Day: May 30, 2012

ALABAMA – Expense and execution – Death-penalty cost issue resurges as state struggles

May 30, 2012 Source :

As many states look for ways to reduce spending, a battle is brewing between supporters and opponents of the death penalty.

Opponents contend states could save millions of dollars by abolishing the death penalty. Proponents argue the death penalty is needed to punish defendants convicted of heinous homicides, even when it means decades of paying attorneys to argue the merits of a death sentence and for housing an inmate, such as former Sheffield resident Tommy Arthur.

Assistant Attorney General Clay Crenshaw, chief of Alabama’s death penalty litigators, said he is unsure how much the state has spent attempting to carry out Arthur’s execution, which was first ordered in 1983.

“It’s been so long, I’m not sure if anyone knows how much the state has spent keeping Tommy Arthur on death row all these years,” Crenshaw said.

Arthur, 70, has been on death row for 29 years for the 1982 murder-for-hire killing of Muscle Shoals resident Troy Wicker. His conviction was overturned twice on technicalities. The state Supreme Court has set an execution date for Arthur five times only to have it halted when defense attorneys raised legal issues, most recently in March when they objected to Alabama’s use of the drug pentobarbital in executions.

Arthur continues to maintain his innocence.

Alabama Department of Corrections spokesman Brian Corbett said the agency does not keep tabs on the amount of money spent on legal fees for death row inmates, only the cost of housing them, which is now about $43 per day. He said the department does not separate the cost of housing inmates on death row from the expense of keeping them in other areas of a prison.

Alabama has 101 men and four women on death row. The average age of the death row inmates is 41 and they have been there an average of 11 years and 7 months, Corbett said.

Richard Deiter, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, said states typically do not keep track of the amount of money spent on a single inmate from the time they are sentenced to death until an execution takes place.

“There’s probably not anyone in Alabama who knows exactly how much money has been spent keeping Mr. Arthur on death row, but there is no doubt it has been very expensive,” Deiter said. “All states need to take a serious look at how much they are spending on death penalty cases and decide if it is money well spent.”

Crime victims groups and death penalty proponents contend the cost of capital punishment is offset by the value it provides in deterring homicides and punishing criminals convicted of the most heinous murders.

Deiter contends the money spent on executions should be used to prevent crime.

“The death penalty is not a deterrent to crime,” Deiter said. “Some of the states with the highest number of executions also have the highest homicide rates. Studies have shown it can cost more than $30 million to carry out an execution. Only one in 10 death penalty cases results in an execution and when you combine the legal fees for the appeals of all of those defendants, it makes that one execution very costly. That money could be better spent on hiring more police officers, installing better lighting in high-crime areas, providing education aimed at preventing crime and doing other things to make sure crimes do not happen.”

Miriam Shehane, executive director of Montgomery-based Victims of Crime and Leniency, disagrees.

“I don’t care how much it costs to execute someone, we need the death penalty,” she said. “The death penalty opponents want to argue that it is cruel and unusual punishment. My daughter was abducted, then raped for hours and shot repeatedly. Was that not cruel and unusual punishment? The punishment needs to fit the crimes and for some murders, the death penalty is the only appropriate punishment.”

Shehane’s daughter Quenette was kidnapped and killed in Birmingham in 1976.

Three men were convicted of her murder. One was executed, another was sentenced to life in prison without parole and the other sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

Lauderdale Circuit Court Judge Mike Jones said he never considers the potential cost of incarceration and future legal expenses when deciding if a defendant convicted of capital murder should be sentenced to death. He said that decision is based on the jury’s recommendation and the circumstances of the homicide.


When a defendant is convicted of capital murder in Alabama, the jury then hears additional evidence before recommending the death penalty or life in prison without parole as punishment. The judge is not obligated to follow the recommendation when imposing the punishment.

“We don’t need to put someone to death because it’s cheaper than keeping them in prison for the rest of their life,” she said. “At the same time, we shouldn’t not put someone to death because it might be more expensive than keeping them in prison. You don’t make a life or death decision based on economics.”

Jones has imposed the death penalty twice.

He sentenced David Dewayne Riley Jr. to death in 2007 for the 2005 shooting death of Florence package store clerk Scott Michael Kirtley. He sentenced Riley, 27, to death again in 2011 after the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals overturned his first conviction on a technicality. The jury at both trials recommended that Riley receive the death sentence for the execution-style shooting.

Jones said the possible cost of sending Riley to death row never crossed his mind before carrying out the recommendation of the juries.

“The Alabama Legislature may someday decide we can no longer afford to send people to death row,” Jones said. “That’s a decision they would have to make and until they do, I am going to continue to carry out the recommendations of juries who say someone deserves the death penalty when the circumstances of a murder warrant sending a defendant to death row.”

Political battle

Shehane said the Legislature will face a tough battle from her organization and other capital punishment proponents if it ever attempts to abolish the death penalty in Alabama as a way to save money.

Deiter said with the cost of defending death sentences in the appeals process and even the expense of purchasing the drugs used in executions increasing, some states might have to replace capital punishment with a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the hope of parole as a way to punish defendants convicted of the most brutal homicides.

“All states with the death penalty (will have) to decide if it is worth the expense when they are having to cut back in so many other areas, including courts and police,” Deiter said.

For Alabama, Shehane said, the money spent sending defendants convicted of capital murder to death row and carrying out their execution is worth the expense.


Top 10 states for number of inmates on death row as of Jan. 1:

  • California 703
  • Florida 402
  • Texas 312
  • Pennsylvania 211
  • Alabama 202
  • North Carolina 166
  • Ohio 151
  • Arizona 153
  • Georgia 99
  • Louisiana 89

Source: Death Penalty Information Center


Daily inmate maintenance costs in Alabama

  • 2000 $25.47
  • 2002 $26.07
  • 2004 $27,92
  • 2006 $36.67
  • 2008 $41.47
  • 2010 $42.30

Source: Alabama Department of Corrections


Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming.
Source: Death Penalty Information Center


State Total 2011 2012
Texas 482 14 5
Virginia 109 1 0
Oklahoma 99 2 3
Florida 73 2 2
Missouri 68 1 0
Alabama 55 6 0
Georgia 52 4 0
Ohio 47 5 1
North Carolina 43 0 0
South Carolina 43 1 0

Source: Death Penalty Information Center

TENNESSEE – Tenn. Supreme Court overturns death sentence – Hubert Sexton

May 30, 2012 Source :

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned a death sentence for a man convicted of murdering a Scott County couple in their bed and ordered that a new jury decide whether to execute him.

The state’s highest court cited numerous problems with both the evidence and sentencing phase of the murder trial of Hubert Glenn Sexton, including prosecutors making inappropriate statements to jurors and the admission of prejudicial evidence.

A Scott County jury convicted Sexton of two counts of first-degree murder for the May 2000 murders of Stanley and Terry Sue Goodman. The Goodmans were shot to death as they slept in their Huntsville home days after Sexton was accused of sexually abusing one of Stanley Goodman’s children.

In spite of the problems during the trial, the Supreme Court refused to overturn the murder convictions.

“Aside from the unfairly prejudicial nature of the inadmissible evidence and the inappropriate argument by the prosecution, however, the proof of guilt for each of the two murders was simply overwhelming,” the opinion, written by Justice Gary Wade, said. The court noted that the evidence included Sexton telling at least three of his friends that he had murdered the Goodmans.

The court said problems started even before the trial began when some people were improperly excluded as jurors. The court said jurors never should have heard allegations about the sexual abuse because Sexton had not been charged. The opinion noted that prosecutors could have elected to charge Sexton separately in the matter.

And the court said that jurors may have been prejudiced by hearing that Sexton initially agreed to take a polygraph but then changed his mind and refused. Prosecutors were also said to make inappropriate comments to jurors during opening statements and closing arguments.

PENNSYLVANIA – New trial requested for Fayette man on death row – James W. VanDivne

May 29, 2012 Source :

Attorneys for a Fayette County man on death row for the 2004 slaying of his former girlfriend say they have found witnesses who contradict the testimony of a key prosecution witness.

The discovery is just one reason James W. VanDivner deserves a new trial or sentencing hearing, according to a petition filed by his attorney, Brent Peck of Uniontown.

In 2007, VanDivner, 63, was found guilty of the July 5, 2004, shooting death of his former girlfriend, Michelle Cable, 41, outside her home in Grindstone. VanDivner also shot Cable’s teenage son, Billy, who survived a bullet wound to his spine.

VanDivner received the death penalty.

“That issue is phenomenal; the eight witnesses we interviewed who were there, who said (Jessica Cable) was not,” Peck said.

Jessica Cable, who is the victim’s daughter, testified at trial she saw VanDivner grab her mother’s hair, shoot her at close range and tell her, “There, you (expletive), I said I was going to kill you and smile and walk away,” according to Peck’s filing.

Peck and his wife, Mariah Balling-Peck, also an attorney, on Tuesday said they spoke with eight witnesses who indicated Jessica Cable was not present when her mother was shot.

The witnesses, none of whom were called to testify at trial, told the attorneys Jessica Cable arrived shortly after the shooting, according to the petition.

In addition, the Pecks said they found a retired school administrator who backs up earlier defense claims that VanDivner likely was diagnosed with mental retardation prior to age 18.

By law, such individuals cannot be sentenced to death, Brent Peck said.

VanDivner attended special-education classes while enrolled in the Frazier School District, according to the Pecks.

At trial, prosecutors said the placement resulted from behavioral issues, and was not based on tests for mental retardation.

Although the school has no records of any intelligence tests being given to VanDivner, Brent Peck said he has found a retired administrator who indicated only students with an IQ of 75 or less were placed in special-education classes.

Behavioral problems were not taken into consideration, according to the former administrator, Peck said.

“Their argument he was in special education because of behavioral issues was completely unfounded and completely off the wall,” Brent Peck said.

With the mental retardation threshold pegged at 70, plus or minus 5, VanDivner would have fallen into that category as a child, Brent Peck said.

A hearing has not yet been scheduled on the petition. VanDivner is on death row at the State Correctional Institution in Greene County.

In June 2010, former Gov. Ed Rendell had signed an execution warrant for VanDivner, but a stay was issued.

CALIFORNIA – Convicted killer hangs himself on California’s death row – James Lee Crummel

May 29, 2012

(Reuters) – A convicted killer sentenced to death for the 1979 murder of a 13-year-old boy has hanged himself on California’s death row, months before voters in the state are due to decide whether to abolish the death penalty, prison officials said on Tuesday.
James Lee Crummel, 68, was found hanging in his cell at San Quentin State Prison, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Sam Robinson said in a written statement.
Crummel, who had prior convictions for child molestation, was pronounced dead at 4:20 p.m. on Sunday. He was sentenced to death in 2004 for the 1979 kidnapping, sexual abuse and murder of 13-year-old Wilfred Trotter, Robinson said. Crummel had been housed on death row ever since.
The suicide comes ahead of a ballot measure in California in November in which voters will decide whether to repeal the death penalty in a state that is home to nearly a quarter of the nation’s death row inmates.
The ballot initiative focuses on the high cost of the death penalty in a state that has executed 13 people since capital punishment was reinstated in the nation in 1976. More than 720 inmates sit on death row pending lengthy and expensive appeals.
Crummel joins another 20 inmates who have committed suicide while on California’s death row. According to the corrections department, since capital punishment was reinstated in California in 1978, 57 condemned inmates in the state have died from natural causes and six died from other causes.
A federal judge halted all California executions in 2006 after ruling that the three-drug protocol that has been used for lethal injections carried the risk of causing the inmate too much pain and suffering before death.
California has since revised its protocol but an appeals court has blocked resumption of executions over the same objections.