April 6


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.

(source: metroweekly.com)


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 on DVD.

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 Madison.

"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 wrong again."

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. Manatt said.

"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 1839 prison.

For more information, visit thefort.film.

(source: qconline.com)

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 convicted.

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 test.

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 these cases.

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 Center.

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 March.

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 abortions

"I would totally go with treating it like any other crime, up to and including hanging."

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 proposal.

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 the woman."

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.

(source: vox.com)


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 cases.

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 said.

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 Supreme Court.

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 earliest stages".

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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