Feb. 4


Make capital punishment available in Iowa

A staff editorial claimed that "Iowa lawmakers shouldn't reinstate the death penalty, or waste time discussing it." Savor the irony: An American newspaper telling lawmakers they shouldn't waste their time engaging in an "ongoing national debate."

The self-appointed doyens of The Gazette view the issue of capital punishment in Iowa as a settled matter. Liberals do this a lot. Things they like are moral and just, never to be challenged or changed. They can be pretty conservative at times, great defenders of the status quo.

Capital punishment does not deter, they assert. It's too expensive, they proclaim. It takes too long. It strains the delicate citizens who sit on juries. It is applied to minorities and the poor too often.

But make no mistake - these arguments are pure chaff, countermeasures designed to evade this essential question of justice: Does the punishment fit the crime? Is life in prison without parole a sufficient punishment for murderers?

But let's take a look at the issue of deterrence. Deterrence is the "inhibiting of criminal behavior by fear of punishment." Punishment must be swift and certain. Does anyone think our judicial process serves as an effective deterrent?

After a murder is discovered the police collect evidence and identify suspects. If an arrest follows, prosecutors, grand juries and defense lawyers enter the fray. Add judges, juries and trials. If convictions result in death sentences, years of appeals are sure to follow - appeals mainly generated by an activist cabal of abolitionists.

So, what deterrence? Murderers fear punishment after their crimes, not before. Every person behind bars is a failure of deterrence. Statistical studies abound on both sides of the deterrence debate. Mark Twain popularized the phrase: "Lies, damn lies, and statistics." Without the death penalty as law, it cannot deter. With it, it is at least arguable. In any case, it is still irrelevant.

Convicted murderers sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole are supplied with room and board for the rest of their natural lives. They receive free medical care. They have access to television, books and newspapers. They can cheer for their favorite sports teams and write letters to their loved ones. They can even become remorseful for their murderous actions.

Meanwhile, our memories of murder victims fade. Do you remember the name of the young woman who was shot in the back at the Coral Ridge Mall 3 years ago? I do. Do you remember the names of the 2 police officers ambushed and killed in the Des Moines area 2 years ago? I do.

And I resent the fact that their killers are alive today. They were judged guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at their trials. But I believe we can say more - much more. We can say with absolute certainty that these men murdered their victims. No dream team of lawyers dancing on the head of a pin will ever change those facts. Justice requires that if you take an innocent life, you should forfeit your own.

I applaud and encourage the efforts of Iowa lawmakers to start discussions on making capital punishment available to Iowa prosecutors and juries. Unlike some folks, I believe our state legislature is the right place to have this debate.

(source: Guest Columnist; Christopher H. Marks is an Army veteran residing in Amana----The Gazette)


Swift end for House bill to reinstate death penalty

New Mexico abolished the death penalty in 2009, and it is not coming back this year.

A legislative committee on Saturday quashed a bill that would have reinstated capital punishment for the murders of children, police officers and correctional officers.

The 3-2 party-line vote was no surprise, but it brought out some of the most visceral testimony yet of this year's 30-day legislative session.

The recently discovered death of 13-year-old Jeremiah Valencia of Santa Fe County and stories of his tortured life loomed over the discussion.

But so, too, did the story of a former lawmaker's son who was wrongly accused of murder and locked in jail until his exoneration.

House Bill 155 was just the latest proposal by Republican legislators in recent years to reinstate capital punishment for certain murders. They argued the measure would have made the death penalty an option again for only the worst of the worst criminals.

Rep. Monica Youngblood, a Republican from Albuquerque and the bill's cosponsor, pointed to the high-profile murders of several children in recent years.

"While we're all reading the stories of what happened to poor Jeremiah, last session it was Ashlynn Mike. The session before it was Victoria Martens," she told the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

Youngblood's measure would have applied only to murders committed after May 15, 2018, according to an analysis by legislative aides.

Under her bill, Youngblood argued, the death penalty would not be the mandatory sentence but an option for prosecutors in the most egregious cases at a time that New Mexico's crime rates are rising.

But a range of organizations, from the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops to the American Civil Liberties Union, raised concerns that the bill would lead to wrongful executions, do little if anything to prevent crime and cost the state with rounds of legal appeals.

Legislative aides calculated the bill would have cost up to $7.2 million in the first 3 years.

Others argued the death penalty is simply immoral.

And Maurice Moya, a retired Albuquerque police officer, pointed to wrongful accusations and botched investigations in one high-profile murder case after another.

Moya raised the case against former state Rep. Stephanie Maez's teenage son, who was accused of murder in the drive-by shooting of another Albuquerque teen in 2015 and spent a year in jail awaiting trial before the charges against him were dropped.

Prosecutors went on to accuse a young man who also was charged in another murder while the 1st investigation was ongoing.

"There have been a lot of cases where evidence was not looked at. It was not reviewed," Moya told the committee.

New Mexico has had a complicated history with the death penalty.

Between 1979 and 2007, more than 200 death-penalty cases were filed. 15 men were sentenced to death.

1 of them was executed, but only after he waived his appeals and said he wanted to die.

2 convicted murderers in New Mexico sentenced before the death penalty was abolished are still appealing their cases.

And in 1986, outgoing Gov. Toney Anaya commuted the death sentences of all 5 men on New Mexico's death row at that time, calling capital punishment "inhumane, immoral and anti-God."

Today, 19 states do not have the death penalty. Governors in 3 more states and the District of Columbia have placed a moratorium on capital punishment.

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez called for reinstating the death penalty during her 1st State of the State address in 2011, but she did not press the issue until 2016, when Republicans had a majority in the House of Representatives.

Republican House members in the predawn hours of a special legislative session a month before the general election approved a death-penalty bill similar to Youngblood's. The measure died in the state Senate.

Democrats won a majority in the House, and subsequent proposals to reinstate the death penalty have met swift opposition.

The timing of the Saturday-morning hearing seemed to be a rebuke of the vote in 2016 that occurred while most New Mexico residents were asleep.

Saturday's debate consumed about an hour of testimony.

On the 5-member committee, Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Roswell, said he had mixed feelings about the death penalty, fearing wrongful convictions.

"On the other hand, the people that would be eligible for the death penalty are the worst of the worst," he said.

The only Democratic representative to comment on the bill, Patricia Roybal Caballero of Albuquerque, said she had to oppose "any form of cruel, unusual and very degrading punishment."

(source: Santa Fe New Mexican)


Prosecutors have time to mull possible death penalty case

A judge is giving prosecutors more time to decide whether to pursue the death penalty against a Wyoming man who is accused of killing and sexually abusing his girlfriend's 2-year-old son.

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports that Thursday was the original deadline by which prosecutors had to notify the defense if they were going to pursue capital punishment for John Barrett. Both sides agreed to extend the time frame, and District Judge Catherine Rogers set a trial date for August 2019.

Barrett is accused of killing and sexually abusing the child in Cheyenne while the boy's mother was at work. An autopsy ruled the death a homicide, and the medical examiner highlighted injuries to several internal organs.

The boy died at a children's hospital in Colorado on May 23.

(source: Associated Press)


Agency: Nevada Inmate Serving 2 Life Terms Dead at Age 83

An 83-year-old Nevada prison inmate serving 2 life terms, including 1 for killing a fellow prisoner, has died 3 decades after his case resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that spared him the death penalty.

Raymond Wallace Shuman died at Carson Tahoe Medical Center in Carson City on Friday, nearly 60 years after he was committed to his 1st sentence for murder in Nevada's Mineral County in 1958.

The state Department of Corrections did not release a cause of death, but said he previously had been housed at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City before being admitted to the hospital. An autopsy will be conducted, the department said.

Department spokeswoman Brooke Santina said Saturday she didn't know whether Shuman was the longest-incarcerated Nevada inmate but that she thought there may be at least 1 older inmate in the prison system.

Shuman's 2nd life sentence was the result of the 1973 killing of fellow prisoner Ruben Bejarno in an adjoining cell in the since-closed Nevada State Prison. Bejarno was set on fire when 2 cans of lighter fluid were thrown into his cell.

Shuman was sentenced to death automatically in the Bejarno killing under a since-repealed Nevada law that required capital punishment for a prisoner convicted of 1st-degree murder while already serving a life sentence.

The Nevada Supreme Court upheld Shuman's conviction and death sentence in the prison killing, but the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the death sentence in 1987 while upholding his conviction.

The U.S. Supreme Court had previously declared mandatory death penalty laws unconstitutional, saying defendants were entitled to present possible mitigating evidence.

However, until Shuman's case, "the court had specifically and explicitly reserved judgment on the issue of a mandatory death sentence imposed on a prisoner already serving a life sentence," Michael W. Bowers, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, wrote in a Western State Law Review article.

The court's Shuman decision "continued its longstanding practice of not permitting the mandatory imposition of the death penalty," Bowers wrote.

Bejarno died 3 days after being burned. He twice said at the hospital that Shuman set him afire.

A Nevada Supreme Court ruling said Shuman's fingerprints were on the cans, that he also suffered burns and was seen making throwing motions as Bejarno ran from his cell in flames. The 2 reportedly had been fighting just before the incident over opening a window near their cells.

(source: Associated Press)


California man pleads not guilty to college student's murder

A Southern California man pleaded not guilty Friday to the murder of a University of Pennsylvania student whose body was found buried in a shallow grave at a park not far from his family's home.

Samuel Woodward, 20, of Newport Beach was ordered held on $5 million bail with conditions including GPS monitoring, a curfew and a protective order for the victim's family if he is released.

Woodward is charged in the killing of 19-year-old college sophomore Blaze Bernstein, who was home visiting his family on winter break in Lake Forest. Authorities said the two attended the same high school but did not know if they were friends at the time.

Bernstein was missing for a week after going out with Woodward the night of Jan. 2. Police searched for him with drone pilots and found his body at a park in the community 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles after rain partially exposed it.

Bernstein was killed with a knife. He was gay and Jewish and authorities are investigating the possibility of a hate crime.

During a brief hearing on Friday, defense attorney Edward Munoz sought a lower bail for his client, arguing that he was interviewed several times by sheriff's investigators before his arrest and didn't attempt to hide information.

But prosecutors opposed, noting that Woodward dyed his hair and changed his appearance after Bernstein disappeared and tried to evade surveillance by authorities before he was taken into custody.

"It's a horrific crime," said Steve McGreevy, senior deputy district attorney for Orange County.

McGreevy said authorities found a knife in Woodward's car and multiple knives in his home, but could not say if any were the murder weapon.

In a statement, Bernstein's family said it appreciated efforts to require the maximum bail and "meaningful" restrictions for Woodward.

"It gives us some measure of comfort to know that, should he be released, he will not be able to come near our family," the statement said. "Nevertheless, we are still concerned for the public's safety."

Woodward, who is currently held in jail in Santa Ana, is due back in court March 2.

At the hearing, he smiled upon seeing his lawyer and then sat out of view of the more than a dozen journalists gathered in the courtroom.

Munoz declined to comment after the hearing.

At college, Bernstein was studying psychology and was recently chosen to edit a campus culinary magazine.

According to a court filing obtained by the Orange County Register, Woodward told investigators that he became angry after Bernstein kissed him the night they went to the park.

Earlier on Friday, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas declined to say whether authorities believe Bernstein was killed because he was gay, but said the case showed the need to change California law to include sexual orientation and gender as motivating factors for more serious murder charges that can carry the death penalty.

State Sen. Janet Nguyen said she was proposing legislation to make the change.

The murder rocked the community of Lake Forest - which had not seen a killing in at least 4 years - and prompted an outpouring of support for Bernstein's family, who have urged community members to do acts of kindness in their late son's name.

Hundreds of people attended a candlelight vigil for Bernstein and his funeral.

(source: sacbee.com)


US is an outlier on death penalty attitudes in North America, ACLU attorney says

When it comes to imposing the death penalty, the United States has long outpaced North American neighbors Canada and Mexico, according to the director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project.

Cassandra Stubbs, speaking Friday at the 2018 ABA Midyear Meeting in Vancouver, told the audience of "A North American Perspective on the Death Penalty: The American, Mexican and Canadian Experiences" that while the death penalty was legal in Mexico and Canada during the early-to-mid 20th century, neither country actually carried out many death sentences.

Stubbs said Mexico has long had antipathy toward the death penalty, partially because it is a predominantly Catholic country. Between 1908 and 1961, only 11 people were executed; and the last civilian execution took place in 1937. Though the penalty remained on the books until 2005, no one was executed after 1961. Canada conducted its final execution in 1962 and fully abolished the death penalty in 1998.

In contrast, Stubbs said, executions in the United States rose in the 20th century, despite a 10-year period from 1967 to 1977 when no executions took place. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court had suspended capital punishment with Furman v. Georgia, but the justices' 1976 decision in Gregg v. Georgia allowed for its resumption. The greatest number of executions took place in the 1930s and 1940s with another, smaller spike in the 1990s, Stubbs said. But executions have been steadily declining: In 1997, 74 people were executed; in 2017, 23.

In the CLE session, sponsored by the Criminal Justice Section, Stubbs walked the audience through the current state of the death penalty in the United States, how racial discrimination affects who is sentenced to death, and how the diminished use of the death penalty could form the basis for a future U.S. Supreme Court decision abolishing it entirely.

"We have seen a major shift in terms of international and national opinions about the death penalty as people have begun to realize that we exonerate an enormous number of people on death row," Stubbs said. "We are getting it wrong. We are sentencing people to death, when they are innocent, at a very high rate."

Robert L. Weinberg, a past president of the District of Columbia Bar and the Bar Association of the District of Columbia, had a question for Stubbs. He brought up Resolution 111, which is scheduled to be considered by the ABA House of Delegates on Monday. If the resolution is passed as currently written, the ABA would urge all death penalty jurisdictions to prohibit the execution of offenders who were 21 or younger when their crimes were committed, but "without taking a position supporting or opposing the death penalty."

"Do you think it would make any difference if the ABA were to change its neutral position and come out for abolishing the death penalty?" Weinberg asked. "Do you think that would have any effect on the Supreme Court?"

"Yes," Stubbs replied. "I think that's an important part of the 'evolving standards of decency' that the Supreme Court explicitly said, that you look to the views of professional organizations and associations. And we have seen a number of national groups that were formerly supporting of the death penalty that have changed their position, and I think it would be powerful if the ABA did as well."

One of the Canadian lawyers at the session asked Stubbs about the pro-death penalty forces in the United States and whether there are major organizations set up specifically to argue in favor of capital punishment.

"As Canadians - as outsiders - we get news coverage of organizations, whether it's the Innocence Project or other civil rights organizations advocating against the death penalty. We don't get any news of any organizations advocating for the death penalty," said Alexander Burton, Crown counsel for British Columbia, a prosecutorial position.

"There are not large nonprofits devoted to being pro-death penalty," Stubbs said. "There are a handful of prosecutors that play this huge role in driving the death penalty by seeking it disproportionately in their state."

She used the example of Angela Corey, the former state attorney in Florida's 4th Judicial Circuit, which covers Clay, Duval and Nassau counties. Corey, who was cited by a 2016 story in the New York Times as having "one of the highest rates of death sentences in the country," lost an election to a Republican primary challenger later that year. Stubbs said the new state attorney has said she will not concentrate on pursuing the death penalty.

"It's not because the constituents are demanding it," Stubbs said. "And that's what we've seen in a handful of these jurisdictions where we have really high drivers voted out of office and new folks come in: The death penalty is not the kind of issue that voters are voting on."

(source: ABA Journal)

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

DeathPenalty mailing list
Unsubscribe: http://lists.washlaw.edu/mailman/options/deathpenalty

Reply via email to