, which voted 4-3 to uphold the conviction. Chessman was going to die.

But the night before the execution was scheduled to proceed, Jerry Brown called his father urging him to grant a 60-day reprieve and pursue a moratorium on the death penalty in the Legislature. As Pat recounted in "Public Justice, Private Mercy," he believed there was not "1 chance in a thousand" that lawmakers would act.

"Then Jerry said, "But Dad, if you were a doctor and there was 1 chance in a thousand of saving a patient's life, wouldn't you take it?'

"I thought about that for a moment. You're right, I finally said. I'll do it."

For his decision, Pat Brown received a slew of negative responses - and a 16-page letter from a "surprised and grateful" Chessman.

With his usual aplomb about the social significance of his case - "the burning hope that my execution would lead to an objective reappraisal of the social validity or invalidity of capital punishment" - Chessman suggested that Brown put forth a proposal excluding him from the mercy granted to others, if it would persuade the Legislature to end the death penalty.

"I do not overstate when I say I gladly would die 10,000 gas chamber deaths if that would bring these truths into hearts and minds of those who make our laws," he wrote.

Lawmakers, however, had little interest in taking such a decisive step, particularly in an election year. Brown's bill to abolish the death penalty was quickly swatted down in the Senate Judiciary Committee after a lengthy and highly publicized committee hearing.

Chessman was eventually gassed to death on May 2, 1960, his ninth scheduled execution date. The story appeared on the front page of newspapers from Italy to Brazil. Pat Brown ultimately believed he suffered greatly for his choice, blaming it in part for his loss to Ronald Reagan while running for a third term in 1966.

Jerry Brown has never publicly discussed the phone call with his father, but the Chessman case seems to have resonated deeply with him as well. In 1977, during his 1st term as governor, he vetoed a bill to reinstate the death penalty before being overridden by the Legislature. He continued to advocate against capital punishment during his 1992 presidential run, and on his '90s radio program, "We the People," where he described it as "state murder."

By his 2010 campaign to return to the governor's office, however, he had struck a more conciliatory tone: "You want to reinvent the world. But we have the world," he said at the time. "At this point in time, it's relatively settled."

In the play, almost all of Chessman's dialogue is pulled directly from the historical record, notably transcripts from his trial, where he famously served as his own attorney and conducted what Rodota called "horrifying" cross-examinations of his victims. Other scenes take place as imagined confrontations with Pat Brown, where Chessman "enters Pat's brain and takes over his space," Rodota said.

Just don't look for an obvious moral. Director Busfield said the show intentionally does not take sides and allows the audience to make up its own mind.

Which is not to suggest others involved don't have strong opinions about the material.

At the rehearsal, a scene between Chessman and his mother came to a halt as the cast broke out into discussion over execution by firing squad, which Utah brought back last year.

"I don't give a s--- if it hurts. I just want them to be dead," said Phil Cowan, the local radio personality who plays Pat Brown. "Regardless of how I feel about it, if you???re going to do it, do it efficiently."

The real Pat Brown, Busfield noted, would have disagreed.


Where: B Street Theatre, 2711 B St., Sacramento

When: 2 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13. 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14; Oct. 18, 19, 20, 21. 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15; Oct. 22

Tickets: $30-38; $26-$36 for seniors or students

For more information: For tickets, call 916-443-5300 or visit bstreettheatre.org.

(source: sacbee.com)


Analysis: Death Penalty Columns Misses Some Marks

I read Rich Rifkin's death penalty column with interested, he started it with a note that was interesting pointing out that Prop 62 asks voters to get rid of a "death penalty that we don't have." I see the proposition somewhat differently - it aligns our laws with our practices and despite Mr. Rifkin arguing that under Prop 62 "not much will change," he is flat out wrong.

His analysis is largely outcome based - it has been 38 years since the death penalty was instituted in California, only 13 have been executed, and none since 2006.

But the death penalty isn't just an outcome it is a process. An expensive process. A lengthy process.

Mr. Rifkin makes a good case for why he doesn't "believe in California's death penalty" despite his overall support for the concept. He argues, "the extreme delay removes the death penalty???s value as a deterrent." He also correctly notes that "when an inmate is killed, it feels arbitrary."

He correctly points out that while most opponents of capital punishment are opposed to it on moral grounds, but Proposition 62 is based on practical rather than moral arguments. There is a tactical element to that, not to mention you are not going to change people's morality, the death penalty is going to disappear because it doesn't work.

He notes, "The official case in favor of 62 is focused on expense, DNA technology and the superiority of sentencing people to life without parole."

This is where I start to part ways with Mr. Rifkin's analysis. He grants that the state "we would save some money in California if we got rid of the death penalty." The legislative analyst determined, "reduced costs would likely be around $150 million annually within a few years."

However, then he attacks "left-wingers" for arguing in favor of cost consciousness. He notes, "I certainly have never heard anyone on the anti-death penalty side call for competitive bidding in government contracting. That would save the state billions of dollars per year."

The problem is that Mr. Rifkin is condensing this part of the argument down to cost rather than wasted resources - the problem here isn't that it costs a lot as there are things that cost a lot that many of us support. The problem is that we are spending money on a system that does not work in a wasteful and inefficient way. And I might add on something a good many of us believes is immoral.

There are indeed conservatives and libertarians who have turned against the death penalty system based on waste of money. That doesn't mean the proponents of Prop 62 are advocating for maximizing government savings across the board. Mr. Rifkin here is not making an argument against Prop 62, he's simply poking the left.

The DNA argument he next makes is important. He calls it "even stranger," but here he really failed to do the research.

The pro-62 side writes, "The risk of executing an innocent person is real ... DNA technology and new evidence have proven the innocence of more than 150 people on death row (across the United States) after they were sentenced to death."

He argues, "That says to me that because we have DNA technology, it is now less likely we will slay an innocent person. Those 150 were not killed. If our state executes anyone in the future, it will be more certain he was truly guilty."

This is simply not true and it is a misunderstanding of wrongful convictions.

DNA Exonerations

This chart from the National Registry of Exonerations and it shows that overtime, the number of exonerations has greatly increased. But the % of them based on DNA is quite low. Between 25 and 30 in 2015's exonerations were based on DNA evidence, but that is out of 150 or so. That's 1 out of 6.

The advent of DNA has helped us prove beyond any doubt the presence of innocent people on death row, but the number of cases that have DNA evidence is so low, it is not having a practical impact on the number of wrongful convictions and therefore it does not make it less likely that we will slay an innocent person.

In fact, in 2015, decades after the advent of DNA testing, we exonerated 150 people from wrongful convictions. That is a scary number, but scarier still is that this represents the tip of the iceberg.

Research from Ronald Huff at Ohio State University conservatively estimated that 0.5 % of the nearly 2 million convictions that occur in a given year are those of innocent people. That number doesn't sound like a lot until you realize that about 10,000 people each year are potentially wrongfully convicted and only 150 in 2015 were exonerated.

Mr. Rifkin then looks at the remedy, life without parole. He writes, "Under Prop. 62, the death penalty will be replaced with a strict life sentence. Those convicted of the worst crimes will never be released. Instead of being housed in expensive private cells on death row, murderers will be kept with other maximum-security inmates."

He argues that locking people away for 60 to 80 years "strikes me as immoral."

This is again where Mr. Rifkin would benefit from more research. One of the biggest debates in the anti-death penalty community is over the issue of LWOP - but not just LWOP but the loss of automatic, state funded appeals.

In 2012 when the last death penalty measure came on the ballot, most of the death row inmates and their families were opposed to it. Why? Because if they wrongly accused, they lose their state funded appellate attorneys. So they would be stuck incarcerated in boxes for decades without the possibility of parole and without the hope of an appellate attorney getting their sentences overturned.

My hope would be that the legislature would use the $150 million in saving to create a system whereby cases could be evaluated and real claims of innocence would be eligible for state funded defense, but that's just a hope.

So yes, I think there is a real problem here with Prop 62 and it comes down to weighing the current problems with the system with some of the unintended consequences for commuting all death sentences to LWOP.

Finally, we get to Prop 66. Mr. Rifkin writes, "There is a 2nd death penalty initiative on our ballot - Proposition 66. Its sales pitch is "to speed up the death penalty appeals system while ensuring that no innocent person is ever executed.'"

He adds, "I am not sure Prop. 66 will work. But I'm willing to give it a try, because I continue to believe in a functioning death penalty for our most vicious killers."

There are a lot of problems with Prop 66. First, I would argue it is probably not constitutional. Second, it is infeasible - the state simply does not have the attorneys at its disposal to be able to run appeals at the rate that Prop 66 would require.

Third, as the ACLU presentation I attended last week noted, while the initiative would possibly speed up the state level appellate process, that???s only part of the slow down. The other part is the federal process which Prop 66 would not impact.

Finally the biggest problem with Prop 66 is it doesn't deal with the biggest problems of the death penalty. First, the death penalty is geographically biased. There are 4 counties in California that enact an overwhelming percentage of the death sentences. So if you commit the same crime in one county you get LWOP and in another you get the death penalty. That's a problem if you are actually executing people.

Second, you have a race based problem. People are more likely to get the death penalty if they are people of color, but an even bigger factor is that people are more likely to get the death penalty if the victim is white rather than a person of color.

Third, you have the imbalance in resources - so people with more resources are more likely to get sentences other than death.

Finally, you have the problem of wrongful convictions and the length of time it takes to discover those wrongful convictions.

I think if Prop 66 passes that it will get thrown out and even if it does not, it will prove too difficult to implement.

(source: David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard)


The Intellectually Disabled Face Higher Risk Of Execution In Death Penalty 'Outlier' Counties----More than 1/2 of death row sentences in 16 outlier counties were imposed on the intellectually impaired.

A handful of U.S. counties that buck the nation's overall downward trend of using the death penalty have emerged as particularly deadly places for criminal defendants who have intellectual disabilities, severe mental illness or brain damage, according to a new report from Harvard Law.

From 2006 to 2015, 56 percent of cases in 16 so-called "outlier" counties
involved defendants with "significant mental impairments or other forms of mitigation, such as the defendant's young age," according to a report released Wednesday by Harvard Law's Fair Punishment Project.

The report, "Too Broken To Fix," highlights the 16 counties (8 counties in Part 1 of the report, and 8 in Part 2) that share a pattern of overzealous prosecution, inadequate defense resources and racial bias.

"It has become clear that a significant proportion of individuals we are sending to death row suffer from serious mental impairments, or are so young in age, that they appear to be nearly indistinguishable from the categories of people whom the Supreme Court has said we shouldn't be executing due to their diminished culpability," Harvard Law Professor Carol Steiker said in a statement.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 2002 landmark case, Atkins v. Virginia, that executing people with intellectual disabilities was "cruel and unusual punishment" in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Defendants who have a mental illness but are not considered clinically insane may be executed.

But the trio of overzealous prosecution, poor defense lawyering and racial bias contribute to defendants ending up on death row despite having mental impairments that should otherwise exempt them, according to Rob Smith, one of the researchers on the report.

"In the end, you are left with an excruciatingly rare punishment," Smith said. "And, in the few places where it is still used with any regularity at all, it is the brokenness of the system and not the culpability of the defendant that leads to death verdicts."

In addition to the rates of death sentences handed down to defendants with intellectual disabilities - as high as 67 % in places like Pinellas County, Florida - the outlier counties have a track record of significant error: The 16 outlier counties have a combined 20 death row exonerations since the death penalty resumed in 1976.

Smith said the outlier counties act in a way that's inconsistent with the constitutional requirement to apply the death penalty to "the worst of the very worst."

"What we're seeing in these 16 counties time and time again that they're the most broken and the most vulnerable people [sentenced to death]," Smith said. "It's just not consistent with our own dignity to punish people so impaired."

(source: KimBellware, Huffington Post)


A Handful of Counties Are Keeping the Death Penalty Alive

The death penalty, it seems, is slowly dying. Public support for capital punishment in the U.S. is lower today than it has been in more than 4 decades: 49 % of Americans favor the death penalty for defendants convicted of murder, versus 80 % in 1994. Amid that declining support, a handful of counties across the country are clinging to the practice and regularly doling out death sentences. In 2015, death sentences were issued in only 33 counties out of the 3,143 counties in the U.S. Just 16 of those 33 imposed 5 or more death sentences between 2010 and 2015, according to a report published Wednesday by Harvard Law School's Fair Punishment Project.

"This is about overzealous prosecutors paired with severely inadequate defense lawyering in most of the counties," Rob Smith, director of the Fair Punishment Project, told TakePart. Among the counties were Pinellas, Florida; Jefferson, Alabama; and San Bernardino, California.

The report is the 2nd half of the project's in-depth examination of where the use of the death penalty is concentrated and why. Focusing on eight counties in Texas, Alabama, Florida, and California in the newest report, researchers reviewed all the appellate opinions of the states' supreme courts between 2010 and 2015 to uncover commonalities.

In the counties that sentenced 5 or more people to death over this 5-year period, the report's authors noted persistent patterns of racial bias, ineffective defense lawyers, and "overzealous" prosecutors. The researchers also found that more than 1/2 of the defendants sentenced to death in these counties had significant mental impairments. 73 of the defendants were people of color, and 46 % were black.

'It's not an accident that many of these counties have had ongoing struggles with racial fairness and equality, and those are the same places that are holding on to the death penalty," said Smith. Alabama's Jefferson County is home to Birmingham, the site of some of the civil rights movement's most influential protests. Florida, which is home to 4 counties on the report's list, is the state with the 3rd-largest number of hate groups in the country, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, including active Ku Klux Klan and black separatist groups. Florida falls behind Texas and California, both of which also have counties on this list.

Smith also noted that people of color are routinely excluded from juries in these jurisdictions, interfering "with the ability of communities most impacted by violence to take part in governing themselves." The dismissal of black jurors from juries that decide cases involving black defendants is a national problem and directly contributes to the racial disparities in death sentences illustrated by this report.

Alabama and Florida share another distinction when it comes to juries: They are the only 2 states in the country that permit nonunanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases. 5 of the 16 counties studied by the Fair Punishment Project were in those states, and of the 71 cases reviewed in those counties, 89 % had nonunanimous verdicts. Until August, Delaware also allowed non-unanimous verdicts in capital trials. On Aug. 2, the state's supreme court ruled the statute that allowed such verdicts unconstitutional and struck it down.

"One of the biggest reasons you see so many death sentences in those counties is because they don't require a unanimous cross-section of the community to agree," said Smith. "Juries sometimes debate these cases for less than an hour because they don't need to reach unanimity to decide if someone lives or dies."

Of all the states that are home to the counties studied in these reports, Florida boasts the most. The state's Duval, Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, and Pinellas counties lead Florida's death sentencing practice. Since the state resumed executions in the 1970s, 92 people have been executed, and 26 have been exonerated, according to Mark Elliott, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

"No one knows how many more innocent people are on death row, or God forbid, have been executed," Elliott said in a statement.

(source: Yahoo News)

A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu

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