Feb. 9

TEXAS----death sentence thrown out

College Station Man Resentenced For Murder After Appeals Court Throws Out Death Penalty

In September 2012, a Brazos County district court jury gave a College Station man the death penalty, a decision that was thrown out 2 years ago by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Another jury took an hour and a half Thursday to re-sentence 52 year old Stanley Griffin to life in prison for the strangulation murder of Jennifer Hailey in her home almost 7 1/2 years ago.

Griffin will have to serve 30 years before he becomes eligible for parole.

(source: WTAW news)


Father And Victim Kent Whitaker Calls For Son Thomas Whitaker To Be Spared Death Penalty

Texas death row inmate Thomas Whitaker's father, Kent Whitaker, is pleading for his son to not face the death penalty on Feb. 22 for arranging the murder of Kent Whitaker's wife and other son in 2003.

Thomas Whitaker took his family out to dinner and let a friend into the house to murder them. Kent Whitaker himself almost didn't survive. Thomas was motivated by his dad's $1 million insurance policy.

Thomas was a suspect for several months after the attack, during which he lived with Kent. Thomas was convicted of orchestrating the murders in 2007, and a jury sentenced him to death.

Kent is now calling on the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles for clemency for his son after already trying and failing to have the prosecution advocate for a life sentence instead of the death penalty, citing his Christian faith.

"We're not asking them to set him free," Kent told My Statesman. "We're not asking them to forgive him. I mean, that's not their business, but what we are asking them to do is to correct a legal overstep that never should've happened in the first place."

In a petition for the board to resentence his son to life in prison, which was published in the Austin American-Statesman, Kent called on the board to make a moral decision in light of the suffering and grief he would suffer further if Thomas were to face the death penalty.

"There is only 1 person on Earth who is intimate with the murderous attack, the lives and deaths of the other victims, and the life of Thomas Whitaker - Mr. Whitaker's father, Kent," the petition read. "Kent was there. He speaks to clemency with a moral force and detail of experience that no district attorney or judge or anyone else can possess. For the rest of us, the case against commutation to a life sentence seems clear. We can't forgive; we have no sympathy. But clemency is not about something so simple as sympathy or as formidable as forgiveness. Clemency is about lenity, and it is a moral question rendered far more complex by the unique circumstances of this case."

The petition also said there is no advocate for Thomas's execution.

"No one close to the people involved in this case want it to happen," the petition reads. "Some passionately oppose it. Other simply wish their lives could be restored to the time before the crime. It is only the State of Texas, through its employees and representatives, that mechanically marches forward onto the date of death."

The petition also included multiple letters from Thomas's fellow inmates, some of whom said they were thankful to meet him, that he had worked the hardest out of other inmates on the farm to rehabilitate himself and that he inspired inmates to become better people.

(source: uinterview.com)


The only death row inmate should be the death penalty itself

One year ago, I spent five weeks in a Raleigh courtroom listening to Wake County residents talk about the death penalty. As a defense attorney for Nathan Holden, who was facing the death penalty for killing his mother- and father-in-law and shooting his wife, I had the fascinating opportunity to talk to potential jurors and hear dozens of them respond to probing questions about their views on capital punishment.

Mr. Holden's jury voted unanimously for life. And when another Wake County jury recently rejected the death penalty for Donovan Richardson, the ninth life verdict in a row, I wasn't surprised. My conversations with jurors in the Holden case had already convinced me that the death penalty is effectively over in Wake County.

I grew up in Raleigh, and have spent the past 14 years working as a capital defense lawyer in my home state. I've learned a lot about the past and the present of the N.C. death penalty. In addition to recent cases like Mr. Holden's, I represent defendants who were sentenced to death in the 1990s, when N.C. juries returned 25 or 35 death verdicts a year.

Since then, new death sentences across the state, as in Wake, have dropped to near zero. There are many likely reasons for this decline: better legal representation, open file discovery, prosecutors being granted greater discretion over which cases to try capitally. But sitting in that Raleigh courtroom for nearly 2 months last year convinced me that the biggest factor driving the decline of the death penalty is the attitudes of the ordinary citizens sitting on juries. Quite simply, the culture has shifted away from death.

In the '90s, most jurors thought the death penalty was necessary for public safety. They doubted that a life sentence, with or without parole, was sufficient, and they were skeptical of mitigating evidence of mental illness or child abuse. Most presumed that execution was the fairest punishment for murder - death was the default; life required exceptional circumstances.

Many people in Wake County still support the death penalty in theory, but aside from that, their beliefs are the opposite of what we used to see. Almost all the jurors we talked to for the Holden trial accepted without question that life without parole is a brutal price to pay. In fact, several worried it was too severe. Most said they wanted to hear evidence about the defendant's mental health and childhood trauma. Many expressed concerns about the fairness of the death penalty, from questions of innocence to racial disparities. Almost nobody said they thought the death penalty was necessary.

From what we've seen in Wake over the past decade, my observations were not an
anomaly. Wake citizens have had nine opportunities to vote for death for defendants convicted of some shocking crimes: Samuel Cooper killed 5 men in 5 separate incidents; Jason Williford raped and bludgeoned state Board of Education member Kathy Taft; Nathan Holden shot three family members while his children cowered in a closet. All received life.

20 years ago, juries may well have sent these men to death row. I'm not sure what has changed jurors' minds. I know that in Nathan Holden's case, we worked hard to show the jury he was more than just a person who had committed murder. For many years, he was a loving father and a devoted husband. Growing up in a broken home, he made it his life's goal to keep his family together. When that dream fell apart, he reacted in a way that was completely out-of-character.

More and more, juries seem willing to listen to stories like these, willing to see the defendant sitting in front of them as fully human. And I suspect that makes it very hard to vote for death - even if they believe in the death penalty in principle. Maybe there are no "worst of the worst," just flawed human beings.

To get a death sentence, the prosecution must convince all 12 jurors to vote for death instead of life. Wake District Attorney Lorrin Freeman is the one making the choice to continue seeking the death penalty despite repeated unanimous verdicts for life. But she's not the one picking the juries. My guess is if she talked to Wake County residents about the death penalty, she'd realize that her office will probably never again find 12 jurors willing to sentence someone to death.

(source: Op-Ed; Elizabeth Hambourger is a staff attorney at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation----News & Observer)


Firing squads in South Carolina? Some say new bill complicates execution debate

A bill to allow executions by firing squad in South Carolina could complicate already divisive debate on the issue of executions, some lawmakers say.

Rep. Joshua Putnam, a Piedmont Republican, has filed a bill to allow the use of firing squads just as the Senate placed a pair of execution bills on its calendar that had been approved by the Senate Corrections and Penology Committee.

The Senate bill most likely to go forward, senators say, would require the use of the electric chair if lethal injection is not available. The other Senate bill would be designed to shield the identity of the source of lethal-injection drugs, though it could allow that identity to be disclosed if judges order that.

South Carolina has not executed anyone since 2011. Though officials say the reason is because of appeals, the state's prison system is currently unable to carry out an execution by lethal injection because its drugs have expired and drug companies have refused to sell more.

The state's primary method of execution is lethal injection though prisoners can choose the electric chair, also available.

Putnam told The Greenville News that he thinks his bill for firing squads, filed this week, is more humane and that he doesn't think the shield law will work because drug companies still refuse to sell their products for executions to other states that have such protections.

"A firing squad sounds barbaric - it sounds inhumane, I'm guessing," he said, "but if you look at the data, it paints a whole different picture."

No firing squads have botched the job, he said, unlike lethal injection or even electrocution. In fact, he said, the executed inmates do not suffer pain from firing squads.

"Even when lethal injection or electrocution go right, it takes a long time for that person to pass," he said. "With a firing squad, it's over in seconds. So I think if we want to be logical about it, I think you end up with the firing squad."

Others disagree, including Sen. William Timmons of Greenville, the author of the Senate's 2 bills.

"I think the methods of execution in South Carolina is a challenging discussion to have," he said. "And I think it's going to be challenging to have that in a timely manner."

Timmons said he is "highly confident" that his bill requiring the electric chair "would fix the problem" and that his shield law would fix "the loophole."

Sen. Brad Hutto, an Orangeburg Democrat and a member of the corrections committee, said he does not believe the firing squad bill will pass this year.

"Right now we're trying to carry out a bill that is on the books," he said. "If we get too far afield from that, it goes into a wider debate, which then engenders opposition which jeopardizes the bills we've got now."

While he said he is not necessarily an advocate of the death penalty, he believes lawmakers should focus on the two methods of execution already in the law.

"Given that it is the 2nd year of a 2-year session, I think it is unlikely (Putnam's bill) is going to find any traction," Hutto said.

According to the national Death Penalty Information Center, 3 states have firing squads on their books: Utah, Mississippi and Oklahoma, though none of the states uses it as a primary method of execution.

The last person executed by firing squad was killed in 2010 in Utah, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Putnam said he is not certain his bill will pass this year, given that it is the second of a two-year session. He said legislation concerning the failure of the nuclear-reactor project by Santee Cooper and South Carolina Electric & Gas Company "is sucking the air out of the room" for other legislation to be approved before lawmakers adjourn in May.

"I'm hoping we'll get some traction," he said. "I think adding more dialogue to this discussion will help get the other bills through. If you're going to have capital punishment, I think this is the best solution."

(source: Greenville News)


Florida Supreme Court denies death row inmate's gender dysphoria incompetency appeal

The Florida Supreme Court has denied the appeal of a death row inmate who claimed the mental health effects of undiagnosed gender dysphoria led to a series of major decisions in his trial.

Jeremiah Rodgers, 40, and his co-defendant, Jonathan Lawrence, 42, killed Julie Robinson in Santa Rosa County in 1998, cutting off and saving the victim's calf muscle. Rodgers was sentenced to death in 2000 and has remained on death row since.

In his appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, Rodgers claimed a new law that requires juries to unanimously recommend the death sentence should be applied retroactively to him. He further argued his gender dysphoria, which has for years gone undiagnosed, should lead to a review of his competency throughout his case's proceedings.

The American Psychiatric Association defines gender dysphoria as "a conflict between a person's physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify."

The Supreme Court ruled the new law doesn't apply to Rodgers' case because he waived his right to a penalty phase jury during resentencing, which means he didn't have a jury death sentence recommendation. The court said because the gender dysphoria wasn't introduced as a new piece of evidence but rather a reasoning to undermine his former actions, it didn't warrant a successful appeal.

State Attorney Bill Eddins said the case is important because the ruling sets the precedent that if a defendant waives the penalty phase jury, then they are not entitled to resentencing under the new law.

"We're pleased that the Florida Supreme Court has made that ruling and finalized this issue," he said.

Eddins said Rodgers didn't use an insanity defense, despite suffering several mental illnesses, and he said it's the state's opinion that the psychological testing done on Rodgers at the time of his court proceedings would've identified the gender dysphoria condition.

The Supreme Court opinion shows Rodgers has a long history of mental illness and lived through an abusive upbringing. The Supreme Court opinion documents sexual abuse from his mother beginning at age 3 and continuing through age 14.

Rodgers went through school in classrooms for severely emotionally disturbed children and had attempted suicide 5 times by age 13. He attempted self-castration at ages 14 and 18, the document states.

He had all 6 risk factors for mental illness and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, disassociative disorder, substance abuse in remission and borderline personality disorder. He spent much of his teenage years incarcerated with mental illness, according to court documents.

He met his co-defendant in a mental hospital in Chattahoochee, and Rodgers had previously testified that his co-defendant "appealed to (his) angry side," the opinion states.

Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente issued her own opinion following the primary ruling, saying she intended to "emphasize the troubling history of Rodgers' mental illness."

"The recent specific diagnosis of gender dysphoria, not raised as a newly discovered evidence claim, does not invalidate Rodgers' waivers. Therefore, I agree with the majority that Rodgers is not entitled to have his waivers set aside," Pariente wrote, and she went on to note the impact undiagnosed gender dysphoria could have on a person.

A psychologist's opinion, quoted in the Supreme Court opinion, argues that Rodgers' plea may have been influenced by his mental illness and his wish to die. Further, the American Civil Liberties Union suggested in the document that Rodgers may have waived the penalty phase in an effort to commit suicide by execution to treat the pain of the untreated condition.

Rodgers initially pleaded guilty as a principal to the first-degree murder, but then tried to withdraw that plea. He again pleaded guilty and waived his right to a guilt phase jury trial, and was sentenced to death on a vote of 9-3.

He was resentenced years later when the Florida Supreme Court remanded the case back to local court on the ruling that several factors about Rodgers' abusive childhood that may have swayed a jury's death penalty decision were excluded from testimony.

During that resentencing, Rodgers waived his right to a penalty phase jury, and didn't allow his attorneys to present mitigating evidence, other than his own testimony, and the court again imposed a sentence of death.

He sent letters to the defense counsel stating that his gender identity disorder was the driving force behind his desire to die, and he said he waived the right to a penalty phase jury while struggling with the effects of that untreated disorder.

Eddins said with the Supreme Court's ruling, every state court claim has now been ruled on and ruled against Rodgers, which means he should have no further matters in the local court.

(source: Pensacola News Journal)


Jury recommends death penalty for Young

A Colbert County jury today recommended Benjamin Young be put to death by lethal injection.

The jury on Wednesday convicted Young, 30, 502 Staunton Ave., Florence, of capital murder, as well as 1st-degree assault and shooting into an occupied vehicle.

He was convicted in the March 1, 2016, shooting death of Ki-Jana Freeman, 19, of Tuscumbia. Tyler Blythe, who was 17 at the time, was injured in the shooting.

The shooting took place while Freeman and Blythe were sitting in Freeman's car in the parking lot of Spring Creek Apartments in Tuscumbia.

If someone is found guilty of capital murder in Alabama, the jury recommends the sentence but the ultimate decision remains with the judge - in this case Presiding Colbert County Circuit Court Judge Hal Hughston Jr.

The 2 possible sentences for someone convicted of capital murder are the death penalty, or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

(source: timesdaily.com)

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