Day: September 22, 2012

CALIFORNIA – Yes on Prop. 34; death penalty in state is broken

September 21, 2012

Proposition 34 on the Nov. 6 ballot would repeal the death penalty in California and replace it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

The Star recommends a yes vote.

The policy change would save the state and counties more than $1 billion during the next 10 years, and the savings would be larger in the future, according to the state’s independent, nonpartisan Legislative Analyst.

On an annual basis, the savings would start at around $100 million in each of the first few years and grow to roughly $130 million a year, the Legislative Analyst estimated. Also, Proposition 34 would provide a total of $100 million over the next four years for law enforcement agencies to investigate homicide and rape cases.

For the initiative to pass, it must be approved by a majority of voters. Californians on each side of the death-penalty debate hold strong opinions and understandably so.

The Star has traditionally opposed capital punishment believing that it is unevenly administered and disproportionately applied to minorities. DNA evidence, which has resulted in death-row inmates being exonerated, also proves that mistakes can be made.

In reality, few of those sentenced to death are executed. Since 1978, when the current death-penalty law was enacted, about 900 people have been sentenced to death in California. Fourteen of them were executed.

Six times as many — a total of 83 convicts — died before they could be executed.

Meanwhile, as of July, 725 criminals were in state prison with death sentences, at considerable cost to taxpayers. (If Proposition 34 passes, their sentences will change to life without possibility of parole.)

The costs include higher state and county expenses associated with death-penalty murder trials, heightened security procedures for death-row convicts, and mandatory and unavoidable court appeals that stretch over many years in most death-penalty cases.

Besides the enormous cost, the practical effect of these lengthy delays has been to reduce the death penalty in California to a myth. It exists in name only. The billions of taxpayer dollars spent over the past decades only kept a broken system limping along and preserved the illusion of capital punishment.

From The Star’s perspective, Proposition 34 offers a more practical alternative. If it passes, the worst felons would be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. They would be required to work in prison and make payments to victims of crime, though nothing can make up for a heinous crime — not cash payments, not life in prison, and not even execution.

But this way, at least there would be the certainty that heinous killers will die in prison, instead of making victims’ families suffer for decades in California’s grotesque charade about executions that probably won’t occur at all.

That’s the reality of the situation in California today. It’s time to admit this expensive system isn’t working. The Star recommends voting yes on Proposition 34.

Gary Lee Davis: Colorado’s last volunteer for the death penalty

September 21, 2012

This week’s feature, “The Happiest Man on Death Row,” delves into Colorado’s execution of Joe Arridy, a man with an IQ of 46, for a murder he almost certainly didn’t commit. It happened in the 1930s, when the state’s gas chamber was kept busy with a string of customers. But times are different now, and executions are a lot harder to come by in these parts.

Even though prosecutors are expected to seek the death penalty for accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes, Colorado has only managed one execution in more than forty years — and the subject, Gary Lee Davis, practically volunteered for the job.

What’s changed since the days of Joe Arridy that’s made it so difficult for the state to execute those convicted of capital crimes? Part of the answer has to do with a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions dating back to the early 1970s, which have redefined the notion of “cruel and unusual punishment” and greatly expanded the appeals process for condemned men and women nationwide.

But other states (notably Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and some other purveyors of southern justice) still have a functional death machine, while Colorado has gone a different direction. One reason for that is its juries; folks might talk about being in favor of lethal injection at a cocktail party, but prosecutors know those same people somehow freeze up in the jury box when asked to dispense the ultimate penalty. In the 1990s, the state tried to take the decision out of the hands of juries and leave it up to a three-judge panel, but that scheme was ultimately declared unconstitutional.

Another factor is Colorado’s public defender system — particularly its appellate division. It’s considered the gold standard among such systems across the country, relentless and well-financed and good at battling death-penalty cases, to the point that Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers has complained the defense bar in Colorado makes the death penalty “many times more expensive than it needs to be.”

With the deck stacked against actual executions being carried out without years of delay and millions in legal costs, it’s no wonder that no less an authority than Sister Helen Prejean describes Colorado as “not a serious killing state.” The only killing the state has managed in the past four decades is what Prejean calls the “consensual execution” of Gary Davis in 1997.

With the aid of his wife, Davis had committed a depraved and horrible crime — the 1986 kidnapping, rape and sexual assault of 32-year-old Virginia May. He admitted to committing as many as fifteen other rapes — though his bizarre stories about the sources of his rage and violence changed over time. Davis sabotaged his own defense and shortcut the appeals process, preferring lethal injection to a life spent in solitary confinement. Yet it still took more than a decade for him to pay for his crime.

During that time, another member of Colorado’s death row died of natural causes, cheating the executioner. And Nathan Dunlap arrived on death row for killing four people in a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Aurora in 1993.

Nearly twenty years later, Dunlap is still there. His appeals are just about exhausted. Not so the other condemned men in Colorado’s prison system, Sir Mario Owens and Robert Ray; the allegations of inadequate counsel, prosecution misconduct and other ethical quandaries surrounding their trials ought to give the courts a workout for years to come.

In short, it’s hard to get the death penalty in Colorado — and even harder to get a willing volunteer. Families hoping to see the death penalty imposed on the Aurora theater shooter may have to get used to the idea of seeing justice delayed not just years, but decades.

ARIZONA – Death-row inmate’s appeal rejected by federal court-Pete Carl Rogovich

September 21, 2012

A federal appeals court this week rejected multiple challenges by an Arizona death-row inmate to reduce his sentence for the 1992 murders of four people, including three who were killed in a Phoenix trailer-park “homicidal rampage.”

Pete Carl Rogovich, 46, confessed to the killings and other crimes when caught by police on March 15, 1992, after a lengthy car chase, according to court documents.

“I did it. I know it was wrong. I know I’ll burn in hell,” Rogovich reportedly told police.


He presented an insanity defense, but was convicted of all counts by an Arizona jury in a seven-day trial in May 1994.

In his latest round of appeals, Rogovich argued that his attorney at trial presented the insanity defense without his approval. He also claimed that his attorney failed to challenge prejudicial prosecution statements during closing arguments or to challenge the aggravating factors that led to the imposition of the death penalty.

But a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected those arguments Tuesday, saying there is no law “requiring the defendant to consent on the record to an insanity defense.” It also upheld lower-court rulings that Rogovich was adequately represented at trial.

“Of course we’re disappointed” by the decision, said Sarah Stone, Rogovich’s lawyer for his appeal. “He’s a seriously mentally ill person.”

She said there is no question that he committed the crimes, since he never denied his actions. “The question is whether the punishment (a death sentence) is appropriate,” she said.

“We think a life sentence is best for Mr. Rogovich, given his mental condition,” she said.

Prosecutors could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The case began on the morning of March 15, 1992, when a customer walked in to the Super Stop Market near Rogovich’s central Phoenix apartment at 8:45 and found clerk Tekleberhan Manna, 24, dead, shot once in the eye at close range. Nothing had been taken from the store, court documents said.

Rogovich, who had told an apartment maintenance worker that morning that he was angry with his girlfriend and would get even with her, left his apartment about 1 p.m. that day with a gun and began firing randomly. After shooting at two people in the parking lot and missing, he hopped the fence to a neighboring trailer park and began what courts described as a “homicidal rampage.”

Rogovich shot Phyllis Mancuso, 62, in the laundry room; Rebecca Carreon, 48, in her driveway; and Marie Pendergast, 83, in her trailer. All three women died as Rogovich ran off.

Some time later, he stole a radio station’s van at gunpoint from a promotional appearance at a restaurant. He was later seen at a convenience store in Goodyear, where he stole beer and cash before “casually” walking out and driving off in the van.

Goodyear police spotted him about 5 p.m. and caught Rogovich after a “lengthy chase at speeds ranging from 50 to over 100 miles per hour.”

Rogovich admitted to all the crimes, including all four killings, but said he was upset by the breakup with his girlfriend and the death of his stepfather six years earlier.

“Of course I’m sorry. It was wrong,” he said, according to the court. “I know it, but I just snapped. I was so angry. I just couldn’t stop.”

Despite his insanity defense he was convicted in 1994 of all charges: four murders, two aggravated assaults, two armed robberies and unlawful flight.

At his sentencing a year later, his attorneys presented evidence of an abusive childhood, mental illness and drug dependencies. But the court sentenced him to death for the trailer-park killings and life in prison for Manna’s death.

Stone said that Rogovich’s attorneys have not decided on the next step.

Ex-Death Row Inmate Says How He Really Feels About The Death Penalty – DAMIEN ECHOLS

September 21, 2012

One of the West Memphis Three — a trio of men convicted of murders they say they didn’t commit — is speaking out about his experience as an innocent man on death row.

Damien Echols took to Reddit Thursday to talk about getting out of prison after receiving the death penalty on the website’s popular Ask Me Anything threads. He tweeted verification from his personal Twitter account that it was actually him answering the questions.

He was of course asked how he feels about the death penalty, having narrowly escaped it.

“When I hear people talk about it, I always wonder if women who have had an abortion feel the same way whenever they hear people who have never had to go through it expressing their opinions on the matter,” Echols wrote. “It’s not as black and white or cut and dry as either side tries to portray it, but all in all I would have to say that I’m against it.”

But his most powerful answer came in response to a question about relationships between death row inmates.

There is “a sense of solidarity on death row that you don’t have anywhere else in the prison just because you have a common enemy,” Echols wrote on Reddit. “You don’t have time to fight amongst yourselves when you’re fighting against the people who are trying to put you to death.”