Oct. 18

OHIO----female may face death penalty

Pilkington motions for separate trials, death penalty removed, confession thrown out

Court hearings for the Bellefontaine mom accused of killing her 3 young sons are scheduled to start Tuesday.

The hearings will mainly address 3 motions. Whether to holds 3 separate trials for each child, removing the death penalty specifications and throwing out Brittany Pilkington's alleged confession.

The 23-year-old Pilkington is charged with 3 counts of aggravated murder for allegedly suffocating her three young sons, Gavin, Niall and Noah over a 13-month period.

Authorities say she was jealous of the attention her husband, Joseph Pilkington, gave the boys.

Investigators say Pilkington confessed to killing her 2 sons and has pleaded not guilty to all the murder charges. Her defense attorneys' are arguing that the confession was coerced.

A judge previously denied motions to remove the death penalty option and moving her trial out of Logan County. Her jury trial is expected to start Feb. 27 and continue until March 24.

(source: WDTN news)


Wrongfully convicted man, Supreme Court Justice argue for ending Ohio death penalty

The death penalty is coming back to Ohio.

After a nearly 3-year legal fight over the drugs used in lethal injections, the state of Ohio plans to resume executions in January.

Some, including the man who wrote the current death penalty law, say it's time for the ultimate punishment to meet its own end.

September 26, 1988 was a day burned into the memory of Joe D'Ambrosio: the day he was arrested for murder.

"Being accused of doing the most heinous crime in the world that you can do," he said. "And you know you didn't do it."

Police, prosecutors, and a jury disagreed, and D'Ambrosio was convicted.

"Every day I expected them to come and open the doors [and say] 'we got the wrong guy. Sorry, go home,'" D'Ambrosio said.

Instead, he was sentenced to die. For more than 20 years, he sat on Ohio's death row.

"All I kept seeing was darkness. I'm like, if they don't listen to me, I'm done. I'm truly, truly done," she said.

One person did listen. Father Neil Kookoothe met D'Ambrosio through a prison ministry.

"My initial thought I think is anybody's initial thought: 'yeah right!'" said Kookoothe with a laugh. "You're all innocent."

Kookoothe, who has a law degree, examined D'Ambrosio's case file and what he found stunned him.

"There's a case of wrongful incarceration of a man on death row right here in Ohio," Kookoothe said. "It was devastating to realize...a guy could lose his life and there's evidence here that he's not responsible for this."

Kookoothe found gaps in the evidence that he believed proved D'Ambrosio's innocence.

In 2010, D'Ambrosio walked free. In 2012, he was exonerated.

"With just that bang of the gavel, I'm alive again," D'Ambrosio said. "Because when you're there, you're dead. But with that single bang of [a] gavel, it's like she shocked me and I was back to life."

D'Ambrosio and Kookoothe shared his remarkable story with the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers at the Ohio Statehouse on October 7.

It was in the same statehouse in 1981 that State Senator Paul Pfeifer wrote the legislation that is Ohio's death penalty law. Now a Justice on Ohio's Supreme Court, Pfeifer wants it abolished.

"I call it the death lottery," Pfeifer said. "A really bad lottery. Because depending on which county in this state you commit capital murder, makes all the difference in the world whether or not you'll face the death penalty at all."

Today, just to be alive, D'Ambrosio says he is grateful. But for the irreversible injustice that almost ended his life, Kookoothe says there must be change.

"There is so much at stake, that the state and the government should not be about this business," she said.

Ohio's 1st execution since January 2014 is scheduled for January 12, 2017. Ronald Phillips was convicted of raping and murdering a 3-year-old girl in Summit County in 1993.

(source: 10TV.com)


Death row inmate still appealing conviction in police killing

Ohio plans to resume executions of convicted killers next year, and more than 2 dozen men have already been scheduled to die. Odraye Jones of Ashtabula is not among them.

Jones is still appealing his 1998 conviction in the shooting death of Ashtabula Patrolman William D. Glover Jr., according to Ashtabula County Prosecutor Nicholas Iarocci. The county cannot seek execution until every appeal has been heard and rejected, he said.

"My office would have to file a death warrant when all of his appeals are exhausted in order to have the execution scheduled," Iarocci said in an email message.

Jones, 40, is incarcerated at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution. He has spent 18 years, nearly 1/2 his life, on Ohio's death row.

Earlier this month, officials said the state wants to resume executions after a lull of nearly 3 years. Ohio's last execution occurred in January 2014. The program was halted when the state was unable to obtain the chemicals needed from pharmaceutical companies.

Ohio will use a blend of midazolam, rocuronium bromide and potassium chloride to kill Ronald Phillips, who is scheduled to enter the death chamber on Jan. 12. He was sentenced to die for the 1993 rape and murder of his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter.

Executions have been scheduled into 2019, according to news reports. Bret Crow, Ohio Supreme Court spokesman, said execution dates are worked out in consultation with the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Generally, the Ohio Supreme Court does not act until a county's prosecutor requests a date, Crow said. Jones has exhausted all his state appeals, but a writ of habeas corpus is pending in federal court, according to Iarocci.

A spokesperson at the Ohio attorney general's office, which is handling Jones' appeal, could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday.

Jones used the name Malik Allah-U-Akbar in a 2014 filing before the Ohio Supreme Court.

Glover, 30, had served on the Ashtabula Police Department only a few months when he was shot and killed Nov. 17, 1997, while chasing Jones in the area of West 43rd Street and Coleman Avenue. Jones was wanted on a felony warrant at the time. Glover suffered 4 gunshot wounds.

Jones was convicted after one of the longest trials in recent history. Jury selection began May 5, 1998, and the jury formally recommended the death penalty exactly 1 month later. Jones entered the Ohio corrections system on June 10, 1998, according to the ODRC website.

(source: Star Beacon)


SQ776 discusses death penalty, methods of executions

Every week until November 2, the Owasso Reporter will cover each of the 7 state question in detail and present both sides of the issue to give citizens a chance to decide for themselves whether to vote for or against it on the November 8 ballot. We will start with SQ777. All information is courtesy of the Oklahoma Policy Institute and the Oklahoma State Election Board.

The 1st question on the November 8 ballot - State Question 776 - deals with the death penalty in Oklahoma and establishes state constitutional mandates relating to the issue and addresses methods of execution for inmates on or to be on death row.

If approved, SQ776 will add a new section to Section 9A of Article 2 of the Oklahoma Constitution, authorizing the Legislature to impose any form of execution, even if a specific means of capital punishment is deemed invalid. It also states the ballot item will allow death sentences to remain in effect until they can be carried out by any method not prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.

The Oklahoma death penalty law, enacted in 1976, has been consistently applied by Oklahoma elected officials, with the state executing 191 men and 3 women between 1915 and 2014 at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary (1 by hanging, 82 by electrocution and 111 by lethal injection). Statutes specifically allow gas inhalation, electrocution, and firing squad as backups to the primary form of execution by lethal injection. The death penalty is legal in 31 states and illegal in 19.

In October 2015, Oklahoma suspended executions for a review of lethal injection protocols. One of the drugs most commonly used for lethal injection is sodium thiopental, which is no longer manufactured in the United States. In 2011, the European Commission imposed restrictions on the export of certain drugs used for lethal injections in the United States.

As a result, many states no longer have the drugs used to carry out lethal injection. Oklahoma has turned to other drugs as a substitute for sodium thiopental. However, recent instances of executions around the country in which alternative drugs were used may have produced adverse outcomes, and recent problems with the administration of the death penalty in Oklahoma even led to a lawsuit that reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

For example, during Oklahoma's attempted execution of Clayton Lockett in April 2014, his vein apparently ruptured, causing him to writhe for about 45 minutes before the execution was halted. He died of a heart attack minutes later. Another man on death row, Charles Warner, challenged the use of the drug midazolam in the execution protocol. In January 2015, he was executed. It was later discovered that the Department of Corrections had used the wrong drug.

A grand jury investigation of Oklahoma's botched executions did not return any indictments but did find numerous flaws in the state's execution protocol and in state officials' conduct related to executions. The courts put all executions in the state on hold during the investigation, and they remain on hold until Oklahoma approves a new execution protocol.

Arguing that Oklahoma's right to carry out the death penalty was under threat, lawmakers proposed Senate Joint Resolution 31 in 2015. The Legislature overwhelmingly passed the measure, sending SQ 776 to the ballot. In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the state's execution protocol on a 5-4 vote in the case of Glossip v. Gross. However, a 2016 ruling in a death penalty case in Arkansas could lead the U.S. Supreme Court to re-examine its Glossip decision.

Supporters of SQ776 say that since the death penalty is legal in Oklahoma, it has a history of support from officials and the general public, and the state's ability to carry it out must be protected at a higher, constitutional level. Additionally, there is a chance that certain drugs used in lethal injections, or even the use of lethal injection itself, will be ruled unconstitutional. They say Oklahoma needs options so that the death penalty can continue to be used, and it should have more flexibility to designate and use any available, legal method of execution.

Opponents of the ballot item cite inconsistent application of it as a punishment, a preference for life sentences, and the increasing frequency of exonerations. They say this measure could make it much more difficult to rule Oklahoma's death penalty unconstitutional and could make use of barbaric practices such as the firing squad more likely. They also claim the amendment's only purpose is to undermine the current moratorium resulting from the recent mistakes in the administration of the lethal drug method of execution.

(source: Tulsa World)


Future of death penalty comes down to repeal or retain vote

This year's election includes the future of the death penalty in Nebraska and the fate of 10 men currently on death row.

The language on the ballot can be confusing because it's almost like a double negative. Last year, the Legislature voted to end the death penalty in Nebraska, but after a strong push from petitioners, the state now looks to voters for a final decision.

The actual vote is whether or not to repeal or retain what the legislature did. A vote to REPEAL means you want the death penalty. A vote to RETAIN means you want to do away with the death penalty.

State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha has tried for years to abolish the death penalty. Last year was the first time he was able to convince enough senators to override the governor's veto. "When something is truly historic, it's never the work of one person. One person may have been the driving force or the catalyst, but it took a collection of people to get the job done."

Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., WOWT 6 News reporter Brian Mastre takes a closer look at the death penalty debate in a special "Brian Mastre Reports: Nebraska's Death Penalty: Dead Or Alive?"

(source: WOWT news)


Law enforcement speak against the death penalty

22 days to Election Day, veterans of the court system are encouraging voters to make sure the death penalty stays out of Nebraska.

It's often the argument of Nebraskans for the death penalty that capital punishment is supported by a variety of law enforcement.

That wasn't the case Monday in La Vista, when judges, police officers and a former police captain spoke against having a death penalty in Nebraska.

That decision will be on the ballot Nov. 8.

Several former law enforcement officers say they had originally supported the death penalty and changed their minds through experience with the criminal justice system.

A Creighton law professor, who helped prosecute serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, says the famed killer thought there was capital punishment in Wisconsin while he was killing people; when in reality Wisconsin didn't have a death penalty.

The law professor, Greg O'Meara, says he knows first-hand the threat of capital punishment does not deter crime.

"Nobody, first and foremost, thinks they're going to get caught when they commit a crime," O'Meara said. "That isn't going on in their minds. They don't think of the penalty at all. It doesn't really deter them. That's the psychology of how crime happens. It's impetus. It happens quickly."

The group, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, says they have research that shows that the death penalty not only deters crime, it saves lives in states that have capital punishment.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty point to the state Sheriff's Association and the Nebraska County Attorneys Association, who have both endorsed the effort to overturn last year's decision to get rid of the death penalty from Nebraska.

(source: KMTV news)


Death penalty trial delayed after lawyers question defendant's mental capacity

A judge on Monday postponed the death penalty trial for a man accused of fatally stabbing his estranged pregnant girlfriend after his lawyers raised new questions about his mental capacity.

Prosecutors said during opening statements last week that Eric Covington stabbed 24-year-old Sagittarius Gomez more than 120 times in an hour because he did not want her to be with another man. She was seven months pregnant with their child.

This past weekend, defense lawyers had the 33-year-old Covington, who has been jailed since the November 2010 attack, re-evaluated by a psychologist.

Lisa Rasmussen wrote in court papers that she tried to discuss possible negotiations with Covington in the days before trial started.

"Those issues caused defense counsel to question the ability of Mr. Covington to process the information as one would expect," Rasmussen stated.

Although another doctor had previously found that Covington had an IQ of 77, the psychologist who analyzed Covington this weekend found that he had an IQ of 62.

"My provisional opinion is that Mr. Covington is a person with intellectual disability," Washington psychologist Mark Cunningham wrote. He added that "school records and family descriptions" indicated that Covington's "intellectual and adaptive limitations were present well before the age of 18."

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that executing inmates with "mental retardation" violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Prosecutors are expected to have another doctor evaluate Covington, and the judge scheduled a hearing for Nov. 29, with jurors slated to resume hearing evidence Dec. 7.

Covington described the killing in a statement to police, according to prosecutors.

Neighbors testified that they heard loud noises and screams coming from Gomez's East Sahara Avenue apartment in the early morning of Nov. 6, 2010, but none called police.

Gomez's bloody body was found the next day after police, responding to a welfare check, broke open her apartment's front door.

Besides 1st-degree murder, Covington faces 1 count each of manslaughter in the killing of an unborn child, burglary while in possession of a deadly weapon and robbery with a deadly weapon.

Covington told police he went to the east valley apartment they once shared to discuss their relationship. When the talk soured, Covington began to stab Gomez, police said at the time.

(source: Las Vegas Review-Journal)


Judge gives defense more time to prepare in Martinez death penalty case

A judge on Monday gave the defense more time to review evidence, declining the prosecution's request to schedule a preliminary hearing for Martin Martinez, who is accused of killing his girlfriend, Amanda Crews, along with her 2 daughters, his mother and his niece.

The 5 slayings occurred July 18, 2015, at Crews' home on Nob Hill Court in east Modesto. In addition to Crews, 38, the victims were her daughters, 6-month-old Rachael and 6-year-old Elizabeth; Martinez's mother, Anna Brown Romero, 57; and Martinez's 5-year-old niece, Esmeralda Navarro. Martinez was Rachael's father.

In a separate case, Martinez has already been ordered to stand trial on charges of murder and child abuse in the Oct. 2, 2014, death of Crews' 2-year-old son, Christopher Ripley.

Martinez was arrested several hours after the 5 bodies were found in the home and has remained in custody since. Martinez has pleaded not guilty to 5 counts of murder.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Martinez. The preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is enough evidence for the defendant to stand trial.

Deputy District Attorney Rick Mury said it's been 3 months since they finished giving the defense the evidence that will be used in a preliminary hearing. The prosecutor asked the judge to schedule the hearing in January, saying that would give Martinez's attorneys plenty of time to review.

Chief Deputy Public Defender Sonny Sandhu asked for more time, telling the judge there are about 6,000 pages of evidence the prosecution provided, along with about 100 hours of video and audio recordings.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Ricardo Cordova agreed with the defense. He said he recognizes that the victims' families might want to have this case proceed sooner rather than later, but that he doesn't want to rush this case.

Cordova scheduled Martinez and the attorneys to return to court Dec. 2.

Mury told the judge a preliminary hearing could take about 2 weeks to complete. Deputy Public Defender Maureen Keller said she's not sure about that estimate, telling the judge too much is being asked of them right now.

The trial in Christopher's death has not been scheduled.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees told the judge that if the defense is not ready to schedule a preliminary hearing in the 5 slayings on Dec. 2, she will ask the court to schedule the trial in the toddler's death.

Crews' son suffered severe head injuries on Sept. 30, 2014, while alone with Martinez.

The toddler died at a Madera children's hospital after 2 days on life support. A child abuse expert and pediatrician at the hospital testified that the boy's brain had suffered severe swelling. Bleeding also was found just outside the brain.

Modesto police investigators were about 2 weeks away from arresting Martinez in Christopher's death when the 5 other homicides occurred.

(source: Modesto Bee)


Jackson Browne to play anti-death penalty show in Sacramento

Hoping the California death penalty is running on empty? This is the concert for you.

Advocates of Proposition 62, which would repeal capital punishment in California, have enlisted Jackson Browne to play a benefit show at Sacramento's Crest Theatre on Oct. 26. Browne will also play a benefit concert in San Diego on Oct. 24.

"I wanted my audience to know that I feel strongly about it ... I want people to pay attention," Browne said in an interview. "We have to ban the death penalty in California - I think that would be very influential for the rest of the country."

Beyond the cost of enforcing the death penalty and its function of condoning state-sanctioned violence, Browne said, he was motivated to take a stand by conversations with people who were convicted and later exonerated.

"I've become aware over the years of how flawed our justice system is and how necessary it is to have laws that are fair, that are above reproach," Browne said. My most fundamental objection is in taking a human life, there's so many innocent people who are in jail."

Tickets for the Sacramento show run from $65 to $75 a pop - with the proceeds flowing into the campaign's coffers - and can be purchased online. Supporters of the measure have so far out-raised those who would preserve the death penalty.

Browne isn't the first celebrity to throw in for the cause. Former "M.A.S.H." star Mike Farrell serves as the initiative's key proponent, denouncing the death penalty as inhumane and racist.

Voters face divergent death penalty choices this November. For those who support executing the worst of the worst, which California has not done since 2006, Proposition 66 offers to expedite the process by curbing appeals. That measure's star proponent is former pro football player Kermit Alexander.

(source: Sacramento Bee)


Solana Beach woman works to abolish California death penalty

Kyle Wesendorf took a slightly unusual path to her current career as a vegetarian personal chef - before deciding to attend culinary school and take up cooking for a living, she worked in the legal field, specifically as an attorney handling the appeals of death row inmates.

"It's a weird resume," said Wesendorf, who runs her own business, a personal chef service called Brio.

Even though the 63-year-old Solana Beach resident no longer practices law, she hasn't left her passionate opposition to the death penalty behind - earlier this year, she joined a cause near to her heart by enlisting as a volunteer for Prop. 62, a measure on California's November ballot that will, if approved, abolish the death penalty in this state.

"I've always been against the death penalty," said Wesendorf, who retired from her legal career in 2003 after practicing in Illinois and California. "It's my abiding passion. I feel very strongly it's wrong. A great country like ours should not be killing people."

Wesendorf is a member of the board of directors of the Yes on 62 committee. In that capacity, she has helped organize the campaign, from raising funds and gathering signatures, to getting the word out about the ballot measure.

California voters last considered the death penalty question in 2012, when, by a margin of 52 to 48 %, they rejected an initiative that would have replaced the death penalty with a maximum sentence of life without possibility of parole.

This time around, Wesendorf is optimistic that the outcome will be different, and that voters will abolish the death penalty in California. Prop. 62 also calls for the imposition of life without parole instead of capital punishment.

Complicating things is a competing ballot measure, Prop. 66, which seeks to fix a broken death penalty system and speed up the process, streamlining appeals procedures and setting a 5-year time limit for the completion of death penalty appeals.

The last execution carried out in California was in 2006, due to legal issues surrounding the state's lethal injection procedures. More than 700 inmates currently remain on death row in California.

Among the reasons for abolishing the death penalty in California, said Wesendorf, are that it does not work as a deterrent, it is expensive (the state's legislative analyst estimated that elimination of the death penalty will save $150 million per year in legal and prison costs), and that its application is racially biased.

Many nations around the world have abolished capital punishment, and in the U.S., 24 states have either abolished the death penalty or put it on hold, according to the Death Penalty Information Center web site.

"When you look around the world at countries which continue to execute people... we're in very bad company," with such nations as Iran, China and North Korea, said Wesendorf.

But proponents of Prop. 66, which promises to streamline and maintain California's death penalty, said the goal should be to "mend, not end" the law.

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a Prop. 66 supporter, said she believes Californians want to keep the death penalty on the books in a way that protects the legal rights of defendants while speeding up the process.

"It's not working because those who don't want the death penalty have been part of the cause for how much it costs and how long it takes," she said.

Currently, she said, it takes more than 2 decades for a death penalty case to work its way through the appeals process. "We want to fix that."

The death penalty, said Dumanis, is reserved for "the worst of the worst," for such crimes as killing a police officer, or in the case of murder with aggravating factors such as lying in wait, torture, kidnapping or sexual assault.

She said race doesn't enter into the decision of whether to seek the death penalty; instead, she said, prosecutors consider the circumstances of the crime, the defendant's criminal history and other factors.

The legislative analyst's office concluded that Prop. 66 could save money by reducing the number of death row inmates in California and distributing those inmates to other prisons instead of housing them all in single cells at San Quentin Prison. But due to other changes in the appeals process, the total fiscal impact is "unknown and cannot be estimated."

The vote likely won't hinge on dollars and cents, according to Dumanis. "The bottom line is it's probably a moral decision. Either you believe in the death penalty or you don't believe in the death penalty. Californians have said for some crimes we believe in the death penalty."

If both measures receive majority approval on Nov. 8, the one with the most votes will win. A September poll by the Field Poll and UC Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies found that 48 % of voters supported Prop. 62, 37 % opposed it, and 15 % were undecided. The poll found that 35 % supported Prop. 66, 23 % opposed it, and a plurality of 42 % was undecided.

(source: Del Mar Times)


Survivor of serial killer fights for death penalty----Jennifer Asbenson urges voters to reject Prop. 62

The only known survivor of a serial killer, a man authorities say murdered 8 woman, is now worried voters might get rid of California's death penalty law she hopes her would-be killer will someday face.

Jennifer Asbenson is still is waiting for her would-be killer, Andrew Urdiales, to face the justice she says he deserves, 24-years after her attack.

"On the confession tapes, he said he stopped strangling me because his hands got tired," Asbenson said. "He says my face turned blue, my eyes started protruding. My eyes got bloodshot."

Asbenson thought she was going to die that September morning in Desert Hot Springs, 1992.

Asbenson said, "Anybody who would get into his car, he would take them somewhere and he would murder them."

She freed herself and escaped Urdiales, later convicted of murdering 3 other women in Illinois and Indiana in 1996.

A trial for the murders of 5 more women here in Riverside, Orange and San Diego counties between 1986 and 1995 is about to begin in Orange County in February of 2017.

Julie McGhee, 29, of Cathedral City was shot and killed in a remote area of Palm Springs in July 1988.

Prosecutors say Urdiales also shot Tammie Erwin, 18, in April 1989.

"I've heard a lot of people say serial killers, or monsters like that, aren't afraid of anything. They are! They are afraid to die," said Asbenson.

She's using Facebook to spread her message.

She's against Proposition 62, which would end California's Death Penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. "It's justice. You're getting to know the person who did this is no longer on this earth," said Asbenson. " They can no longer hurt another human being and is gone because of what they did. And that's what's right," Asbenson added.

Hundreds of death sentences have been handed down in our state.

But since 1973, California has only carried out 13 executions, the last in 2006.

749 people are currently on death row waiting to die.

19 states and the District of Columbia have banned the punishment.

31 states still have the death penalty.

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is among the critics who say some on death row have later been exonerated of their crimes. They want it to end.

Asbenson, Urdiales's only known survivor, says no. "There are definitely a lot of people out there who are pure evil and they do not deserve to live," Asbenson said.

She's supporting Prop. 66, which would require more attorneys to represent those on death row, speed up appeals and allow prisons to develop new execution methods.

She's been defriended, and has unfriended others online, but she feels it's worth it.

Asbenson said, "There's no reason for such evil to exist. There's no reason."

Urdiales escaped the death penalty in Illinois, when the state abolished it.

The Orange County D.A.'s office tells News Channel 3 a hearing on his California case was held last Wednesday.

His jury trial has been delayed a number of times, but is currently set to start on February 6th next year.

You can see those currently on California's Condemned Inmate List at: http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/Capital_Punishment/docs/CondemnedInmateListSecure.pdf?pdf=Condemned-Inmates

(source: KESQ news)


Brown to maintain death penalty moratorium

The governor plans to continue a state moratorium on capital punishment that would extend through her upcoming term if elected, a spokesman said Monday morning.

"Gov. Kate Brown has made clear her personal opposition to the death penalty and her support of the current moratorium on Oregon executions," spokesman Bryan Hockaday told The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Former Gov. John Kitzaber announced the moratorium two weeks before the scheduled 2011 execution of Gary Haugen, who then sought to speed his execution after waiving all appeals. After Brown took over the state's top office in February 2015, she said she would continue the stoppage of public executions until further study.

"Gov. Brown directed her General Counsel to conduct a review of the policy and practical implications of Oregon's capital punishment law," Hockaday said. "Though no executions are imminent, Gov. Brown will continue the death penalty moratorium, because after thoroughly researching the issues, serious concerns remain about the constitutionality and workability of Oregon's capital punishment law."

Hockaday declined to immediately release, pending a records request, any study or records related to how the governor made her decision.

Reasons for her decision include the "uncertainty of Oregon's ability to acquire the necessary execution drugs required by statute," Hockaday said by email. "Looking nationally, America is on the verge of a sea change both by legislation and, more profoundly, through court decisions. The past few years have already seen a major shift in the landscape on capital punishment law, and Gov. Brown expects more changes are on the horizon."

Oregon voters approved the death penalty in 1984, and the state and U.S. Supreme Courts have repeatedly upheld its legality.

Oregon's death row has 34 prisoners, all of whom stay in their cells 23 hours a day. In the past 5 decades, the state executed 2 men -- both in the 1990s. Those men had essentially volunteered for the death penalty after waiving their rights to appeal before their deaths.

Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis, an outspoken supporter of the death penalty in Oregon, a month ago met with Brown counsel Ben Souede about the issue. After hearing the news Monday, Marquis said he was seething.

"If she really believes the death penalty is so wrong, then she should have the guts to commute all those sentences," Marquis said.

If she were to take that extraordinary step, Marquis said about six or seven prisoners on death row could be released to the public within a year because they would qualify for an immediate parole hearing. He said those prisoners were sentenced after voters approved the death penalty and before the state adopted life sentences without parole in the early 1990s.

No executions may be imminent, Marquis argued, but at least three cases are pending in Oregon where defendants face aggravated murder charges, which bring a death penalty sentencing option if convicted. Brown's announcement could make it easier for defense attorneys to persuade jurors not to impose the death penalty, he said.

However, the assertion that death row inmates would walk free has been untested in Oregon courts, said Bobbin Singh, executive director of Oregon Justice Resource Center, an organization working to end the state's death penalty. Singh believes the governor has the constitutional authority to reduce sentences to life without parole.

He said Brown's announcement follows a trend by other states that have moved away from capital punishment.

"It's a complicated and an under-researched area of our criminal justice system in Oregon," Singh said.

Singh argues no nationwide evidence shows the death penalty deters criminals. Citing the Death Penalty Information Center, Singh said less than 2 % of all U.S. counties produce most of the death penalty cases today.

Since 1973, 156 people have been exonerated from their death sentences. The governors of several states, including Colorado, Pennsylvania and Washington, have also instituted moratoriums.

Haugen last year received an execution date for late January 2017, but his case continues to remain in limbo, said Jeff Ellis, his attorney. Haugen, who was convicted of aggravated murder in a prison death in 2004, has chosen to appeal the execution date. He claims the state took too long to issue the date after the expiration of a previous death warrant, Ellis said.

That argument is being heard before a federal judge, Ellis said, who declined to comment on the governor's announcement because he had not spoken to his client. However, Haugen called The Oregonian/OregonLive newsroom in late September before Brown's announcement.

"I'm just so frustrated," Haugen said. "They want to have the death penalty, but they don't want to kill anybody."

(source: oregonlive.com)


Supreme Court declines to rule in 1995 death penalty case

The US Supreme Court denied certiorari Monday in the death penalty case Elmore v. Holbrook. The main issue in the case was whether a defendant's counsel can present one mitigating factor at the sentencing phase, without thoroughly investigating the possibility of other mitigating factors. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissented from the denial. Sotomayor argued that the court should have accepted the case, and further, that they would find that the representation was a violation of the Sixth Amendment's right to effective assistance of counsel.

Elmore was convicted in 1995 for raping and murdering a teenage girl. It was the first death penalty case for his lawyer, Jon Komorowski, who is now the public defender of Whatcom County, Washington. At the sentencing hearing, the lawyer made a lengthy argument about Elmore's remorse rather than present evidence of Elmore's disabilities and possible exposure to harmful chemicals, a decision Komorowski later admitted was a mistake due to his inexperience. Attorneys for Elmore filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the court in January.

(source: The Jurist)


FBI moves to dismiss lawsuit over Charleston church shooting

The FBI wants a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit accusing the agency of negligence in last summer's South Carolina church massacre, arguing that the agency was stymied by state and federal limits on background checks and local errors in record-keeping as it reviewed Dylann Roof's handgun purchase.

The June 17, 2015, shootings by a young white man of nine black parishioners who had welcomed him to their Bible study renewed debates about race relations in the South. Roof was arrested in the shooting after posing online with the Confederate flag and telling a friend he intended to kill people at the historic black church to start a race war. The battle flag was subsequently removed from places of honor.

Lawyers for 3 survivors and the estates of 5 of the people slain inside Emanuel AME Church sued in July, arguing that if the FBI had done its job, Roof's prior drug arrest would have shown up and his purchase of the .45-caliber handgun would have been denied.

In its response filed on Friday, the federal government denied that any FBI negligence was a factor.

"The shooting at the Emanuel AME Church was an atrocity of unspeakable proportions. The perpetrator's actions were despicable," attorneys for the government wrote. "But the United States is not liable in tort for the tragic death of plaintiff's decedent."

The FBI response cited a statement FBI Director James Comey made shortly after the shootings. Comey promised a full review and said the transaction should have been denied, but cited local record-keeping errors as the reason why Roof's April 2015 gun purchase was allowed to go through.

Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon provided more details that summer, telling The Associated Press that a jail clerk entered incorrect information for Roof's February 2015 drug arrest, and that while the mistake was noticed within days, it wasn't fixed in a state database. So when Roof sought to buy the gun 2 months later, an FBI examiner spotted the arrest, but called the wrong agency to get his record. Without the necessary documents, the purchase had to go through.

"While the Brady Act authorizes the FBI to temporarily freeze firearms sales for 3 business days while it researches whether state or federal law prohibits a particular buyer from possessing a firearm, the FBI has no authority to prevent a sale if, after those 3 business days have elapsed, it has not yet found definitive information demonstrating that the prospective purchaser's receipt of a firearm would violate federal or state law," the government's lawyers wrote.

Congress has limited federal background checks to 3 days, although states can extend this window. South Carolina legislators filed a number of bills to increase the window after the shootings, but none advanced.

The FBI makes about 58,000 checks on a typical day, handled by about 500 people at a call center. The agency has reported that about 2 % of the checks end without enough information to give an answer within the 3-day window.

Roof is currently jailed pending death penalty trials in both state and federal court on charges including murder and hate crimes. His federal trial is scheduled for November, with his state trial planned for early next year.

(source: WHAS news)

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

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