Ohio's string of death penalty mistakes casts doubt over capital punishment's
usefulness----After multiple mistakes in executing capital punishment, opinion
writer Tim Zelina argues it's time to leave the death penalty behind.
More than 100 countries have abolished the death penalty on the grounds it is
an excessively cruel punishment. In the United States, Ohio is one of 30 states
in the majority that still have not abolished the death penalty. However, only
6 of those 30 states have had an execution in the last 5 years, and only 11 in
the last decade. Some may say this is a good thing, but recent events have
shown the government should not be trusted to execute one of its own citizens.
In November of 2017, death row inmate Alva Campbell spent nearly 30 minutes
being pricked and prodded by health care personnel before the execution was
delayed as they could not locate a vein due to his illnesses. Campbell's lawyer
said his client was terrified during the ordeal. He died months later from poor
health after Gov. Kasich pardoned his execution.
In Campbell's case, we see a man who, though almost certainly guilty, still
underwent a very cruel form of accidental torture. Yes, this man is a monster
and it is hard to pity him, but our justice system should not be some form of
twisted vengeance. This is not how a civilized society conducts its justice.
There are no winners when a person dies a painful death.
An Ohio parole board stayed the execution last week of a man convicted on 2
counts of aggravated murder,after a new examination of the evidence cast into
doubt the certainty of the ruling.
The board uncovered a number of collaborating testimonies that challenged
whether William Montgomery was involved in an incident that has had him on
death row since he was 20 years old. While the comprehensive evidence does not
absolve Montgomery, it does cast enough doubt that "a punishment as severe as
death" is "excessive," according to the Board.
Montgomery's case is a stark reminder of the ability of our judicial system to
make mistakes. He is not the 1st potentially innocent person to be sentenced to
death by the a state.
In 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was executed for the murder of his 3 kids.
Years later, the Texas fire forensics team re-examined the evidence and
realized the details had been misinterpreted, and the fire had been accidental.
Willingham spent 12 years fighting off a wrongful charge of murdering his own
children, and did not live to see his name cleared. That is the most
nightmarish of scenarios that any of us could one day have to go through.
With even the smallest of chances that the courts could be wrong, which we have
seen is true and does happen, execution should simply not occur. Yes, an
innocent person could still be sent to prison, but there they can at least live
and lobby for their freedom. There is no restitution or liberation for a person
wrongfully killed. If wrongly executed, a person will not even know that their
name has been cleared.
It's difficult to find reason in keeping capital punishment. The death penalty
is ridiculously more expensive than life in prison, costing an average of $1.26
million, compared to the $700,000 of an average life sentence. There is very
little utility in the death penalty; most criminologists agree that there is no
evidence to suggest the death penalty deters crime, while the case above and
many others are proof it can backfire.
Ohio is best to leave this punishment in the past. We can achieve justice
without putting innocents at risk by abolishing this practice.
(source: Opinion, Tim Zelina, thenewpolitical.com)
Prosecutors undecided on whether to seek death penalty for Eric Boyd
Knox County prosecutors said they have not decided whether the state will seek
the death penalty for Eric Boyd - the long-suspected 5th perpetrator in the
horrific 2007 torture slayings of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom -
during his 1st court appearance Thursday.
Boyd, shackled and wearing a striped inmate jumpsuit, did not enter a plea to
newly unsealed charges of kidnapping, rape and murder at his arraignment in
Knox County Criminal Court.
Judge Bob McGee appointed lawyer Clinton Frazier to represent Boyd. McGee set a
tentative trial date for Sept. 10. A status hearing is scheduled for June 6.
(source: Chattanooga Times Free Press)
Prosecutors seek death penalty in violent murder of Missouri transgender
teen----Andrew Vrba is accused of repeatedly stabbing 17-year-old Ally
Steinfeld and burning her body to dispose of evidence
Prosecutors in Missouri are seeking the death penalty for the chief suspect in
the murder of a transgender teenager, reports Fox News.
Andrew Vrba, 18, has been charged with 1st-degree murder in the death of
17-year-old Ally Steinfeld. Prosecutors claim Vrba carried out the murder with
the help of 18-year-old Isis Schauer and 24-year-old Briana Calderas, whom
Steinfeld had been dating shortly after coming out as transgender, and was
living with at the time of her death.
Schauer was sentenced to 20 years for second-degree murder, while Calderas
awaits trial on 1st-degree murder charges. But it is Vrba, thought to be the
leader of the trio, for whom prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
A 4th youth, 25-year-old James Grigsby, faces charges of abandonment of a
corpse and tampering with physical evidence for allegedly helping the others
cover up Steinfeld's death. He has pleaded not guilty.
According to prosecutors, Vrba told police he originally attempted to poison
Steinfeld, but resorted to stabbing her after she would not drink the liquid.
After he stabbed Steinfeld multiple times, gouging out her eyes and stabbing
her in the genitals, Calderas and Schauer helped him burn Steinfeld's body.
They placed her remains in a plastic bag, and, with Grigsby's help, hid them in
a chicken coop.
Steinfeld's remains were eventually discovered in Cabool, Mo., close to the
trailer where she and Calderas had been living. Texas County Sheriff James
Sigman and prosecutor Park Stevens, Jr., have insisted the crime was not
motivated by Steinfeld's gender identity, which is why Stevens did not pursue
hate crime enhancements that could have lead to harsher penalties for those
convicted of Steinfeld's murder.
Steinfeld was one of 28 transgender people killed in the United States in 2017,
making it the most violent year on record. It continues a disturbing trend in
which transgender people are being increasingly becoming targets for violence.
Documentary on historic Iowa prison to air Sunday
A new documentary about the oldest prison west of the Mississippi River will
have its TV premiere at 8 p.m. Sunday on WQPT, the Quad-Cities PBS station.
Humanities Iowa partnered with Washington, D.C.-based filmmaker Dan Manatt on
the hourlong film, "The Fort: 177 Years of Crime & Punishment at the Iowa State
Penitentiary," which had its theatrical premiere in Fort Madison, 96 miles
south of Davenport on the Mississippi River, last October and is now available
The Iowa State Penitentiary, nicknamed "The Fort," was founded in 1839. At the
time of its closing in 2015, it was the oldest prison west of the Mississippi
River. It was replaced by a new $175 million, 800-bed prison north of Fort
"The documentary focuses on 2 aspects - its history, and the transition from
the old penitentiary to the new - how inmates and the staff dealt with that,"
Mr. Manatt, 49, said this week, noting production concluded with an August 2016
visit to the new facility. A little more than 500 inmates were moved in Aug. 1,
2015, he said.
The film's interviewees include Jack Nutter, who entered the prison in 1956
when he was only 18 and is one of the longest-serving inmates in the country;
Nick Ludwick, the warden from 2010 to 2017; and Edward Love, who works in the
prison's hospice program, among others. The hospice program is one of the 1st
of its kind in the U.S.
Mr. Nutter is the 5th-longest-serving offender in the U.S. and the
longest-serving in Iowa history. He's serving a life sentence for killing an
Independence, Iowa, police officer in 1956.
He originally was sentenced to death by hanging, but his sentence was changed
to life in prison by then-Gov. Robert Ray, and in 1965, the Iowa Legislature
abolished the death penalty in the state.
Victor Feguer was the last inmate executed by hanging at the Fort - of 46 total
- in March 1963, after murdering a doctor, Mr. Manatt said.The documentary does
have some images of executions, but nothing gruesome, he noted.
"There is serious dialogue and has been legislation introduced to reinstate the
death penalty," he said, noting Iowa has been a national leader in
criminal-justice reform for much of its history.
Clips of the interview with Mr. Nutter are spread throughout the film, and at
on point, during a discussion of the large number of lifers at the prison, he
said: "If they had let me out soon after, I would have never done anything
Another offender serving a life sentence, Edward Love, said, "If judges spent 6
months behind these bars, behind these walls, before they sit on that bench,
they would think twice about how much time they give a person."
Mr. Manatt has been a documentary filmmaker for 10 years. His previous films
include "The Republic of Baseball: The First MLB Superstars and Civil Rights
Heroes" and "Whiskey Cookers: The True History of the Templeton Rye
Bootleggers," which won Best Documentary at the Iowa Independent Film Festival
in 2014 and was shown on WQPT in 2016.
Humanities Iowa hired him to write and direct "The Fort," he said, noting the
agency provided a grant for "Whiskey Cookers."
"The real credit for the film belongs to Humanities Iowa and (executive
director) Chris Rossi," Mr. Manatt said.
October's premiere of the documentary coincided with semi-regular public tours
of the old prison. The next round of tours will take place April 14-15, Mr.
"The tours are part of a fundraising effort to have a historic-preservation
study done to turn it into some sort of tourist attraction," he said of the
For more information, visit thefort.film.
OKLAHOMA----new death sentence
Oklahoma man sentenced to death for beating death of toddler
A 25-year-old Oklahoma man convicted in the beating death of his
ex-girlfriend's 2-year-old son has been sentenced to death.
Dustin Melvin Davison was convicted of 1st-degree murder last month in the May
18, 2015, beating death of Kreedin Paul Brooks.
An Oklahoma County jury recommended Davison receive the death penalty, and a
judge Thursday ordered that Davison be put to death. Davison's death sentence
is subject to automatic appeal.
The child suffered a skull fracture, brain bleeding, a broken jawbone and
nearly 50 bruises below the neck. Jurors found that the child's death was
especially heinous, atrocious or cruel and that Davison would be a continuing
threat to society.
Defense attorneys argued that the death penalty was "inappropriate" for the
case, saying Davison wasn't in the right state of mind.
(source: KFOR news)
Death Sentences Are Down. Jeff Sessions Has a Plan to Change That.----A capital
punishment measure under Jeff Sessions could make it easier for states like
Texas and Arizona to put people to death, even those who are wrongfully
We know that America has executed innocent men. Carlos DeLuna was innocent of
murder when he was put to death by lethal injection in 1989. Cameron Todd
Willingham was innocent of murder when he was given a lethal-drug cocktail in
2004. Both men were executed in the Huntsville Unit of the state penitentiary
in Texas, one of the most prolific death penalty states in our country, because
they both were unfairly prosecuted, convicted and sentenced - and because no
appellate judge mustered up the courage and integrity to right the monstrous
wrongs their cases represented.
Now, Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to make capital procedures in states
like Texas both easier and faster for prosecutors and the families of some
victims. At the moment, Sessions is coordinating with state officials in Austin
to make it even less likely that wrongful conviction cases will be identified
and remedied before innocent men are put to death. Sessions, the former senator
of another death penalty state with a rich history of wrongful capital
convictions (Alabama), has quietly encouraged officials in Texas and Arizona to
move forward with their requests to "opt-in" to the provisions of a Clinton-era
law that expedites capital appeals.
The federal law in play is the dubious Antiterrorism and Effective Death
Penalty Act, or AEDPA, passed by a bipartisan Congress in 1996 after the
Oklahoma City bombing. The act was designed to be many different things to many
different constituencies, expanding the reach of federal terrorism law. It
sharply restricted the rights of prisoners to challenge their convictions, in
capital cases and beyond, to the delight of prosecutors and the families of
violent crime victims. It was designed, lawmakers said at the time, to shut
down "frivolous" death penalty appeals, leaving to federal judges to define
what "frivolous" means in any given case.
At the time of its passing, the law included an "opt-in" provision that allowed
states to ask federal judges for permission to further restrict the appellate
rights of capital defendants. States looking to further sacrifice accuracy for
expediency in capital cases could "opt-in" if they could "certify" to the
satisfaction of those judges that they had adequate procedures in place to
ensure that indigent defendants would receive competent lawyers who were
adequately paid and could proficiently investigate the circumstances of a
particular case. Many states tried to sign up. All failed to pass the statutory
A decade later, with no successful "opt-ins," Congress again intervened to put
its thumb on the scales of justice, once again in the context of anti-terrorism
legislation. During a Bush-era reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, federal
lawmakers took away from the judiciary the power to decide "opt-ins" and gave
that power to the U.S. attorney general and the Justice Department. The idea
was simple: the nation's chief law enforcement official, likely a former
prosecutor, was far more likely to sign off on new restrictions for capital
defendants than were the nation's judges.
After nearly 10 years of legal wrangling that spanned 3 administrations and at
least 3 attorneys general, Texas and Arizona emerged with still-viable (if
outdated) applications requesting certification for the "opt-in" provision.
Last year, the Trump administration moved on it. Sessions, who believes we
should execute drug dealers, invited officials in those 2 states to update
their applications. The message couldn't be clearer: help us help you expedite
The National Registry of Exonerations, the clearing house for such data, tells
us that 11 men who were sentenced to death in Texas between 1977 to 2005
ultimately were exonerated between 1989 to 2015. The Death Penalty Information
Center, which also tracks this, puts that number at 13. And that's just those
exonerated. The number of men who have left the state's death row alive, for
one reason or another, is about 250, according to a review of state statistics
by Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information
None of the changes for states like Texas and Arizona will make it more likely
that the results of capital punishment cases will be more accurate. All of the
changes will benefit prosecutors at the expense of defendants - men like
Anthony Graves and Alfred Brown, 2 recent exonerates who surely would have been
executed were the new restrictions in place during their lengthy appeals. Not
to mention people like Bobby Moore, the intellectually disabled man who surely
would have been put to death under the state's deplorable "Of Mice and Men"
test for determining such disability, a test the Supreme Court rejected last
If applied in Texas, the "opt-in" could end ongoing appeals for some capital
defendants and dramatically limit the time available to lawyers in other cases
to investigate post-conviction claims of innocence. It would restrict the
ability of judges to grant stays of execution in certain circumstances. It
would place limits on the time available for the federal courts to resolve
capital appeals emanating from the state, and would put enormous pressure on
state attorneys to more quickly process the cases they have. The measure would
put enormous practical stress on a capital system in a state that has already
proven, decade after decade, to be incapable of processing death penalty cases
in a uniformly accurate and just way.
As of today, Texas' request is pending with the attorney general, alongside
dozens of responses opposing the application. You can read through them here.
(Read the one by Judge Davis if you read any). Capital experts, former judges,
defense attorneys and others all essentially argue the same thing: Texas isn't
remotely close to getting it right when it comes to capital representation. No
one knows when the Justice Department will act, but it likely won't be long.
One federal lawsuit is already pending and another, at least, is guaranteed if
Sessions tries to cut Texas loose. The latter lawsuit will claim that this
application of the AEDPA violates both the constitutional rights of capital
defendants and separation-of-powers principles.
This is not just about whether the executive and legislative branches can push
around the federal judiciary by forcing judges into arbitrary deadlines in
death penalty cases. What???s at stake here is one of the bedrock principles
that has governed capital punishment since the Supreme Court returned it to the
states in 1976: the idea that no state may impose arbitrary and capricious
rules in capital cases. This is a life and death matter, with 1 terrifying
adjective before the latter: arbitrary.
(source: Rolling Stone)
Plenty of conservatives really do believe women should be executed for having
"I would totally go with treating it like any other crime, up to and including
That's how Kevin Williamson, very briefly a columnist at the Atlantic,
articulated his views on the proper punishment for women who get abortions in a
September 2014 episode of his National Review podcast.
The Atlantic had already come in for some criticism for hiring Williamson; he
tweeted in 2014 that "the law should treat abortion like any other homicide"
and added that hanging was an appropriate penalty.
Williamson's defenders had tried to spin the tweet as a one-off aberration, an
offhand comment for which the columnist should get a pass, or even a "2nd
chance." New York Times op-ed columnist Bret Stephens wrote, for instance, that
Williamson's critics "show bad faith when they treat an angry tweet or a
flippant turn of phrase as proof of moral incorrigibility."
Feminists and other reproductive rights advocates were, rightly, outraged. When
a pundit tweets that he supports the death penalty for abortion, why not
believe him? Why assume he was just being "flippant"? The surfacing of the
podcast brought the debate to a head. Williamson was fired on Thursday, with
Atlantic editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg forced to conclude that his new hire
did, in fact, believe what he said he believed. "The language he used in this
podcast - and in my conversations with him in recent days - made it clear that
the original tweet did, in fact, represent his carefully considered views,"
Goldberg reportedly said in a letter to staff.
Williamson will not be able to use the platform of the Atlantic to expand on
his views on abortion and hanging. But that doesn't mean his basic argument -
that women should be punished for having abortions - is going away. In fact,
Williamson's statements were never the kind of fluke his defenders claimed.
They were statements of a real policy agenda, one shared by some abortion
opponents - and one that may be gaining more power in an administration that's
been overwhelmingly supportive of anti-abortion goals.
"For heaven's sake, it was a tweet"
After the Atlantic announced on March 22 the hiring of Williamson, a former
writer for National Review, critics took issue with a number of his past
statements. In addition to the abortion comments, he has compared a black child
to a "primate," called trans actress Laverne Cox "an effigy of a woman," and
accused Bernie Sanders of leading a "national-socialist movement," as Jordan
Weissman notes at Slate.
Goldberg defended his decision to hire Williamson in an internal memo to
Atlantic staffers, writing that he would "prefer, all things being equal, to
give people 2nd chances and the opportunity to change."
"I've done this before in reference to extreme tweeting (3rd chances, too, on
occasion), and I hope to continue this practice," he continued.
Meanwhile, Stephens, the Times columnist, argued that a single mention of
hanging as a penalty for abortion wasn't enough to get worked up over. "I
jumped at your abortion comment, but for heaven's sake, it was a tweet," he
wrote in a column framed as an open letter to Williamson. "When you write a
whole book on the need to execute the tens of millions of American women who've
had abortions, then I'll worry."
"Let he who is without a bad tweet, a crap sentence or even a deplorable
opinion cast the first stone," Stephens added.
Hanging women for having an abortion isn't a random idea. It's a real policy
The podcast comments, highlighted by Media Matters on Wednesday, make it a
little harder to dismiss Williamson's position on abortion as a single bad
tweet. What's more, calling for women to be severely punished for getting
abortions is not merely "a flippant turn of phrase." It's an actual policy
recommendation, endorsed by prominent political figures.
In March 2016, Donald Trump said in an interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews
that "there has to be some form of punishment" for women who get abortions. His
campaign later issued a statement reversing that position, which stated that in
the event of a state or federal abortion ban, "the doctor or any other person
performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not
Trump has never been particularly consistent on the subject of abortion, and
his response to Matthews seemed at the time like the ill-considered reply of
someone who hasn't thought much about the issue. But his willingness to support
punishment for women terminating pregnancies feels significant at a time when
multiple state lawmakers are advocating just that.
More recently, Bob Nonini, a state senator from Idaho and candidate for
lieutenant governor in the state, said during a candidate forum on Monday that
"there should be no abortion and anyone who has an abortion should pay." When
asked if he supported the death penalty for abortion, he nodded, and he
confirmed that position in a later interview with the Associated Press.
He appeared to reverse his position a day later, saying in a statement that
"prosecutions have always been focused on the abortionist."
"There is no way a woman would go to jail let alone face the death penalty. The
statute alone, the threat of prosecution, would dramatically reduce abortion.
That is my goal."
However, others in Idaho have brought up the idea of prosecuting women,
according to the AP. The group Abolish Abortion Idaho is backing a ballot
initiative that would charge both women and doctors with 1st-degree murder in
the case of an abortion. Idaho state Sen. Dan Foreman tried to introduce
similar legislation last year, but it never got a hearing.
More mainstream anti-abortion groups have generally avoided calls to punish
women for getting abortions, instead often casting women as victims whose lives
are harmed by the act of ending a pregnancy. However, the Trump
administration's reproductive health policy, which has included an embrace of
anti-abortion groups and individuals as well as the appointments of many
federal judges considered friendly to the anti-abortion cause, may have
emboldened state lawmakers and others to push more punitive legislation.
A bill introduced in Ohio in March would ban all abortions and allow criminal
charges against doctors as well as patients who get the procedure. The bill
would categorize an abortion as a homicide, meaning doctors and patients could
get life in prison or the death penalty, according to NPR. Williamson may be
gone from the Atlantic, but the point of view he espoused is alive and well.
Now, as when he was hired, suggesting that women be punished for getting
abortions is not an idle speculation or flippant joke. It's an all-too-real
proposal being floated in multiple states, and one that had the support, at
least at one point, of the man who is now our president. That's something no
one should forget, no matter what Williamson does next.
ABC's 'The Last Defence' shines light on death row----ABC's 7-episode
documentary series 'The Last Defence' opens with an hour-long episode on
Jones's legal battle as lawyers race against the clock to get him a new trial
before his execution date is set.
Julius Jones, an African American former high school honor student and star
college athlete, was 21 when he was convicted of murder by a predominantly
white jury and sentenced to death.
Now 37, Jones's fight to overturn the ruling following what his lawyers
describe as "pervasive and highly racialized pre-trial media coverage" is the
subject of a new ABC show on death row.
Jones was convicted in April 2002 of shooting dead 45-year-old father-of-two
Paul Howell, an Edmond, Oklahoma insurance executive, on July 28, 1999. The
victim's car was stolen after he was shot in the head at point blank range.
ABC's 7-episode documentary series "The Last Defence" opens with an hour-long
episode on Jones's legal battle as lawyers race against the clock to get him a
new trial before his execution date is set.
Executive produced by Oscar, Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress Viola Davis
with her husband Julius Tennon, the 7-episode show aims to expose flaws in the
American justice system through in-depth examinations of multiple death row
The series, which debuts the Jones episode at the Tribeca Film Festival on
April 27, returns to the scene of the crime in each case, re-interviewing
witnesses and delving beyond the details of the court proceedings.
The idea, said a spokeswoman for ABC, was to take "a deep look into the
personal stories of the subjects, seeking to trace the path that led them to
their place on death row."
"With incisive, compelling storytelling, 'The Last Defence' gives voice to
those who can no longer be heard," she added.
'Deserved to die'
Jones has always maintained that his co-defendant Christopher O. Jordan fired
the gun, but Jordan testified against Jones in exchange for a 30-year to life
sentence and was released in 2014.
Prosecutor Sandra Elliott told jurors during her opening statement in the 2002
trial that Jones and Jordan were looking for a sport utility vehicle with keys
because they thought they could sell it for $5,000.
"Paul Howell was murdered simply because he had a car they wanted," Elliott
The Denver-based 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals let the death sentence stand
in 2014, rejecting Jones's claim that his attorney was ineffective for failing
to seek evidence that someone else had committed the crime.
1 of 3 appellate judges who upheld his sentence, Jerome Holmes, had written a
newspaper opinion piece in 2002 while he was still a federal prosecutor,
stating that Jones "deserved to die."
Jones, a former University of Oklahoma freshman on a "presidential leadership"
scholarship, was refused a review of the appeal rejection in 2016 by the US
Oklahoma's attorney general at the time, Scott Pruitt - now the controversial
head of the Environmental Protection Agency - had submitted that Jones's
attorneys had failed to demonstrate the judge's personal bias or prejudice.
Then potentially explosive new evidence emerged in a 2017 report from The
Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission highlighting systemic flaws in the
state's capital sentencing, prompting a fresh petition from Jones's legal team,
which argues that his sentence is unconstitutional.
Jones's attorneys also note that no physical evidence connected him to the
scene of the shooting, the murder weapon or the stolen car.
'White victim effect'
A study appended to the report stated that defendants accused and convicted of
killing white victims were nearly 2 times more likely to receive a death
sentence than if the victim was non-white.
"Not only does this study illustrate that Julius faced a greater risk of
execution by the mere happenstance that the victim who he was accused and
convicted of killing was white," attorneys for Jones contend, "but we also
argue that race operated invidiously throughout Julius's case from the very
A study published in 2015 in the North Carolina Law Review in 2016 by Catherine
Grosso and Barbara O'Brien, associate law professors at Michigan State
University, came to a similar conclusion.
"The white victim effect was the clearest and strongest finding in this study
analysis," Grosso says.
"Race still matters in the criminal justice system, and it shouldn't."
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals rejected Jones's petition, however, and
he is now asking the US Supreme Court to review that decision and to direct the
lower court to give Jones's constitutional claims consideration before
rubber-stamping his execution.
Amanda Bass, a federal public defender working on the case, said in a statement
to the City Sentinel local newspaper last year that the decision was "another
example of how that court puts form over substance even in cases where a human
life hangs in the balance".
(source: Agence France-Presse)
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