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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Is a serial killer to blame?
DeBoer now believes serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells was the man who attacked
"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
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."
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
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
"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
"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
"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,"
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
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
"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 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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
Which is not to suggest others involved don't have strong opinions about the
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
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
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
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 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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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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