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
Justices asked Moody to halt discovery while he weighs their request to dismiss
(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
"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
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."
Inmate's pardon request could delay execution
A pending clemency request might slow down Nebraska's effort to execute Carey
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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