Feb. 23


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 explain.

"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 Perrywinkle

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 executed.

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.

(source: mypanhandle.com)


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 Thursday.

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 sentencing proceeding.

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 wrote.

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.

(source: metro.co.uk)

ALABAMA----execution postponed

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 was 32.

Of the 182, only 5 were women. The state classed 93 as black, 86 as white and 3 as "other."

Background on the case of Dole Lee Hamm:

Several groups wrote to Gov. Kay Ivey asking her to grant clemency for Hamm.

The slaying

According to court records, here's what happened the Saturday Cunningham was killed:

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 saw.

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 murder.

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.

(source: al.com)


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 vengeance.

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 punishment.

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 state.

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 executions.

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 again.

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 stance.

"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 killer

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 McCartney.

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 his head.

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 Jones.

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 parole.

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 program

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 state.

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 College.

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)

(source: thesubtimes.com)

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

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