April 11


Discovery halted in judge's lawsuit against Arkansas court

An Arkansas judge's efforts to obtain documents and testimony from the state Supreme Court on its decision to bar him from hearing any death penalty cases has been put on hold.

The high court asked for the delay until a federal judge decides whether to allow a lawsuit against the justices to proceed.

U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr. on Monday granted a request to temporarily stay discovery in Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen's lawsuit. That suit challenges justices' decision to bar him from any cases involving the death penalty.

Justices last year disqualified Griffen days after he was photographed strapped to a cot outside the governor's mansion during an anti-death penalty demonstration.

Justices asked Moody to halt discovery while he weighs their request to dismiss the lawsuit.

(source: Associated Press)


Death Penalty Sought In Gruesome Slaying Of Transgender Teen

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for 18-year-old Andrew Vrba, who has been implicated in the violent death of trans teenager Ally Steinfeld. The case garnered national attention because of the slaying's brutality: Steinfeld had been stabbed in the genitals and her eyes had been gouged out before her body was set on fire.

Steinfeld, who was 17 years old, was killed in September of 2017 near the small town of Cabool, Missouri. Vrba was charged with 1st-degree murder, abandonment of a corpse and armed criminal action, according to The Kansas City Star. Vrba has allegedly admitted to stabbing Steinfeld, telling police he bragged about the killing to friends.

Vrba is not the only one implicated in Steinfeld's murder.

1 female suspect, Isis Schauer, 18, has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, and has been sentenced to 20 years in prison, according to The Star. A third suspect, Briana Calderas, 24, awaits trial on 1st-degree murder charges. One last suspect has pleaded not guilty to abandonment of a corpse and tampering with physical evidence.

Vrba's attorneys have not offered a comment on prosecutors seeking the death penalty, according to NBC News.

Steinfeld's alleged murderers were not charged with hate crimes, sparking outcry from LGBTQ advocacy groups. County Sheriff James Sigman and prosecutor Parke Stevens Jr. have claimed the killing was not motivated by Steinfeld's gender identity.

"I would say murder in the 1st-degree is all that matters," Stevens told the Associated Press at the time. "That is a hate crime in itself."

LGBTQ groups continue to speak out against the court's decision pertaining to the hate crime status.

"The desecration of Steinfield's body is a direct correlation to the way trans bodies are spoken about - in so-called bathroom bills, in public transitions and in death," Audacia Ray, director of community organizing and public advocacy at the Anti-Violence Project, said to NBC News. "This is especially true for trans women, and trans feminine individuals, whose vulnerability to violence is amplified by misogyny."

Meanwhile, other LGBTQ groups are speaking out against the death penalty. The National Center for Transgender Equality, for example, has issued a statement saying it "does not support the death penalty."

"While investigating crimes against transgender people and holding individuals responsible is important, our vision of justice is not focused on 'tough' sentences but on confronting a climate of hate that too many of our leaders are promoting, and pursuing policies that value transgender people while they are alive," Harper Jean Tobin, the organization's director of policy, said in a statement sent to NBC News.

There have been at least 8 known transgender victims of homicide in the year 2018, according to data from the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group.

People who identify as transgender face considerable violence, according to HRC President Chad Griffin.

"The epidemic of violence against transgender people is an urgent crisis that demands the nation's immediate attention," said Griffin. "The unique and tragic stories featured in this report reflect the obstacles that many transgender Americans - especially trans women of color - face in their daily lives. It is crucial that we know these stories in order to combat the transphobia, misogyny and racism fueling this violence so that we can end this epidemic before it takes any more lives."

(source: oxygen.com)


Inmate's pardon request could delay execution

A pending clemency request might slow down Nebraska's effort to execute Carey Dean Moore.

But his application for a "full pardon" seems unlikely to cause more than a slight delay, considering 2 of the 3 members of the Nebraska Board of Pardons supported the restoration of capital punishment 2 years ago.

Until the pardon request is decided, however, Moore's execution can't take place.

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson last week asked the State Supreme Court to issue a death warrant for Moore, who killed 2 Omaha cabdrivers in 1979 and is the longest-serving inmate on death row.

Moore, however, had previously submitted a pardon application with the board, which consists of the governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state.

In a supplemental filing with the Supreme Court on Monday, Peterson said Moore's pardon application is expected to be decided within 10 days. A check of the Pardons Board website showed no pending meetings on the agenda, however.

A pardon, or commuting his sentence to a life term, seems highly unlikely. Gov. Pete Ricketts and Peterson are strong proponents of capital punishment who backed the voter referendum that overturned the Legislature's 2015 repeal of the death penalty.

Over the past 6 decades, the Pardons Board has commuted only 2 death sentences. The most recent was in 1964.

Moore's pardon request aside, it otherwise appears as if he is not actively trying to stop the execution. He has no appeals or post-conviction actions pending in the courts, and an official with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska indicated that Moore has decided to "stop fighting at this juncture."

Nonetheless, the ACLU has filed a legal challenge of the revised death penalty protocol the state adopted in 2017. The organization also has asked the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to investigate how Nebraska prison officials obtained the 4 drugs it intends to use to execute Moore and the other 10 men on death row.

The state plans to use a 4-drug combination that has never been used for a lethal injection. Nebraska last used the death penalty in 1997 when electrocution was the method.

Moore shot and killed Omaha cabdrivers Reuel Van Ness and Maynard Helgeland in summer 1979. Both men were 47-year-old fathers and military veterans.

Moore would later say he carried out the slayings to steal money for drugs and to prove to himself that he could commit murder.

(source: Omaha World-Herald)


New Mexico's only death row inmates fight death sentences

Today the state's highest court is expected to hear oral arguments in the cases of Robert Fry and Timothy Allen. The 2 are the only remaining death row inmates in New Mexico.

Attorneys for Fry and Allen are fighting against their client's death sentences saying the state has since abolished capital punishment.

In 2009, New Mexico repealed the death penalty and the argument is whether the death sentences given to Fry and Allen are now unconstitutional.

Robert Fry was convicted of killing a mother of five back in 2000 and killing three other people in the 90's.

Timothy Allen killed a 17-year-old girl in 1994 after kidnapping her and attempting to rape her.

(source: KOB news)


Lawyers plead for lives of last 2 death row prisoners

Lawyers for the last 2 men on New Mexico's death row told the state Supreme Court their sentences should be vacated because the state no longer believes in executing its worst criminals.

The lawyers on Tuesday argued that even if the justices determine that Robert Fry and Timothy Allen - both convicted before legislators repealed the death penalty in 2009 - are still subject to the law, the court should change the method it has used since the 1980s for determining if the penalty has been fairly applied.

Fry was sentenced to death in 2002 for the murder of 36-year-old Betty Lee of Shiprock. He's also serving life sentences for the 1996 killings of Farmington residents Joseph Fleming, 25, and Matthew Trecker, 18, and the 1998 murder of 41-year-old Donald Tsosie of Ganado, Ariz.

Allen has been on death row since 1995 for the kidnapping, attempted rape and murder Sandra Phillips, 17, of Flora Vista in San Juan County.

State law requires the Supreme Court to review all death penalty cases to determine if the sentence is "excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases."

The justices, who listened to arguments for 2 hours, did not immediately rule on whether the prisoners' lives would be spared. A decision could take months.

The current method for review calls for the court to compare only cases "under the same aggravating circumstances" as the one being reviewed; those in which the defendant was convicted and sentenced to death or life in prison; those upheld on appeal.

Fry's lawyer, Kathleen McGarry, argued that narrow scope unfairly skews the results of a comparative review.

It would be more fair, McGarry said, for the court to expand the "universe" of cases it considers for comparison purposes. She added the court should consider not just cases involving a similar crime, but those that involve comparable mitigating circumstances.

Doing that, she argued, would comply more fully with state statute which requires consideration of "both the crime and the defendant."

Assistant Attorney General Victoria Wilson argued there is no reason to change the methods adopted in 1983, saying if the legislature had believed the methodology for comparing cases was flawed, lawmakers would have raised the issue in intervening years.

Furthermore, she argued, the true test of whether the death penalty imposed in any particular case was "arbitrary or capricious" should be made by examining the facts of the case.

Wilson acknowledged, in response to a question from Justice Charles Daniels, that under the current narrow scope of comparisons, there had never been a determination the death penalty was being applied disproportionately.

More than 200 cases that could have resulted in a death penalty sentence were filed between the years of 1979 and 2009 when seeking the death penalty was an option for state prosecutors. But only 15 of those resulted in death sentences - and only 1 of those resulted in an execution.

Terry Clark was put to death in 2001 for the 1986 rape and murder of Dena Lynn Gore, a 9-year-old Artesia girl. But court documents often refer to Clark's execution as "voluntary" because he stopped fighting his execution before exhausting available appeals.

Lawyers for Fry and Allen argued in briefs to the Supreme Court that public opinion polls show the death penalty has steadily fallen out of favor with New Mexicans over the years.

During a 2016 special legislative session the state House of Representatives approved a bill backed by Gov. Susana Martinez which would have reinstated the death penalty for select cases. But the Senate never considered the measure.

If the court strikes down the death sentences, Fry and Allen likely would serve terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole. If the sentences are upheld, their cases could be stuck in the appeals process for years.

(source: Santa Fe New Mexican)


Life without parole is no moral alternative to the death penalty

On Feb. 23, for the 1st time since 2010, 3 Americans were scheduled for execution on the same day. Ultimately, 1 man received a last-minute death row commutation, and the botched, painful execution of another was halted and postponed. This drew the spectacle of the death penalty back into the spotlight, but the United States has moved away from the punishment, with just 39 people sentenced to death in 2017, down from 315 in 1996. Another sentence has silently taken its place: life imprisonment without parole.

Often regarded as a humane alternative to the death penalty, sentences of life without parole (also known as L.W.O.P.) have essentially the same result: slow aging behind bars and death in prison. The Sentencing Project reported in 2017 that about 53,000 Americans are serving this hopeless sentence that Pope Francis has called "a death penalty in disguise" -a number that has quadrupled since 1992.

Giving an imprisoned person the possibility of parole does not guarantee eventual freedom, but it does offer a glimmer of hope for redemption. Denying this hope is considered inhuman and degrading treatment by the European Court of Human Rights.

About 53,000 Americans are serving this hopeless sentence that Pope Francis has called "a death penalty in disguise."

In the United States, L.W.O.P. sentencing is biased and arbitrary. About 56 % of those with the sentence are black, an even greater overrepresentation than the number of black prisoners on death row. And are people inherently more dangerous in California, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania, the 5 states responsible for 58 % of life without parole sentences?

A study based on past exonerations, published by the National Academy of Sciences, estimates that 4 % of people on death row were wrongfully convicted. If that percentage holds for those with L.W.O.P. sentences, 2,000 people are dying in prison for crimes they did not commit. Innocent people serving life without parole are unlikely to have their convictions overturned, as they lack the state-funded legal support and unlimited appeals offered to those on death row.

When we permanently remove 53,000 people from society, countless others are left behind. Children, spouses, parents and loved ones face lifelong stress, trauma and financial strain as they work to maintain relationships that will never be the same again. People serving L.W.O.P sentences miss their children's weddings and their parents' funerals, and children grow up knowing they will never see their parent outside a prison visiting room.

Until recently, even children were routinely locked up for life. But in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that only "the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflects irreparable corruption" may receive the sentence. The U.S. Catholic bishops have called for an absolute ban on life sentences without parole for juveniles.

Banning the sentence for children is not enough. Americans and lawmakers across the political spectrum support reducing our prison populations by shortening sentences for nonviolent offenses. But just over 1/2 the people in state prisons are there for violent crimes. Rethinking their sentences is more difficult, but it is just as necessary for reform.

Public safety is important to consider, but so is the generational pain and damage caused by incarceration.

Incarceration serves 4 purposes: deterrence, incapacitation, retribution and rehabilitation. Life without parole is not necessary to serve any of these.

First, while potential criminals may be deterred by the threat of prison, studies show that extreme sentences like life without parole do little to prevent additional crime.

Prison sentences do incapacitate by physically removing potentially dangerous people from the community, but in this realm, too, life without parole is usually excessive. Research shows that even those who commit violent crimes mature out of lawbreaking by middle age, yet we bury people in prisons as they grow old, sick and frail. Public safety is important to consider, but so is the generational pain and damage caused by incarceration. In the words of Pope Francis, "To cage people...for the mere fact that if he is inside we are safe, this serves nothing. It does not help us."

As for retribution, that is a complicated factor. Violent crimes tear lives apart, and the desire for punishment is understandable. The pain of victims should never be dismissed or overlooked, and our criminal justice system should allow more opportunities for healing as a community. But as Catholics, we are called to show mercy.

That leaves rehabilitation. The U.S. Catholic bishops wrote in 2000 that "Abandoning the parole system, as some states have done...turns prisons into warehouses where inmates grow old, without hope, their lives wasted." And as Pope Francis said before the U.S. Congress in 2015, "A just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation."

For those opposed to the death penalty, a sentence of any length may sound like a better alternative. But locking people away and throwing away the key is not a moral solution.

(source: americanmagazine.com)

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

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