Governor Abbott commutes death sentence of Thomas Bartlett Whitaker
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Thursday that he has commuted the death
sentence of Thomas Bartlett Whitaker.
Whitaker was set to be executed Thursday night for the 2003 murders of his
mother and brother in their Sugar Land home.
He admitted to running a murder-for-hire plot to have them killed in order to
collect inheritance money. A gunman also shot Whitaker as an attempt to cover
up his involvement. His father, Kent Whitaker, was also shot but survived.
Thomas "Bart" Whitaker attended Baylor University for several semesters.
Baylor's Assistant Vice President for Media Communications Lori Fogleman said
Whitaker was a Baylor student from the fall semester of 1998 to the spring of
2001. He did not graduate.
Kent Whitaker was instrumental in getting his son's case before the Texas Board
of Pardons and Paroles which on Wednesday unanimously recommended that Governor
Abbott commute Whitaker's sentence from death to life in prison.
Gov. Greg Abbott released the following statement:
"As a former trial court judge, Texas Supreme Court Justice and Attorney
General involved in prosecuting some of the most notorious criminals in Texas,
I have the utmost regard for the role that juries and judges play in our legal
system. The role of the Governor is not to second-guess the court process or
re-evaluate the law and evidence. Instead, the Governor's role under the
Constitution is distinct from the judicial function. The Governor's role is to
consider recommendations by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and view
matters through a lens broader than the facts and law applied to a single case.
That is particularly important in death penalty cases.
"In just over three years as Governor, I have allowed 30 executions. I have not
granted a commutation of a death sentence until now, for reasons I here
"The murders of Mr. Whitaker's mother and brother are reprehensible. The crime
deserves severe punishment for the criminals who killed them. The
recommendation of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and my action on it,
ensures Mr. Whitaker will never be released from prison.
"The decision of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles is supported by the
totality of circumstances in this case. The person who fired the gun that
killed the victims did not receive the death penalty, but Mr. Whitaker, who did
not fire the gun, did get the death penalty. That factor alone may not warrant
commutation for someone like Mr. Whitaker who recruited others to commit
murder. Additional factors make the decision more complex.
"Mr. Whitaker's father, who survived the attempt on his life, passionately
opposes the execution of his son. Mr. Whitaker's father insists that he would
be victimized again if the state put to death his last remaining immediate
family member. Also, Mr. Whitaker voluntarily and forever waived any and all
claims to parole in exchange for a commutation of his sentence from death to
life without the possibility of parole. Moreover, the Texas Board of Pardons
and Paroles unanimously voted for commutation. The totality of these factors
warrants a commutation of Mr. Whitaker's death sentence to life in prison
without the possibility of parole. Mr. Whitaker must spend the remainder of his
life behind bars as punishment for this heinous crime."
(source: KXXV news)
Executions under Greg Abbott, Jan. 21, 2015-present----30
Executions in Texas: Dec. 7, 1982----present-----548
Abbott#--------scheduled execution date-----name------------Tx. #
31----------Mar. 27----------------Rosendo Rodriguez III--549
32----------Apr. 25----------------Erick Davila-----------550
33----------May 16-----------------Juan Castillo----------551
(sources: TDCJ & Rick Halperin)
FLORIDA----new death sentence
Jury recommends death for man who raped, killed Florida girl Cherish
Jurors who took less than 15 minutes to convict a Florida man last week of
abducting, raping and killing an 8-year-old girl have now decided he should be
The Jacksonville jury voted unanimously Thursday after about 2 hours of
discussion that 62-year-old Donald Smith should receive the death penalty. If
just 1 of the 12 jurors had voted against execution, Smith would have instead
faced life in prison.
During a 2-day sentencing phase, experts testified that Smith is a psychopath
who lacks control over his impulses. Doctors also described Smith as callous,
uncaring, manipulative and lacking empathy.
Smith was convicted last week in the 2013 death of Cherish Perrywinkle, who was
abducted from a Walmart store in Jacksonville after he befriended her mother.
In tearful testimony during his trial, Rayne Perrywinkle said she thought Smith
was a good Samaritan because he had offered to buy her children clothing.
Multiple jurors were crying as they announced their recommendation, and Rayne
Perrywinkle sobbed, WJAX's Bridgette Matter reported via Twitter.
(source: CBS News)
2 Death Row Inmates May Get Life
In Walton County, 2 criminals accused of murder and originally sentenced to
death, might get a chance to live. Recently, the Florida Supreme Court ruled,
juries must unanimously recommend the death penalty.
Barry Trynell Davis, Junior, received a death sentence for a double homicide in
Walton County of John Hughes and Heidi Rhodes in 2015.
At the death penalty phase, the jury's votes was not unanimous sending this
case back before Judge Kelvin Wells.
In a separate case, Thomas Ford McCoy appeared before Judge Wells today for a
status conference. In April of 2009, McCoy was sentenced to death by lethal
injection for the 1st degree premeditated murder, of Curtis Brown. The previous
vote was not unanimous.
Both cases are set for a pre-trial on June 21st.
Justices throw out Samurai sword killer's death sentence
A death row inmate accused of using a samurai sword in the 1991 murder of a man
in a Daytona Beach motel room should be resentenced because a jury was not
unanimous in recommending the death penalty, the Florida Supreme Court ruled
The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the 1st-degree murder conviction of James
Guzman, now 53, who was arrested in the slaying of David Colvin. But justices
vacated the death sentence and sent the case back to circuit court for a new
The ruling, like numerous others in recent months, was rooted in a 2016 U.S.
Supreme Court opinion in a case known as Hurst v. Florida and a subsequent
Florida Supreme Court decision.
The 2016 U.S. Supreme Court opinion found Florida's death-penalty sentencing
system was unconstitutional because it gave too much authority to judges,
instead of juries. The subsequent Florida Supreme Court decision said juries
must unanimously agree on critical findings before judges can impose death
sentences and must unanimously recommend the death penalty.
In Guzman's case, the jury recommended the death penalty in an 11-1 vote.
Guzman was accused of fatally stabbing Colvin as part of a robbery. A twisted
and bent samurai sword was found in the motel room. While no blood or
fingerprints were found on the sword, a medical examiner testified that the
sword was consistent with the wounds suffered by Colvin, according to the
Supreme Court ruling.
(source: Daytona Beach News-Journal)
Ex-death row inmate gets life without parole
A former death row inmate convicted of murder has taken a plea deal sentencing
him to life without parole.
The Pensacola News Journal reports 48-year-old Robert Hobart has been on death
row since 2012 for the 2010 slaying of Robert Hamm and Tracie Tolbert. But the
U.S. Supreme Court ruled Florida's death penalty unconstitutional and now
requires juries recommending the death penalty be unanimous.
Hobart was sentenced to death by a 7-5 jury vote, and the retroactive
requirement allowed him a new jury trial. Hobart opted for a plea deal in court
Tuesday, avoiding potentially being sentenced to death again. He also waived
his right make any post-convictions claims once the sentence is finalized.
(source: Associated Press)
Death row inmate Eric Scott Branch screamed 'murderers' as he was put to death
A Florida inmate convicted of raping and killing a college student decades ago
screamed and yelled 'murderers!' 3 times, thrashing on a stretcher as he was
being put to death.
The governor's office said Eric Scott Branch, 47, was pronounced dead at 7.05pm
on Thursday after receiving a lethal injection at Florida State Prison. Branch
was convicted of the 1993 rape and fatal beating of University of West Florida
student Susan Morris, 21, whose naked body was found buried in a shallow grave
near a nature trail.
Just as officials were administering the lethal drugs that included a powerful
sedative, Branch thrashed about on his stretcher and then yelled 'murderers!
murderers! murderers' before falling silent.
Moments earlier, he had addressed the prison officers in the room saying that,
instead of them carrying out the death sentence, it should have been governor
Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi.
'Let them come down here and do it. I've learned that you're good people and
this is not what you should be doing,' Branch told the officers.
Outside the prison, Herman Lindsey a former death row inmate who was exonerated
in 2009, was part of a group protesting the death penalty.
'There's no way to guarantee we're not killing innocent people,' he said.
Evidence in the case shows that Branch approached Ms Morris after she left a
night class on January 11, 1993, so he could steal her red Toyota and return to
his home state of Indiana. He was arrested while travelling there.
In denying one of Branch's appeals, the Florida Supreme Court noted that the
crime was particularly brutal.
"She had been beaten, stomped, sexually assaulted and strangled. She bore
numerous bruises and lacerations, both eyes were swollen shut,' the justices
Branch also was convicted of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl in Indiana
and of another sexual assault in Panama City, Florida, that took place just 10
days before the fatal attack on Morris, court records show.
The jury in his murder case recommended the death penalty by a 10-2 vote under
Florida's old capital punishment system, which was ruled unconstitutional by
the US Supreme Court in 2016.
The high court said juries must reach a unanimous recommendation for death and
judges cannot overrule that and Florida legislators subsequently changed the
system to comply.
One of Branch's final appeals to the US Supreme Court involved whether he
deserved a new sentencing hearing because of that jury's 10-2 vote in his 1994
trial. The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that the new system of sentencing
does not apply to inmates sentenced to death before 2002.
Branch claimed in a last-minute appeal that the Florida court's decisions on
which inmates get new sentencing hearings and which do not is unfair and
arbitrary. In court documents, Branch's lawyers say this prohibits about 150
Florida death-row inmates from having their sentences reviewed.
The US Supreme Court, without comment, rejected that appeal on Thursday and one
other which Branch's attorneys had filed.
Execution of Alabama inmate Doyle Lee Hamm called off
Doyle Lee Hamm survived his date with the executioner Thursday, as Alabama was
unable to begin the procedure before the death warrant expired at midnight.
It was after 11:30 p.m. when word came that the execution had been called off.
Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said medical personnel
had advised officials that there wasn't enough time to ensure that the
execution could be conducted in a humane manner. However, Dunn declined to
detail the exact medical factors behind the decision, and said he didn't want
to characterize them as a problem.
Hamm, 61, was convicted of killing Cullman hotel clerk Patrick Cunningham in
January 1987. Recent appeals in his case involved the question of whether
cancer had left him healthy enough to be executed without excessive suffering.
His advocates had argued that his veins were in such bad shape that it wouldn't
be possible for the state to carry out its lethal injection protocol cleanly.
1 of Hamm's attorneys, Bernard Harcourt, was among those waiting outside death
row at Holman Correctional Facility near Atmore. Afterward, via Twitter, he
speculated that "they probably couldn't find a vein and had been poking him for
over 2 1/2 hours."
Dunn avoided any detailed description of the actions taken by prison medical
personnel between 9 p.m., when a temporary stay was lifted, and about 11:15
p.m., when they recommended the execution not proceed. He said only that they
felt they would be unable to have Hamm ready by midnight. The state's protocol
"has a lot of moving parts," Dunn said.
The commissioner said that Hamm had been returned to a holding cell and would
receive another medical exam in the morning, which he described as standard
procedure. For another execution attempt to proceed, the state's Supreme Court
would have to assign a new date.
Asked if the issues that had thwarted Thursday's attempt would be likely to
prevent another, Dunn said, "I wouldn't necessarily characterize what we had
tonight as a problem. I don't have any indication at this point that that in
fact is the case. The only indication I have is that in their medical judgement
it was more of a time issue, given the late hour."
Thursday night's execution originally was set for 6 p.m. A temporary stay from
the U.S. Supreme Court was lifted at about 9 p.m., leaving the state clear to
proceed. But from that point, things moved slowly. It was 10 p.m. before media
observers and other witnesses were transferred to Holman Correctional Facility.
Once on site, they were kept in vehicles outside the actual death row
facilities. Such waits are not unusual, but this one lasted well over an hour.
Shortly before 11:30 p.m., Department of Corrections officials and guards could
be seen conferring, though it was not immediately clear what was happening.
There's a recent precedent for late executions: That of Tommy Arthur, in May
2017, began only a few minutes before midnight, the time when Alabama's death
warrants expire. Arthur's time of death actually was after midnight, but the
warrants only specify that the process must begin before midnight.
Shortly after 11:30 p.m., officials began to ferry witnesses away from the
prison. Reporters were told the execution had been called off because there was
insufficient time to prepare.
Harcourt, now a professor of law at Columbia University, has represented Hamm
since 1990. Among other efforts, he worked to illustrate extenuating factors in
Hamm's life and alleged flaws in the prosecution.
A 2016 New Yorker article drew on Harcourt's research for a chilling summary of
Hamm's early life: "Hamm grew up in northwest Alabama, the 10th of 12 children;
his father worked as a carpenter and cotton picker, made his own moonshine,
drank every day, beat his children with a switch, and was a frequent resident
of the county jail (on charges of public drunkenness). Hamm's sister later
described their childhood home as 'constant hell all the time.' She also
recalled their father telling the children, 'If you don't go out and steal,
then you're not a Hamm.' Growing up, Hamm flunked 1st grade, drank beer and
whiskey mixed together, graduated to sniffing glue several times a day, quit
school in the 9th grade, ingested Valium and Percocet and Quaaludes, watched
his 6 older brothers all go to jail, and eventually acquired his own extensive
rap sheet, including arrests for burglary, assault, and grand larceny."
Despite Harcourt's prolonged efforts, which have been the subject of criticism
from at least one judge and the Alabama attorney general's office, in 2016 the
U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case. In December, the Alabama Supreme
Court set a date for his execution.
By then Hamm had received partial treatment for cancer first diagnosed in 2014.
The Alabama Attorney General's office has argued that the cancer is in
remission. Hamm's supporters have said there are signs that it has returned and
has caused his health to deteriorate to the point where his veins can't sustain
the lethal injection process.
In 2018, the case bounced back and forth between Judge Karon O. Bowdre, U.S.
Chief District Judge for the Northern District of Alabama, and the 11th Circuit
Court of Appeals. In late January Bowdre granted a stay. The appeals court
ruled she had gone too far in basing the stay on "a substantial likelihood of
success" with an appeal. The correct standard, it said, was that a "significant
possibility of success on the merits" was needed for a stay.
On Tuesday, Bowdre issued an order saying the execution could proceed, provided
the state used veins in Hamm's lower extremities and did not attempt to use
veins in his arms. Harcourt appealed that ruling; on Thursday, the 11th Circuit
Court of Appeals upheld Bowdre's order.
"We conclude that the district court (Bowdre) did not abuse its discretion when
it ruled that Hamm cannot show a significant likelihood that execution by
intravenous injection would violate his Eighth Amendment rights," the 11th
Circuit stated in its ruling to affirm Bowdre's order. "Hamm has 2 peripheral
veins accessible for a lethal injection, and his central veins are likewise
accessible for a lethal injection. Finally, the conditions rendering the
central veins accessible in Hamm's case--the availability of ultrasound
equipment and an advanced practitioner--exist here."
Thursday afternoon, Harcourt again asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the
case and to grant a stay. The Alabama attorney general's office filed a
response asking the court to reject that request, saying an independent medical
examiner's report showed that, contrary to claims made on Hamm's behalf, the
veins in his legs were suitable and his medical condition presented no
obstacles to execution in "a constitutional fashion."
Hamm was 1 of 3 men scheduled to die Thursday evening in the U.S. At about 5:30
p.m., The Associated Press reported that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had spared the
life of Thomas "Bart" Whitaker, commuting his sentence to life without parole.
Less than an hour later, it confirmed that Florida had executed Eric Scott
Branch shortly after 7 p.m. Eastern time.
In between those 2 developments, word reached Atmore that the U.S. Supreme
Court had issued a temporary stay in Hamm's case, putting the execution. The
stay was lifted about 3 hours later, shortly before 9 p.m., with the Supreme
Court deciding not to intervene.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the decision to
lift the stay and to avoid a review of the case. Justice Stephen Breyer's
position was that he would prefer to reconsider the constitutionality of the
death penalty itself rather than develop a "constitutional jurisprudence that
focuses upon the special circumstances of the aged," but respected the majority
decision to lift the stay.
According to information on the Alabama Department of Corrections website, as
of Thursday afternoon the state had 182 inmates on death row. Their average age
Of the 182, only 5 were women. The state classed 93 as black, 86 as white and 3
Background on the case of Dole Lee Hamm:
Several groups wrote to Gov. Kay Ivey asking her to grant clemency for Hamm.
According to court records, here's what happened the Saturday Cunningham was
At approximately 10:30 p.m., a woman who was traveling from Florida stopped at
Anderson's Motel to rent a room. While at the front counter, the woman saw a
white male enter the lobby and ask Cunningham about a room for 3. Cunningham
told the man he needed to have a reservation, and the man left.
As she was leaving the lobby minutes later, the man came back with another
white man. Cunningham told the woman, "[It] looks like there is going to be
trouble," and he quickly pointed her to her room.
When the woman walked outside and got back in her car, she looked back inside
the lobby and saw the 2nd man pointing a "shiny-looking revolver" at the
reception desk where Cunningham had been standing. She saw the first man
standing near the door and a "banged up" car parked just outside.
She quickly drove to a phone booth and called police, telling the dispatcher
the motel was being robbed. She met police at the scene, and described what she
Cunningham's body was found on the floor behind the reception desk. He had been
shot in the head with a .38-caliber pistol. Evidence showed Cunningham was
lying on the floor when he was shot in the temple, from a distance of
approximately 18 inches. Police also said the victim's wallet -- which his
wife said had about $60 -- and the motel cash drawer -- which should have had
over $350 -- was missing.
After his arrest, Hamm denied any involvement in the killing. Court records
show the day after he was arrested, however, Hamm admitted to the robbery and
He did not testify at either his trial or sentencing, and his 2 co-defendants
received lesser charges for testifying against him.
His execution date was set in December by the Alabama Supreme Court.
In the courts
Earlier this month, Bowdre issued a stay of execution after a hearing with
attorneys from both parties. Days later, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals
granted the state's emergency motion to vacate Hamm's stay. The appeals court
ordered Bowdre to appoint an independent medical examiner to evaluate Hamm's
condition. That evaluation was done Feb. 15, and the results were revealed in
Bowdre's order Tuesday.
The medical evaluation showed the veins in Hamm's arms and hands are hard to
access, but veins in his legs and feet should be easily accessible for the DOC
to insert the catheter needed for the execution drugs. Bowdre stated in her
order the state agreed to only use drugs in Hamm's lower extremities.
According to information discussed in hearings and through court records, Hamm
was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and underwent treatment. The DOC said Hamm's
cancer went into remission in March 2016, and no scans from an oncologist have
been performed since. In spring 2017, Hamm complained of lumps on his chest and
abdomen area. An X-ray was performed, but no PET scans or biopsies were
completed. Earlier this month, doctors said there was no evidence of cancer in
his clavicle, but they did not have a definitive answer about the other lumps.
Hamm's longtime attorney, Columbia law professor Bernard Harcourt, has said
Hamm's cancer and subsequent treatments have made his veins inaccessible and
unable to handle the catheter. He has referenced affidavits from Department of
Corrections nurses who say they have had to "stick" Hamm several times before
being able to draw blood.
Assistant AG Thomas Govan argued in court that there is no evidence Hamm's
veins are significantly smaller or more difficult to access than they were
several years ago. He also said, even if Hamm's chest and abdomen lumps are
cancerous, they would not affect his veins.
Following Bowdre's order about the state's agreement to use only lower veins,
Harcourt filed a petition to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals
court ordered the state to provide affidavits from those who will be involved
in Thursday's execution to guarantee the IV procedure agreement, and the state
provided one from the prison's warden.
Because of a federal court decision requiring an inmate to suggest an
alternative method of execution, Harcourt has said Hamm should be killed via
oral injection. The AG's office argued its drug protocol, which includes the
sedative midazolam, cannot be used for oral injections.
Alabama Senate votes to allow execution by nitrogen gas
Alabama has moved closer to approving the use of nitrogen gas in executions - a
method so far untested in the United States.
The Alabama Senate approved a bill Thursday that permits execution by nitrogen
hypoxia if lethal injection drugs are unavailable or are ruled
unconstitutional. State Sen. Trip Pittman said Alabama needs an alternative as
lethal injection face legal challenges.
The Death Penalty Information Center says no state has used nitrogen gas in an
execution, although Oklahoma and Mississippi have voted to authorize the use of
the gas as a back-up.
Senators approved the bill just hours before the scheduled execution of a death
row inmate by lethal injection.
(source: Associated Press)
SLC Diocese urges Utah Catholics to support death penalty repeal
The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City urged their followers to support HB 379,
a bill that would repeal the death penalty in Utah.
"Pope Francis has called all Catholics to promote the culture of life by
specifically working to end the use of the death penalty," the Diocese tweeted.
The Diocese concludes the tweet by urging followers to contact state
representatives about supporting the bill.
The tweet includes a quote from Pope Francis:
The death penalty is an offense against the inviolability of life and the
dignity of the human person, which contradicts God's plan for man and society,
and his merciful justice, and impedes the penalty from fulfilling any just
objective. It does not render justice to the victims, but rather fosters
Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and Republican Rep. Gage Froerer are locked in
an uphill battle to persuade the GOP-controlled Legislature to end capital
A similar ban came close to passing only 2 years ago.
(source: KUTV news)
Are Utahns ready to ditch the death penalty?
If you don't think the times are a-changin', to quote reluctant Nobel Prize
winner Bob Dylan, consider that Utah's speaker of the House, Greg Hughes, a
self-described "staunch conservative," wants to end the death penalty in the
That is, he wants to end it in the state that famously led the charge to bring
it back in the United States in 1977 by executing Gary Gilmore.
Politics may go in cycles, but if this succeeds it would rival any up-and-down
Lagoon could offer.
On Tuesday, Hughes announced his support for HB379, a bill sponsored by Rep.
Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, that would end capital punishment in Utah for all
but the nine people currently on death row.
The bill made it out of a House committee Wednesday morning, 7-4, after a
fairly predictable hearing.
It featured a woman whose sister was murdered and who described capital
punishment, with its lengthy appeals, as something that "causes more harm than
good to those of us left behind" as it keeps families from moving on.
It also featured a man who described the killers of his grandmother and aunt as
people justice should not allow to live.
Others spoke about how awful murderers are, that a life sentence does not keep
people from appealing endlessly and that supporters of the bill seemed to be
treating killers with more compassion than their victims.
All of which completely misses the point of this new conservative
anti-death-penalty wave, which is showing up in many states.
The new concerns are philosophical and in line with the sort of thinking that
got Donald Trump elected. Simply put, the question isn't so much whether
murderers deserve to die, it is whether we trust government to arrest and
convict the right people, and whether a corrupt government that screws up a lot
of things should have the power to kill people.
Or, to quote the Boston Globe in a story 4 years ago about this movement, the
argument has become, "People who share a deep worry about government overreach,
who believe in the sanctity of life, and who place great importance on fiscal
responsibility should not support a policy that empowers the state to spend
large sums of money killing people."
Froerer, the bill's sponsor and a strong opponent of abortion, said, "I don't
think it's the government's right to take life. Let's be pro-life from
firstborn to the existing people that we have in our society. You're either
pro-life, in my opinion, or you're not."
Both he and Hughes said they are recent converts to this sort of thinking.
2 questions now hang in the air. The 1st is whether Wednesday's committee
victory can translate into wins in the full House and Senate and the governor's
office. The 2nd is whether regular Utahns would go along.
The 2 questions are not unrelated, and they're not easily answered.
A Dan Jones & Associates poll commissioned by Utahpolicy.com in 2016 found 52
percent of Utah adults favoring the death penalty. If that seems low, it is not
out of line with the rest of the nation. Few things seem to teeter and totter
more through the years than how Americans feel about state-sanctioned
When Utah executed Gilmore, a Gallup poll found support for capital punishment
in the mid-60th percentile nationwide, up significantly from just 49 % in 1971.
Gallup recorded 68 % support for it in 1953, 42 % in 1966, and 80 % in
tough-on-crime 1994, when Republicans took control of Congress. In 2017, it
found only 55 % support, the lowest level since 1972.
Perhaps the conservative arguments are subtle proof that the extremes of
conservative and liberal thought, taken to their logical conclusions,
eventually circle around to meet each other near the same place. Or perhaps
they are a momentary flash that will fade when the cycle swings the other way
Hughes is a powerful force in the House, but he has announced he won't seek
re-election. Even though people speculate he may run for governor, his
departure lends some urgency to this issue. If it doesn't pass this year, it
may not find as powerful a champion again for a long time.
(source: Deseret News)
The death penalty is an undue burden on Utah taxpayers
A report finds that the real cost of seeking the death penalty is $20 million
per death sentence.
In June 2016, the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice created a
working group to study Utah's death penalty. I was honored to be able to serve
on this committee alongside dedicated professionals from the Utah Attorney
General's Office, county district attorney's offices, the Utah Board of
Probation and Parole, Utah Crime Victims' Legal Clinic and others.
We were tasked with examining specific components of our state's death penalty,
one of them being the relative financial cost of seeking the death penalty as
compared with having a maximum sentence of life in prison without possibility
of parole. This study confirmed what past Utah studies have demonstrated -
Utah's death penalty is far more expensive than life imprisonment.
The commission's report first reviews a 2012 Utah study which estimated that
the cost of one death penalty case from trial to execution (compared with a
case of life without parole in which the death penalty was never on the table)
cost taxpayers an additional $1,660,900. But that was just the tip of the
iceberg. The report goes on to note that when you take into account the
additional costs incurred in all 165 aggravated murder cases in which death was
on the table during the period of study (1997-2016), then the cost soared to
about $40 million, with only 2 of the cases resulting in death sentences. Thus,
the real cost of seeking the death penalty is $20 million per death sentence.
Many might wonder how the death penalty, which theoretically prevents years of
prison housing costs, could be so much more expensive than life imprisonment.
The answer is found in examining the difference in the legal process when death
is on the table. The U.S. Supreme Court has mandated that with capital cases,
additional safeguards must be in place, which result in additional expenses
before trial, during trial and on appeal. These extra expenses begin mounting
as soon as each death-eligible case is filed and continue until and unless the
state affirmatively takes death off the table.
These costs can't be curtailed. Every state that has studied the issue has
shown its death penalty system is far more expensive than having an ultimate
punishment of life without parole. Utah is no different. Our report analyzed
studies from over a dozen different states and concludes: "While methodologies
vary across states, these studies share a unity in finding an increased cost
associated with seeking the death penalty." Every time, the death penalty is
far more expensive.
In sum, not only is Utah's death penalty system far more expensive than
previously understood, it is also grossly ineffective in accomplishing its
stated goal of achieving death sentences. The stark reality is that every
million dollars spent keeping our death penalty on the books is a million
dollars that can't go to more effective crime prevention measures, or to
improving our schools or even to be left alone in taxpayers' bank accounts.
This is one of the issues that policymakers should take into account in
evaluating the continued desirability and feasibility of maintaining the death
penalty in Utah.
(source: Op-Ed; Ralph Dellapiana is a member of the Utah Commission on Criminal
and Juvenile Justice death penalty working group, as well as the director of
Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty----Deseret News)
Legislature members discuss the death penalty
Both republicans and democrats joined together at Friday's legislative session
in an attempt to repeal the death penalty.
Although it failed, sponsors of the bill say doing so could have saved Wyoming
as much as $725,000.
But despite the appeal of budget savings, it was moral concerns that ended up
swaying majority of house members.
Wyoming has not executed any criminals since 1992. And sponsors of the bill say
it is costing too much money to see and hear appeals of those convicted and
facing death row. And they argue it would be more cost effective to just
sentence that person to life in prison
Although lethal injection is generally a controversial divisive topic between
the 2 parties, some republicans in the house are acknowledging their changing
"The republican party stands on a platform of pro-life and that's one of the
reasons why I'm on this, "Rep. Landon Brown said. "We cannot sit there and
fight for the unborn if we're not fighting for those that have a living
heartbeat here on earth as well."
(source: KGWN news)
More time for death-penalty decision in case of Deputy McCartney's alleged
Prosecutors got more time Wednesday to decide whether to seek the death penalty
against the man accused of killing Pierce County sheriff's deputy Daniel
The extension, which was requested by Frank Pawul's defense attorneys and
granted by Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend, wasn't opposed by the state.
And it wasn't unexpected.
It gives prosecutors until June 6 to make their decision.
"It is normal practice for most prosecutors to provide more than the 30 days
allowed by statute and the period of time is often extended well past the
statutorily allowed time to allow defense counsel to make a cogent argument why
death should not be sought," defense attorney Mary Kay High wrote the court.
"... By asking for additional time for the mitigation package it should benefit
both the defendant to provide salient information for the state's consideration
and the state in making its weighty decision."
High wrote that, among other things, Pawul's attorneys need time for interviews
and to get records that might help them argue against seeking capital
punishment in the case.
State law initially gave prosecutors 30 days from Pawul's Feb. 6 arraignment on
a charge of aggravated 1st-degree murder to decide.
They accuse 32-year-old Pawul of firing the bullet that killed McCartney after
the deputy responded Jan. 7 to a home invasion at a mobile home in the
Frederickson area allegedly well-known for drugs.
Investigators said Pawul and 35-year-old Henry Carden tried to rob the
residents at gunpoint.
1 of the victims called 911, according to charging papers. As they fled, the
robbers exchanged gunfire with deputy McCartney moments after he arrived.
Back-up deputies arrived and found McCartney with a gunshot wound to his neck.
He died later at a hospital.
They also found Carden dead at the scene with a self-inflicted bullet wound to
Pawul was later arrested and charged, as were 2 women accused of dropping the
men off at the scene: 52-year-old Brenda Troyer and 29-year-old Samantha Dawn
All 2 pleaded not guilty to 1st-degree murder and 1st-degree kidnapping, and
Pawul also has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit 1st-degree robbery
and unlawful gun possession.
Prosecutors upped his charges to aggravated 1st-degree murder earlier this
month after they got new ballistics evidence.
The Sheriff's Department said test results show the bullet that killed
McCartney was fired by a gun found about 175 feet from the deputy, along a path
of items they say can be linked to Pawul.
If convicted of the aggravated murder charge, Pawul must be sentenced to life
in prison without parole or to death.
Washington state has not executed prisoners sentenced to death in recent years.
Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, put a moratorium on capital punishment in
2014, which means it can't be carried out while he's in office.
There's also a bill working its way through the state legislature that would
get rid of the death penalty altogether and replace it with life without
McCartney, who was 34, is survived by a wife and 3 young sons.
(source: KIRO news)
Bates: Death penalty bill the focus of KBTC TV's Northwest Now public affairs
As of February 2018, there are 8 people on Washington's death row at Walla
Walla State Prison. In 2014, Governor Jay Inslee placed a moratorium on the
state's death penalty program, and now there's a bill that's gaining momentum
in the state legislature that could abolish the death penalty forever in our
Bates Technical College logoIn this edition of KBTC's Northwest Now, we sit
down with a former death row inmate who was exonerated of a 1980s-era murder
that he did not commit. How many other innocent people are on death row
throughout our country?
Also, what about victims and their families? Will abolishing the death penalty
remove justice for them? We'll hear from Steve Strachan, head of the Washington
Sheriffs and Police Chiefs Association, who disapproves of removing the death
penalty from our state's justice system.
When to watch:
The Emmy and Telly Award-winning public affairs series Northwest Now airs
Fridays at 7:30 p.m. on KBTC Public Television, a service of Bates Technical
Use the list below to find us on TV. You can also watch past episodes and learn
more about the show on our website.
KBTC 28.1, 28.2, 28.3 digital channels, (including K41KT-D Grays River-Lebam
and K24IC-D, Bellingham and Channel 16 Digital, Seattle)
KCKA 15.1, 15.2, 15.3 digital channels
Comcast channel 108 (HD, most areas in Western Washington)
Comcast channel 12 (most areas - in Tacoma, Comcast channel 3)
Click! (Tacoma) channel 3 Rainier Connect channel 10
Broadstripe channel 28 (varies by area)
Verizon FiOS channel 28
Frontier Cable: 528 (HD), 28 (SD), and 474 (MHz Worldview)
Dish channel 28 (may appear as 8620)
A service courtesy of Washburn University School of Law www.washburnlaw.edu
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