Day: September 25, 2012

Lon Allan: Panels to debate death penalty

September 25,2012

All my life, I have favored the death penalty. I have always believed it deters crime, that execution is cheaper than life sentences for our most dangerous criminals and that the timely application of the death penalty offers relief and a sense of justice served to victims’ families.

I continue to hold to the above frame of mind, but discussions lately regarding doing away with the death penalty have me questioning the practice. Proposition 34 on the upcoming November ballot is asking Californians to put an end to the death penalty.

A friend of mine who is a member of the Yes on Prop. 34 Committee sent me some information on the subject along with the dates of two seminars coming up very soon dealing with the issue.

The first panel presentation will be held Sunday at 7 p.m. at Oak Creek Commons, 635 Nicklaus Ave. in Paso Robles. Guest panelists include Jay Adams, Ph.D., clinical psychologist with 10 years at the California Men’s Colony; The Rev. Lyle Grosjean, a death penalty opponent/activist for 50 years; Jaimee Karroll, a survivor of a violent crime and now a teacher at San Quentin; and Tom Parker, former deputy chief agent for the Los Angeles region of the FBI. I got to know and respect the Rev. Grosjean when he served as pastor of the local Episcopal Church many years ago.

There will be an opportunity to ask questions at this event.

The next night, Monday, there will be a panel discussion in the Chumash Auditorium at Cal Poly at 7 p.m. In addition to the Rev. Grosjean, Adams, Parker and Karroll, this panel will include Lesley Becker, graduating senior of Poly’s social science department, and Chris Bickel, professor of sociology at Cal Poly.

I’m interested in learning more about the whole subject. Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno is quoted in material I received from the Yes on Prop. 34 folks as saying, “I have inquired for most of my adult life about studies that might show that the death penalty is a deterrent. And I have not seen any research that would substantiate that point.”

I remember a crime scene here in Atascadero where two young people had just been killed. Their small children were protected by their mother’s body. I was glad when the killer was convicted and sentenced to the death penalty. That was almost 30 years ago. I still think he deserves to die for what he did.

But at this stage of my life, I find myself questioning a lot of what I thought I believed.

I have a lot of homework to do between now and Nov. 6.

Reach him at 466-8529 or

CALIFORNIA – Death Row inmates oppose Prop. 34

September 24, 2012

Like other state prisoners, the 725 inmates on California’s Death Row can’t vote. But if they could, there’s evidence that most of them would vote against a November ballot initiative to abolish the death penalty.

It’s not that they want to die, attorney Robert Bryan said. They just want to hang on to the possibility of proving that they’re innocent, or at least that they were wrongly convicted. That would require state funding for lawyers and investigators – funding that Proposition 34 would eliminate for many Death Row inmates after the first round of appeals.

Bryan has represented several condemned prisoners in California as well as Mumia Abu-Jamal, the radical activist and commentator whose death sentence for the murder of a Philadelphia policeman was recently reduced to life in prison. The attorney said California inmates have told him they’d prefer the current law, with its prospect of lethal injection, to one that would reduce their appellate rights.

“Many of them say, ‘I’d rather gamble and have the death penalty dangling there but be able to fight to right a wrong,’ ” Bryan said.

Or, as Death Row inmate Correll Thomas put it in a recent newspaper essay, if Prop. 34 passes, “the courthouse doors will be slammed forever.

Added legal rights

The seeming paradox reflects the tangled legal procedures surrounding capital punishment and the state’s efforts to guard against wrongful convictions and executions by providing additional rights to the condemned.

All criminal defendants who can’t afford to hire a lawyer have a right to legal representation, at state expense, for their trial and appeal. But only those sentenced to death are guaranteed a state-funded legal team for the post-appellate proceedings known as habeas corpus.

Habeas corpus allows inmates to challenge their convictions or sentence for reasons outside the trial record – typically, incompetent legal representation, misconduct by a judge or juror, or newly discovered evidence. Such challenges are reviewed by both state and federal courts.

For condemned prisoners, it often represents their best chance to stave off execution by presenting their claims to federal judges, who are appointed for life, rather than elected state judges. A ruling that leads to their acquittal, or even a finding of innocence, is also more likely in habeas corpus than in the earlier direct appeal.

Life without parole

Prop. 34, on the Nov. 6 ballot, would replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole. Death Row inmates would have their sentences reduced to life – and, as a consequence, lose access to state-funded lawyers for habeas corpus, except for those who have already filed their claims.

They would have to file them on their own, or with volunteer lawyers. A judge who finds strong evidence of innocence could order the state to pay the inmate’s legal costs for further proceedings.

More than 300 inmates would be affected by the measure’s passage, said Bryan, who as a state-appointed habeas corpus lawyer won a state Supreme Court ruling last month overturning a death sentence for a double murder in San Jose.

Same legal footing

Attorney Natasha Minsker, the Yes on 34 campaign manager, said the initiative would place now-condemned inmates “in the same position as every prisoner convicted of a serious felony in California,” with the same right to go to court.

They would no longer automatically get state-funded lawyers for habeas corpus claims, Minsker said. The main purpose of those lawyers now is “to save a person’s life” from a wrongful execution, but that task would disappear if Prop. 34 passed, she said.

No one has polled Death Row inmates on Prop. 34. But an organization called the Campaign to End the Death Penalty sent letters to 220 condemned prisoners in California and received about 50 replies, all but three of them against the ballot measure, said Lily Mae Hughes, the group’s director.

The reasons were described in commentaries carried in June by San Francisco’s BayView newspaper from three condemned prisoners, two of them opposing Prop. 34.

“We are in fact taking a step backward in our ability to challenge our convictions,” said Kevin Cooper, convicted of murdering four people, including two children, in San Bernardino County after his escape from prison in 1983. State and federal courts have upheld his death sentence, although five federal judges declared in a dissenting opinion two years ago that they believed he might be innocent.

Thomas, whose death sentence for the fatal shooting of a San Diego motorist was upheld by the state Supreme Court last year, said fellow inmates agree with him that life without parole is “another death penalty.”

Donald Ray Young, one of two brothers sentenced to death for the 1995 murders of five people at a bar in Tulare – crimes they deny committing – supported Prop. 34.

“Let us choose the ballot box,” he wrote, “or the pine box will choose us.”

TEXAS – EXECUTION – CLEVE FOSTER 6.p.m. Fourth Execution Date EXECUTED 6:43 p.m.

Foster expressed love to his family and to God.

“When I close my eyes, I’ll be with the father,” he said. “God is everything. He’s my life. Tonight I’ll be with him.”

Foster also addressed the family members of the victims, saying, “I don’t know what you’re going to be feeling tonight. I pray we’ll all meet in heaven.”

September 25, 2012 

cleve foster execution

Cleve Foster has been hours away from execution on death row in Texas only to win a reprieve at the last minute, two times in just the past year and a half.

Whether or not you support the death penalty, Cleve Foster’s case is one that really seems to foreground the practice’s brutality. Twice Foster has been moments away from being put to death, and twice, he has been spared and placed back on death row as the slow wheels of justice grind in his execution.

Supreme Court refuses 4th stay for Texas execution