Oct. 14


Death row opponents speak in Dakota City

Death row exoneree Ray Krone and Beatrice 6 county attorney Randall Ritnour made an appearance in Dakota City Monday night to discuss their different experiences but similar position on the death penalty.

Their goal was to convince voters to "retain" life without parole on the ballot in November as opposed to bringing back the death penalty.

Krone was exonerated in 2002 after spending more than 10 years in Arizona prisons, including nearly three years on death row, for a murder he didn't commit. He was the 100th person found incorrectly placed on death row and exonerated. That number today is 156.

He had been convicted of murder in the late 1980s on limited evidence despite having an alibi.

At sentencing, prosecutors asked him if he was sorry and he truthfully responded that he couldn't be sorry for something he didn't do.

"They called me an unremorseful monster and sentenced me to death," Krone said.

In April 2002, Krone was released after DNA evidence proved his innocence.

"It was because of my family and friends and people who don't even know me who said this doesn"t sound right," Krone said. "I didn't get out because of the system. I got out in spite of the system."

He added that it's not just the wrongfully accused who suffer.

"It's their families, too," Krone said. "Every year I was in prison, my family set a plate for me at holidays. Imagine how my mom felt, my little sister felt looking at my empty seat knowing I was sitting on death row."

On the other side of the law, former county attorney Ritnour felt strongly in favor of the death penalty before he worked on the Beatrice 6 case, which was the largest false confession case in U.S. history.

"You can get people to confess to anything if you wear them down long enough," Ritnour said.

This was the case of the Beatrice 6 trial, where several wrongfully convicted individuals confessed to a heinous murder after hours of rigorous interrogation. It was later discovered, through DNA evidence tested at the persistence of Ritnour, that all 6 were innocent.

Even though Ritnour is against the death penalty, his reasons are different from most.

"I sympathize with the families of murder. If you commit murder, you deserve the punishment that could be given to you," he said. "The problem is that it's clear that we get it wrong sometimes. Murderers do deserve the death penalty, but if we reenact the death penalty, we are risking putting innocent people to death and I don't think that's the kind of people that we are."

(source: Dakota County Star)


Advocates for and against death penalty take part in public discussion

Former Nebraska Attorney General Don Stenberg urged voters to "repeal the repeal" of the death penalty when they cast their ballots in the November general election. He, along with former state Sen. Annette Dubas, were the featured guest speakers at Wednesday night's death penalty discussion at the Norfolk City Council chambers. Dubas represented the Retain a Just Nebraska organization that seeks to eliminate the death penalty.

A decision by the Nebraska Legislature last year to repeal the death penalty - and the subsequent successful petition drive to give voters a chance maintain capital punishment in the state - is one of the most controversial issues in the November general election.

Nearly 80 members of the public and the media gathered at the Norfolk City Council chambers on Wednesday evening to take part in a discussion led by advocates on each side of the issue.

The Norfolk Daily News and Norfolk radio station 106 KIX co-sponsored the forum that featured 2 special guests - former Nebraska Attorney General and current state treasurer Don Stenberg representing Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, and former state Sen. Annette Dubas, representing Retain a Just Nebraska, a group seeking to maintain the death penalty repeal.

Both Stenberg and Dubas were given the opportunity to make opening statements explaining their respective positions on the death penalty, and they subsequently answered questions posed by Jerry Guenther with the Daily News and Paul Hughes with 106 KIX.

The guests also each answered questions submitted by members of the audience in attendance, as well as those at home watching on Facebook Live. The discussion was also live-streamed by the Daily News and broadcast live on 106 KIX.

Among those in attendance were Madison County Attorney Joe Smith, Pierce County Sheriff Rick Eberhardt, Madison County Judge Mike Long and Vivian Tuttle, the mother of one of the persons killed in the 2002 U.S. Bank shootings in Norfolk.

In her opening comments, Dubas told the audience that she had remained conflicted about the death penalty until she served in the Nebraska Legislature. Capital punishment did not fit in with her deeply held personal pro-life beliefs, but she also wanted criminals convicted of horrific crimes to pay, Dubas said.

However, sitting through the first death penalty debates helped her clarify her beliefs, she said.

"Our criminal system is not infallible. Innocent people have been and can be convicted of crimes they did not commit," Dubas said.

She pointed to the recently exonerated "Beatrice 6," a group of people wrongly convicted of the 1985 rape and murder of Helen Wilson in Beatrice.

"They collectively served 75 years of their lives (in prison) for crimes they didn't commit," Dubas said.

She also pointed out that the state could save $14.6 million by retaining the repeal of the death penalty and that it is the responsibility of policymakers to ensure Nebraska has "effective, fiscally sound policies."

Dubas also said there is a "very strong message from the faith community" that has allowed her to take a stand against the death penalty.

Stenberg's opening remarks began with a call back to when he took office as the Nebraska attorney general in 1991. At that time, Nebraska had not carried out a capital sentence in more than 30 years, he said.

"In my time (as attorney general), we carried out three. To me, the death penalty, at least in part, is a matter of public safety. ... Someone serving life (sentence) really has no deterrent for not killing a corrections officer other than the death penalty," Stenberg said.

In order to provide the maximum protection for law enforcement officers, children and the public, the death penalty must be in place, he said.

"The 2002 bank robbery and murders here in Norfolk ... when someone commits mass murders, when someone tortures a young child or children and then murders them, in all of those cases, really the only just punishment is the death penalty," Stenberg said.

He also pointed out that the Nebraska Constitution provides for a board of pardons, that can commute any prisoner's sentence, including a life sentence.

"There really is no such thing as a sentence of life without parole," he said.

The possibility of escape must also be considered, Stenberg said, as 2 inmates at a Lincoln correctional facility escaped this year for a period of time before they were captured.

Additionally, the Legislature's fiscal office, which is non-partisan, looked at the death penalty repeal and "determined there would be no appreciable cost savings on repealing the death penalty," Stenberg said.

The 1st question asked of the 2 was whether the state's criminal justice system is meant for rehabilitation or for retribution. Stenberg and Dubas each answered they feel it is both, with Stenberg saying that one purpose of the criminal justice system is to deter crime and another is punish it.

"That would be the most desirable outcome is that crimes not be committed in the first place. ... Society demands that someone that commits the most heinous and serious mass murders and torture murders, retribution is appropriate. Historically, it has been deemed appropriate," Stenberg said.

Dubas said the criminal justice system is both about rehabilitation and retribution, and that the public must be kept safe first and foremost.

"The most heinous crimes, we have to keep (criminals) behind bars for life. But I think there's a chance for rehabilitation," Dubas said.

Another question asked was whether the death penalty is a deterrent, since states without capital punishment don't necessarily have lower murder rates.

Dubas said she doesn't feel the death penalty is a deterrent.

"I don't believe people who are committing those types of crimes are thinking 'Maybe I shouldn't do this.' We're applying rational thought to people who aren't thinking rationally," Dubas said.

She said Minnesota does not have the death penalty, but that state has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.

Stenberg said that just because capital punishment doesn't deter everyone, it still deters some criminals. He said the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia addressed the issue of deterrence in a death penalty case and cited 2 studies.

One study showed that "each state execution deters about 14 murders every year," and the other showed that "each execution on average deters 18 murders per year," Stenberg said.

Stenberg and Dubas also were asked about the religious implications of the death penalty since there are persons of faith on both sides of the issue.

Dubas said it is known that there is strong opposition from the faith community against the death penalty that "comes in the belief of the sacredness of life, forgiveness and moving forward."

Stenberg said that while he would not try to convince anyone about what their religious beliefs should be, "for myself, I don't see any Biblical injunction against the death penalty." The Old Testament makes it clear that capital punishment "is appropriate for responding to a heinous murder, and nothing in the New Testament raises an objection to the death penalty," he said.

Both of the guests were given the opportunity to ask the other a question during Wednesday's discussion.

Dubas asked Stenberg how he could support the death penalty in light of cases like the Beatrice Six and the possibility of a wrongful execution.

"Our criminal justice system is not infallible. Innocent people can and have been convicted for crimes they didn't commit," Dubas said.

Stenberg answered that not even death penalty opponents have pointed to anyone currently on death row in Nebraska who is believed to be innocent.

"The Nebraska system is very careful, especially in the last 30 or 40 years. Does the possibility exist? Yes. But it's never happened in Nebraska in the modern era," Stenberg said.

His question to Dubas concerned families of victims, like those who were killed in the U.S. Bank murders in Norfolk in 2002.

"Why do death penalty opponents feel that the loved ones, the relatives will now have to pay taxes to support these three (convicted murderers) for the rest of their lives with food, housing, medical care?" Stenberg asked.

Dubas said that "in no way, shape or form do I want the people of Norfolk to think I think those men deserve any mercy or that I think I should know how they should feel."

She also said that there has not been an execution in Nebraska in the last 2 decades, and she doesn't believe another execution ever will take place here, especially in light of the state's difficulty obtaining lethal injection drugs and accusations that recent drugs were purchased illegally.

"I think this is just an ongoing false promise to the families here in Norfolk as well as any on death row that something is going to happen, when it's not going to happen," Dubas said.

Both she and Stenberg reiterated their opening remarks as they gave closing comments.

Stenberg said he supports the death penalty as a matter of public safety "to protect corrections officers, law enforcement officers, kids in school, people that go to a bank to do business."

"There's no such thing as life without parole. ... If you want to keep the death penalty, you need to vote to repeal the repeal," Stenberg said.

Dubas also recalled her arguments that the death penalty in Nebraska is draining $14.6 million that could be going into the corrections system.

"It is not a deterrent. It is strongly opposed by the faith community, and there is still the very real possibility that an innocent person's life could be taken," Dubas said.

(source: Norfolk Daily News)


U.S. Supreme Court rules ---- Sends Bosse sentencing back to Court of Criminal Appeals

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday set aside the death penalty for a Blanchard man convicted nearly 4 years ago in the brutal murders of his Dibble girlfriend and her 2 young children.

A McClain County District Court jury convicted Shaun Michael Bosse of 3 counts of 1st degree murder and 1 count of 1st degree arson in October 2012.

Killed on July 23, 2010, were Katrina Griffin and her children Christian and Chasity. Bosse stabbed Katrina Griffin and Christian Griffin multiple times and locked Chasity Griffin in a closet before torching the house in an attempt to cover up the murders.

Jurors needed just 4 hours to return guilty verdicts on all counts.

During the sentencing phase, the panel heard testimony by family members who all said they wanted Bosse to die for the murders.

It took the jury just 5 hours to return the death sentence.

They found 3 aggravating circumstances in the slaying of each victim. Just 1 aggravating circumstance is sufficient to justify the death penalty.

Those circumstances were Bosse knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person; the murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel and Bosse committed murder to avoid arrest or prosecution.

Family members of the victims were allowed to testify during the sentencing phase, telling the jury that they wanted Bosse to die for the murders. That testimony proved problematic for the justices, whose ruling Tuesday found fault with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals which upheld Bosse's death sentence.

The state had argued that even if the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals was wrong in its ruling on victim impact testimony, that error didn't affect the jury's determination of sentence and that Bosse's rights were protected by the state's mandatory sentencing review.

The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in a 1987 case out of Maryland that the Eighth Amendment "prohibits a court from admitting the opinions of the victim's family members about the appropriate sentence in a capital case."

"It is this Court's prerogative alone to overrule one of its precedents," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote. "In vacating the decision, this Court says nothing about whether (the Maryland case) was correctly decided."

The decision returns the case to Oklahoma "for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion."

District Attorney Greg Mashburn told The Purcell Register The Supreme Court's decision doesn't actually overturn the death penalty ruling.

"They found an error in asking the family for their thoughts," Mashburn said.

"This merely sends it back to the Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) to see if the error affected the trial. The CCA will review to see if the error affected the conviction and sentence."

The DA said he feels confident the CCA will uphold the conviction and sentence.

(source: Purcell Register)


Despite Lack Of Execution Drugs, Sandoval Won't Abolish Death Penalty Or Recommend New Method

Gov. Brian Sandoval says he won't propose abolishing the death penalty after Nevada ran out of lethal injection drugs.

But the Republican also told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he wouldn't be proposing an alternative method of capital punishment, such as a firing squad.

The state has a de facto moratorium on the death penalty because 1 of the 2 drugs needed for the lethal injection has expired, and the state has been unable to find a company willing to restock its supply.

Nevada budgeted nearly $900,000 to create a working execution chamber in Ely, but may have to use that space for storage.

More than 80 people are on death row, but there are no executions pending.

Sandoval's plan doesn't preclude a lawmaker from proposing a workaround.

(source: Associated Press)


Death penalty? Don't abolish it - improve it: Letters

Re "Abolishing death penalty is right choice" (Editorial, Oct. 13):

The editorial says prisoners on death row are more likely to die of natural causes than be executed and the current system is flawed. This is correct, and Proposition 66 will help to correct that.

There are serial killers on death row. Releasing them into the general prison population will endanger other prisoners and guards, to say nothing of the general public if they are ever released. If A kills B and A is put to death for killing B, A cannot later kill C, D or E.

Ending the death penalty will take away tools of law enforcement. "Tell us where you buried the body and we will take away the death penalty."

Vote no on Proposition 62 and yes on Prop. 66.

- Bill Simpson, Rancho Palos Verdes

(source: Letter to the Editor, Daily Breeze)


Accused cop killer faces justice: Death penalty for Palm Springs shooter?

The accused killer of 2 Palm Springs police officers is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday on 2 counts of 1st-degree murder and other charges that could land him on death row.

John Hernandez Felix, 26, is accused of fatally shooting veteran training Sgt. Jose Gilbert Vega, 63, and rookie Officer Lesley Zerebny, 27, Saturday afternoon. He also allegedly wounded a third officer, who was released from the hospital Sunday, and fired on 2 others.

"This individual knew what he was doing," Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said during a news briefing in downtown Riverside. "His actions were deliberate. He attacked these officers for no other reason than they were there, answering a call for service."

The 2 murder counts include special circumstance allegations of murder of a law enforcement officer, lying in wait and taking multiple lives in the same crime. Felix was also charged with 3 counts of attempted murder and single counts of unlawful possession of an assault rifle, being a convicted felon in possession of a gun and being in possession of stolen property, with sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations.

The special circumstance allegations make Felix eligible for the death penalty if convicted. Hestrin said a decision on whether to seek capital punishment will be made in the next 3 weeks.

The district attorney was joined by Palm Springs police Chief Bryan Reyes, who declined to answer specific questions related to the investigation, which he characterized as "complicated and emotional."

"There's no question, we're going to put all our efforts into a thorough investigation. This is one step in a long road ahead," Reyes said.

According to Hestrin, Felix's motive was simple: "This individual wanted to kill police officers. He armed himself to kill police officers. He wanted to gun them down because they wear the uniform."

The county's top prosecutor acknowledged a "false narrative" about the actions of law enforcement that could influence the behavior of some people, who draw their conclusions based on videos of officer-involved shootings.

"It's important to remember that police officers go into dangerous neighborhoods. They put themselves in harm's way to protect others, no matter where they're called," Hestrin said.

Felix is being held without bail at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside.

Palm Springs police went to the probationer's home around 1 p.m. Saturday in response to a woman's call reporting that her adult son was causing a disturbance, authorities said.

According to sheriff's Deputy Mike Vasquez, when the officers arrived, they were informed that the defendant was armed with a weapon. The 3 officers spoke to Felix through a metal screen door and told him to step outside, at which point he fired on them "without provocation or warning," Vasquez said.

The defendant was wearing body armor and fired armor piercing rounds from an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, Hestrin said.

After the shootings, Felix holed up in his house in the 2700 block of Cypress Avenue, culminating in a 12-hour standoff and his eventual surrender. He was treated for superficial injuries and booked into jail.

Vega had been with the department for 35 years - 5 years past his retirement eligibility - and had planned to leave in December. Zerebny had been with the department for 18 months and had just returned to duty from maternity leave after the birth of a daughter 4 months ago. Her husband is a sheriff's deputy.

Saturday marked the `st time a Palm Springs police officer was killed in the line of duty since Jan. 1, 1962, when Officer Lyle Wayne Larrabee died during a vehicle pursuit. Officer Gale Gene Eldridge was fatally shot Jan. 18, 1961, while investigating an armed robbery.

"I'm heartbroken over what happened," said Hestrin, whose father was a Palm Springs cop. "But we don't do this job based on emotions. Yes, it hurts, but we have to maintain the highest level of professionalism."

Felix was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 2 years in prison for a 2009 crime that originally drew an attempted murder charge but was pled down. He was also convicted of street gang activity.

After his release from state prison, he was accused of resisting arrest by Palm Springs police on the same street where he allegedly shot the 3 officers Saturday. Court records also show he was on probation at the time of the shooting for a misdemeanor DUI conviction.

Final respects will be paid to the 2 officers at a public memorial service Tuesday at the Palm Springs Convention Center. All Riverside County supervisors, as well as numerous other officials, are planning to attend.

Donations to Vega and Zerebny's families can be made at https://give.cornerstone.cc/palmspringspoa.

(source: mynewsla.com)


Woman, 1 of 4 suspects, found guilty in beating death of USC grad student

A jury found an 18-year-old woman guilty of 1st-degree murder Thursday in the 2014 beating death of a USC graduate student from China. Alejandra Guerrero was also found guilty of 2nd-degree robbery, attempted 2nd-degree robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. She is 1 of 4 defendants accused of murdering Xinran Ji, 24.

In July 2014, Ji was walking home when authorities said video captured Guerrero and her co-defendants - Andrew Garcia, 20, Jonathan Del Carmen, 21, and Albert Ochoa, 19, - stopping Ji on the street to rob him. They were armed with a metal bat and a wrench.

Security cameras from the electric engineering student's apartment building captured him as he returned home bloodied after the attack. His roommate found Ji dead inside the apartment the next morning.

"No outcome will bring back their son. But they don't want their son to die in vain," said Rose Tsai, the attorney for Ji's parents. "They are very appreciative for our system to give them the justice they've been hoping for and deserve."

The assault with a deadly weapon charge was for a 2nd attack on a man and woman at Dockweiler State Beach, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

Guerrero is expected to be sentenced on Nov. 28. Her co-defendants' trials are scheduled to start in November.

Prosecutors will be seeking the death penalty against Garcia and Del Carmen, while Ochoa and Guerrero are not eligible for the death penalty.

(source; KABC news)

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